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Master Colour Theory for Creative Inspiration

Discover simple techniques for choosing beautiful colour combinations and learn how to match colour to the mood of your home.
Colour Theory
Colour theory explains how humans perceive colour, how colours mix, match, or contrast with each other. It also explains the messages or feelings that colours communicate.
Using the colour wheel, you can create winning colour combinations that visually harmonise in your home.
Colour Wheel
Colour Wheel
The first colour wheel was designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. Many artists and designers still use it to develop colour palettes.
The colour wheel consists of
  • three primary colours: red, yellow, blue
  • three secondary colours
  • colours created when primary colours are mixed: green, orange, purple
  • six tertiary colours
  • colours made from primary and secondary colours: blue-green or red-violet
Colour Schemes
There are three main colour schemes that creatives use to select colour combinations that work together.
Complementary colours are opposites on the colour wheel e.g. red and green or yellow and purple.
Analogous colours are next to each other on the colour wheel e.g. green, blue and purple.
Triadic colours are evenly spaced around the colour wheel forming a triangle.
Try these methods out when choosing craft materials, paint, garments or interior design – see how simple it is to create visually pleasing palettes.
Prismatic Colour Wheel - Moses Harris, 1766 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Colour Temperature
On one side of the colour wheel are warm colours (reds, oranges, yellows) and the other side are cool colours (blues, greens, purples).
Warm colours are often associated with vibrancy, bright energy, and action.
Cool colours are usually identified with peace, calm and nature.
You can use colours to evoke feelings in your home. Which rooms would you put warm or cool colours?
Warm Colours
Orange is an energetic and bright colour associated with positivity and vitality. Subtle tones like copper can evoke feelings of changing seasons and connection to the earth.
The famous smiley face logo made the colour yellow synonymous with joy, bringing sunshine to the viewer. In 2021, Pantone crowned yellow and grey the colour of the year – a harmony of hope and endurance.
You can also explore darker yellow tones like gold and ochre that ring of antiquity and timeless value.
Cool Colours
Deep blue is one of the rarest naturally occurring pigments, making it highly sought after and associated with stature. Lighter, sky blues are calming and fresh, reminiscent of seaside days.
While grey could be associated with dark clouds, this understated colour is a modern alternative to black or white and complements other neutral tones.
A spectrum of green hues paints the landscape of nature, from emerald jungles to lime-tinted moss. Choose green to bring nature into the home or to inspire an outdoorsy friend.
Black and white is a timeless pair that emphasises line and form by subtracting colour from the scene to create a striking contrast. This colour combination is strong on its own or can be brought to life as a backdrop for brighter hues.
Black and white are also solid choices for gifts as they complement any colour palette.
For effortless style, silver is a classic choice for jewellery. Silver lets the design speak for itself and highlights subtle details like texture.
Use the colour wheel methods to select multiple colours that go together such as the primary colour trio – red, blue and yellow.
Look to botanical art and floral design for pleasing colour combinations provided by nature.
Full Spectrum
For colour magpies, only the rainbow will do.
To explore more colour palettes, you can visit the RBSA Gallery shop in person from 13 April, subject to Government announcements.
You can also browse all art and craft online.
About Us
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.
The RBSA runs an exhibition venue, the RBSA Gallery, in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre.
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