Basics: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Colors

Have you ever mixed two colors and got absolutely not what you needed? A lot of us have, wanting beautiful purple flowers but getting muddy mud. This happens because you brush is dirty or because you have insufficient knowledge about colors. The second issue is more complex, so we’ll try to solve that one.

What a Primary Color Is

A primary color is used for creating other colors but can’t be derived from mixing any colors. Strangely enough, not everyone who tried working with primary colors knows what exactly they are. For example, you can’t get yellow by mixing bright red and, say, green or blue. But if you take yellow and mix it with red, you’ll get bright orange, and if you mix it with blue (or better say turquoise), you’ll get green.

What a Secondary Color Is

A secondary color is the one created by mixing two primary colors. So when you get the right shades of your primaries, you can mix them into adequate orange, green, and purple. Using different shades of the primaries you won’t create the “mud” we were talking about, but the final tone won’t be the one you’re waiting for (unless that’s the goal).

Creating Other Colors

Of course, primary and secondary colors are the basics, but there are so many more hues. This is where we see tertiary colors. These are the result of mixing a primary one and a secondary one together. You can get a reddish orange, a yellowish or a bluish green, etc. This is where you can really switch your fantasy on, but only if you have the right shades.

How Mixing Colors Works

The key here is light wave absorption, which makes one or another color visible. For example, cyan looks like this because it absorbs some light waves the length of which falls into the red part of the specter. Yellow in its place absorbs some of the waves that fall into the blue part of the specter. If you mix the two colors, you will get one that absorbs both blue and red light to some extent. Speaking simply, you will get a shade of green.

Black and White

Continuing the topic of the right shade, you can make it darker or lighter with black or white. However, these two (technically) aren’t colors at all, no matter how widely they are used in art.

As you can see, there’s a lot to know about colors before you make your first palette. Add some mistakes and failures to your knowledge and you’ll get the concept very well!

Shaun Greaves

Blogger of arts and liver of life. Singaporean at heart, but living in the UK. Life is art, appreciate it.
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