How to choose colours – lesson one

Back to Basics – The Primaries

Those of you amongst us who feel that colour and its use in decorating and design is only to be understood by creative types can be assured that colour crosses the boundaries of science and art.  There is a logic to it and definite rules that can be studied.

Once you understand how colour works, how it is grouped into families, its effects, symbolism and psychology, you are well on your way to being able to put together a colour scheme that you will love and be proud of. 

It all starts with the primaries here – Red, Blue and Yellow.

How to choose colours

One of our earliest memories of art classes at school will evolve around the three primary colours, red, blue and yellow.  These are the basic three colours that cannot be mixed from any other colour and each of these are the starting point to make thousands of other colours.  You can do this either by mixing with each other to produce secondary and tertiary colours or by adding white to tint or black or grey to shade.

These colours are very definite and in their purest and most uncomplicated form appeal to children immensely.  Recent colour trends have seen designers using brighter colours and also combining many different colours in a scheme to produce very bold and colourful statements which are energising and uplifting after the trend of greyed down hues of recent years.

How to choose colours

A little colour history is fascinating here.  The ancient Greeks spoke of colour and since then the understanding and explanations of colour have been attempted throughout the ages by mathematicians, philosophers and artists.  The great artists like Leonardo da Vinci clearly understood how to mix colours but it was a German engraver who is credited with discovering the primary nature of red, yellow and blue in the early 18th century which although to us now seems elementary was a phenomenal discovery at the time.

How to choose colours

When I studied colour at design school it was based on the Bauhaus teachings.  The Bauhaus school opened in Germany in 1919 and Johnannes Itten’s work there on primary colours and primary forms has been extremely influential in design since that time.  With its roots in the Arts and Crafts movement the Bauhaus school was way ahead of its time in colour and design and paved the way for modernism which has been a benchmark for designers and is back in style at the moment.

The use of the three primary colours together in a modern decorating scheme is a good reminder of the basics of good colour and design and makes a real statement when all three colours are used in fairly equal quantities.

How to choose colours

Remember that you can add a touch of white to these colours to make them tonally lighter and therefore easier to use in interiors.  The image above demonstrates this.  Red becomes pink and the blue is softened here and of course the natural yellow flowers complete the picture.

How to choose colours
Better Homes & Gardens

It is of course unlikely that you will use these three colours together by themselves in their purest form but it is good to understand the basis of where all our other beautiful colours come from.  In the image above, the homeowner has cleverly used the primary colours, with the tulips being the purest form of yellow, while the sofa is a more liveable version of the colour.

Understanding the Primary colours is really just the beginning.  Continue to follow my colour lessons to find out more and become addicted to colour, as I have done.

Follow me on Pinterest to see lots of inspirational ways to use colour in your decorating schemes and please do comment and let me know about your colour questions – I would love to hear from you.

How to choose colours

If you would like to learn more about colour then you should also read the following:

Related colour schemes – colour lesson 2

Complementary colour schemes – lesson 3

2 thoughts on “How to choose colours – lesson one

  1. Kate Banks says:

    You don’t often see many interiors in recent years using that colour triangle . Love that photo example I imagine it would inspire more like it

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