Primary colors are everywhere when we take the time to notice. So are Secondary and Tertiary colors. As a creative person, you are likely inspired by the colors you see in the world. Without a doubt you might be moved to capture the brilliance in a painting.
But as mentioned in another post, artists work with pigments which are Subtractive Color. As a result we often end up with muddy colors that don't look anything like we envisioned.
For instance you may want to paint the delicious-looking strawberries above. However, it's not enough to just use red paint. You know this of course. However, the trouble begins when you mix in other pigments. Instead of luscious reds, you may get frustrated because the results are sometimes drab, dirty colors instead.
Obviously, you want to mix yummy-looking colors that almost look good enough to eat. Therefore, you must understand the root of every paint pigment you use.
Primary Colors are Called That for a Reason
First and foremost, the Primary Colors, Yellow, Red and Blue, are at the top of any color structure. That's because you can think of the three Primaries as the original parents of all the future generations of colors.
In Theory, Primary Colors are the root of every other color.
So in other words, you could conceivably mix gazillions of colors with only three pure Primary pigments of Yellow, Red and Blue. Of course that's what they teach us in school. However, as I wrote in a previous Color Wheel post, color is not an exact science.
The problem is paint pigment never works like that in real life. For instance, if you mix Cadmium Red + Ultramarine Blue, you'll likely be sadly disappointed. If you were expecting a deep rich Violet (Purple), the resulting Brown will be a total surprise.
To understand why, we need to look at paint pigments. A Primary Yellow, Red or Blue paint color usually refers to a paint that contains only one pigment. They are unmixed pigments that can't be created by mixing other colors.
Paint is manufactured with organic, mineral and chemical pigments. As a result, there are many different pure Yellow, Red and Blue pigment paints available.
In our example above, Cadmium Red is a warm pure hue, leaning toward Orange. Blue and Orange are Complementary Colors. Brown is the neutralized result we get from mixing Complementary colors. In this case it's pure Blue + pure Orangey/Red. This result is only great if you actually want a rich Brown.
In this example, if you want to mix a rich Purple instead, use a cool pure Red such as Quinacridone Red. That's because this pure pigment leans away from Orange and mixes harmoniously with the cool pure Blue.
Secondary Colors are Second in Line
Next come the three Secondary colors, Orange, Purple and Green. Think of the Secondary colors as the children of the three Primaries as shown above.
In color theory we are taught that the Secondary colors are mixed like this:
- Yellow + Red = ORANGE
- Red + Blue = PURPLE
- Blue + Yellow = GREEN
Again as explained earlier, Color Theory is correct on the surface. It shows us how colors interact in a perfect world. In other words, it serves as a general compass to point us in the right direction.
However, paint color in the real world is another thing entirely. This is why so many artists think a Color Wheel is useless. They mix Red and Blue hoping to get Purple. But if you refer back to my example in the previous section where we mixed Cadmium Red with Ultramarine Blue, you'll see the theory doesn't seem to work. In this case, the result is an unexpected Brown. Before long, their Color Wheel gets put aside, never to be looked at again.
We'll be exploring the inner secrets of a color wheel in a later post. In the meantime concentrate on getting a basic understanding the Primary Colors, Secondary and Tertiary colors.
Tertiary Colors are the In-Betweens
Finally the remaining six colors are referred to as the Tertiary Colors. Think of these as the six grandchildren of the Primary Colors.
Again, Color Theory teaches us that each Tertiary color is the result of one Primary Color mixed with one of its nearest Secondary colors. Therefore we end up with a new color somewhere in between.
- Yellow + Orange = YELLOW/ORANGE
- Red + Orange = RED/ORANGE
- Red + Purple = RED/PURPLE
- Blue + Purple = BLUE/PURPLE
- Blue + Green = BLUE/GREEN
- Yellow + Green = YELLOW/GREEN
As explained earlier, in practical terms, we artists can quickly find ourselves mixing truly ugly colors. If we follow the theory too literally, a lot of paint will get thrown away. It's always best to try out some test samples first.