The colour wheel

The colours ranging from yellow to red-violet are the warm colours. In paintings they appear to advance towards the viewer. Colours in the yellow-green to violet range are the cool colours. In paintings they appear to recede from the viewer.

Colours that are near one another on the colour wheel and are closely related are referred to as analogous or related colours, for example red, orange and yellow. Because related colours do not dull one another when mixed, mixing is often the best way to lighten or darken colours without reducing their intensity.

Colours that are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example red opposite green and yellow opposite violet, are called complementary or contrasting colours, that is, a primary opposite a secondary that has been mixed from the two remaining primaries. They create a very dramatic effect when placed side by side in a painting. When mixed together, complementary colours neutralise or dull one another and they produce neutral greys or browns.

‘Tone’ refers to the brightness or darkness of colour. Tones help to create the illusion of space and depth in a painting or drawing and to create atmosphere and contrast. With experience, children will use warm and cool colours, vibrant and muted colours and light and dark tones to create effects. The level of subtlety to be expected in colour mixing will depend on the children’s stage of development in art.