art4you Scotland


Colour creates the mood and generates the excitement in a painting but how do we get the colour we want?

Everyone knows the three primary colours are yellow, red and blue. Going by the colours available these days we find that many primary colours have a bias towards another colour – below a few examples:

Cadmium red – yellow bias

Alizarin crimson – blue bias

Ultramarine blue – red bias

Cerulean blue – yellow bias

Lemon yellow – blue bias

Cadmium yellow – red bias

The above six colours are a good starting point in developing a colour palette, as they represent a cool and warm variant of each of the primary colours. If you want pure mixes then mixing colours with the same bias will achieve this; ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson, for instance, will give a good purple, whereas cadmium red mixed with cerulean blue will make mud – try it and see!

Three further useful colours are:

Raw sienna

Burnt sienna

Cobalt blue

These three are great for a vast range of subjects.


The three properties of colour

Hue – Value – Saturation

Green, orange, yellow, and blue — each of these is a hue, a colour or a shade that’s true. A rainbow shows the melting of one hue into another, from red to violet, and all shades in between. The noun hue means both a colour and a shade of a colour


Value is defined as the relative lightness or darkness of a colour. It is an important tool for the artist, in the way that it defines form and creates spatial illusions. Contrast of value separates objects in space, while gradation of value suggests mass and contour of a contiguous surface. Another word for value is the luminosity which refers to the amount of light reflected or absorbed by a colour i.e. white reflects and black


Saturation is also referred to as “intensity” and “chroma.” It refers to the dominance of hue in the colour. On the outer edge of the hue wheel are the ‘pure’ hues. As you move into the centre of the wheel, the hue we are using to describe the colour dominates less and less. It can sometimes be very difficult to distinguish saturation from value.