This week I’m moving on from looking at the tonal values of a painting, to the colours and their many combinations.

Why Colour is important:

  • When used correctly it can guide the viewer’s eye to what’s important in the image (compositional element)
  • It helps tell the story
  • Sets the mood of the painting/image



Image taken from Google Images


This is the colour wheel that I learnt about in my early school days and it has helped me grasp the basics of mixing and applying colours in my paintings. However, in order to improve my understanding of colour theory and enhance my work, I will look at the different ways colour can be used together in art.


These pictures help explain the idea of Saturation and Value in colour theory.


Image taken from Pinterest


Image taken from Google Images

Saturation = the intensity of the colour (the dominance of hue in the colour)

Value = the brightness/darkness of the colour (value describes the overall intensity or strength of the light)

Now to look at the idea of Colour Harmonies

  • Use of only one colour (mainly)
  • Best for single subjects
  • Atmospheric effect


A good example is Pablo Picasso’s “Blindman’s Meal” (1903)


  • Use of colours adjacent to each other on colour wheel
  • Easy on the eyes
  • Creates generally a peaceful, comfortable mood
  • Often seen in nature scenes



Paul Cézanne’s “Maison en Provence” (1884)


  • equally distant colours on colour wheel
  • hard to pull off successfully in paintings
  • best for cartoon effect/surreal scenes



Andy Warhol’s “Shot Blue Marilyn” 1964


  • Use of opposing colours on wheel
  • Very popular in art
  • Naturally pleasing to eye
  • Uses one colour predominantly over others



Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” (1658-1661)


  • Simliar to complimentary but one end of the colour wheel extended
  • More creative freedom
  • Gives a lively, joyous feel to image



Vincent Van Gogh’s “Self-portrait with bandaged ear” (1889)


  • Use of two pairs of opposing colours on colour wheel
  • Best used for foregrounds/backgrounds
  • Never use 25% of each
  • Difficult to pull off in artwork



Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Night Café” (1888)

All images above are from Google Images.


Helpful videos:

This video really helped me to grasp the basics of colour theory in art.


I stumbled across this video on YouTube when looking for something to help my approach to my painting (below). The way the artist explains the use of colour really helped my understanding of colour harmony.

After having studied tonal values, I tried to build upon that newly gained understanding in this watercolour. I thought carefully about what colours to use and how to use tonal value to show the landscape being up close or far away. I know in myself that I overworked the painting and tried to reapply too many times with paint so it’s a little messy but producing the work helped me understand more fully the impact of colour and tonal values in art.




Reading List.

To further understand these concepts, I brought out some of my art books which go into more depth on colour:

‘Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Colour & Light: Oil, Pastel and Watercolor’ by Chris Saper.

ImagineFx Magazine subscription (physical copies).



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