Practicing Color Theory


Want to know more about the fascinating world of color? For a deep dive into color theory, color mixing, color blending, and color matching, we offer a few different ways to learn – read a book, watch a short video, and/or watch the Zoom Workshop recording later.



Let’s begin with some basic vocabulary for describing color. Visualizing a color using these definitions can make it easier to mix the color you’re trying to achieve.

Hue: the name of a color, also known as local color (ex. yellow, red, blue)

Value: how dark or light the color is, as it relates to a nine-step value scale

Saturation: how bright or dull the color is



You’ve heard primary colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue and secondary colors are Orange, Violet, and Green, but have you heard of tertiary colors? Tertiary colors are the colors that exist between the primary and secondary colors. For example, Yellow Orange is the tertiary color between primary Yellow and secondary Orange.



Instead of the traditional names on the traditional color wheel, Double Primary Color Theory explains that each primary color (ex. Yellow) can be expressed by their biases toward secondary colors (ex. Yellow bias towards Green and Yellow bias towards Orange). 



We sometimes run into the problem when mixing primary colors with opposing biases that we create a dull shade. For example, Blue with a bias toward Green and Red with a bias toward Orange combine into a dull Violet.

To create a bright Violet, you need to mix Blue with a bias toward Violet and Red with a bias toward Violet, also referred to as tertiary colors Blue Violet and Red Violet!



For the most three-dimensional looking forms, be sure to mix the local color, shadow colors, and highlight colors. Local color is the overall color of your object. Shadow colors and highlight colors shine in their respective areas, bringing depth and dimension to your form.

Complementary colors are colors opposite each other on the color wheel, like Red and Green. When you combine complementary colors, you mix all three primary colors into neutral colors. For example, if you are drawing a Green leaf that is beginning to turn Brown in Autumn, you could add Red to the Green to neutralize that color.

The final piece of this puzzle is to understand that two primary colors biased in the same direction do not have any of the third primary color when mixed together. When the third primary color is added to a mix, it dulls the color, which is very helpful when mixing colors. Dark Sepia is such an important shadow color because it’s a blend of all three primary colors.


Want us to walk you through the whole process of color mixing?

You’re in luck! We offer a few different ways to learn – read a book, watch a video, and/or participate in a live workshop (or watch the recording later!).

Our course, The Practice of Botanical Drawing, details the practical application of Color Bias Theory and basic color mixing to help you choose which pencils to mix when trying to match a color in nature. It also covers the differences between hue, value, and intensity and how to use those as parameters to create the colors in your subject. Post images to the Art Feed with your questions, and get helpful feedback from our instructors!


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