What are secondary and complementary colors

Color theory & color wheel

In this article I would like to introduce and explain the subject of color theory and, above all, the color wheel.
The colors are not always important for drawing, as we often work in black and white here. The typical drawing techniques such as pencil, charcoal and ink cannot depict color. Color comes into play, however, with media such as pastels, colored pencils, crayons, watercolor pencils, fiber pens, and markers. Otherwise, color theory is extremely important, especially when painting.

Colors have existed longer than humanity. But it was only through the development of the color wheel that color theory was actually established. How many colors there are no one can say. Because due to different mixtures, shades and color families, no two colors are the same. Even a single shade lighter or darker creates a completely new tone.

The basic tool: color wheel

Before one ventures into general color theory, the color wheel must be understood in its entirety. From this it can be read which colors are related to one another and how and which color results from which mixture. The classic variant of the color wheel shows the twelve basic colors. These are in turn divided into three categories. One speaks of the primary, secondary and tertiary colors.
These three categories include:

1. Primary colors / basic colors: Blue, yellow and red



2. Secondary colors: Purple, green and orange



3. Tertiary colors: Red-orange, blue-green, yellow-orange, blue-violet and purple

The following picture of the color wheel is made up of these basic building blocks:


The color wheel

Color contrasts through complementary colors

The complementary colors are the colors that are directly opposite each other in the color wheel. The special thing about these colors is the interplay: If you use two of the complementary colors in a painting in a harmonious interplay, the picture gets a certain tension for the viewer. The reason for this is that these complementary colors create a color contrast with one another.

In the picture below you can see how you can determine the complementary color to any color with the help of the color wheel.


Determine the complementary color with the color wheel

Complementary Color - Optical Illusion

A kind of optical illusion is created when a viewer looks at a colored surface for a long time. An experiment shows that after viewing a colored surface the eye is deceived and the iris projects a new, non-existent colored surface. So it happens that if you look at a white wall, the respective complementary color suddenly appears.


Complementary colors in the area of ​​primary and secondary colors

Which artistic effects and which stimuli the complementary colors can still generate can be read under the following link:
Complementary colors

Mixing neutral colors

Colors such as gray, brown or earthy tones are called neutral colors. They result from the mixture of two complementary colors.

Color temperature - cold and warm colors

Colors can not only be classified in light or dark. Colors also very often convey the feeling of temperature. There are two options here, just like in real life: warm or cold. The cold colors include the tones in which blue dominates. The more warm colors include all shades of red.

Warm colors are on the color wheel between blue-violet and green.


Warm colours

Cold colors, on the other hand, appear between the colors purple to yellow.


Cold colors

The third dimension - color brightness

Although color theory was developed on a two-dimensional level, adding black or white can add a third dimension to an image. The so-called color brightness thus expands the color space that we have got to know so far.


Color brightness of different shades

Color saturation

Anyone who thought that the spectrum of possibilities to work with colors had been reached was wrong. In addition to the previous facets, color saturation goes a step further in color theory. Whether weak or brightly eye-catching - depending on the intensity of the color, this is referred to as saturation. Color theory assumes that all colors in the color wheel have the same saturation and that this is 100 percent. By adding different amounts of gray, the colors are desaturated, so to speak, and they appear washed out or faded.

This means that colors with a high color saturation appear very strong. Colors with low saturation appear rather dull and gray.