The location of complementary colors on a color wheel

The color primer

I was recently reminded that a lot of people don’t know how color is ‘made’. So here is your primer about color.

 Three basic colors

There are 3 basic colors. ( Bear with.. some colorists say there are more than this, but that’s an altogether different issue). For sake of expedience, we’ll also use black and white. There is red, blue and yellow. All colors are made by mixing these 3 colors together in different proportions and they are shaded by adding black or tinted by adding white.


A color wheel

A color wheel starts with red at the top (12:00- think of a clock) and in a clockwise direction we see yellow at 4:00 and blue at 8:00. Colors on the right side of the wheel are considered ‘warm’, those on the left ‘cool’.


Making other colors

If we mix red and yellow together in equal proportions we get orange, positioned at 2:00. Yellow and blue make green, at 6:00, blue and red make violet, at 10:00. You can keep mixing the side by side colors to get more variations but these are the basics. Some colors have more of one basic color than another, this gives us things like red-orange where there is more red added to the orange than yellow, creating a color that has a stronger red feel to it than yellow. Some people look really good in blue reds, (‘winters’ ) some can only wear orange reds (‘autumns’).


Complementary colors

If you look at colors directly across from each other you see complementary colors – red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet. If you want to mute a color ( that means to grey it down a bit) you add the complementary color. So, to reduce the intensity of red, add a tiny bit of green.


Why you need to know

A home decorator really needs to understand the color wheel. Combining fabric, or paint, or carpet colors that have different undertones can produce a very disjointed color scheme. One of the best things you can do to help yourself understand the wheel is go to the dollar store and get some acrylic paint; red; yellow, blue, black, and white, and a little painters pallet and start playing. Make a color wheel. Pick a paint chip color and try to duplicate it. You’ll learn a lot, your decorating schemes will turn out better and you’ll have some fun.





Written by