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Everything about colour : What is colour? How to make different shades using primary colours?

Even if you have never painted, or experimented with colours, there’s no denying the fact that how important colours are in our everyday life. Like I said earlier, that humans are visual beings and we experience the world through our eyes for major part.

No matter what you are – an artist, an interior designer, a marketing professional, you can’t do away with colour.

So in this quintessential guide, I will answer some of the most important questions surrounding colour. For example – what is colour, how important is colour, and how to make various colour shades using just primary colours – purple, orange, lavender, peach, etc.

What is colour in simple words?

Depending on which background you are from, you can define colour in myraid ways. If you are a scientist, you may define it as the perception created in our eyes due to the light reflected by any object. But as artists, you just need to know this: every colour is created using 3 primary colours. In the physical world, these colours are created using pigments. So the basic primary colours in this case woudl be – red, blue, and yellow.

And to define any colour, we need 3 attributes:

  • Hue : All the colours you buy from your local art supply store, falls under a basic hue of red, blue, yellow, green, purple, etc.
  • Saturation : This denotes the intensity of the colour present in the mixture. When we paint, we usually add a thinning medium like water or turpentine oil. This basically reduces the amount of colour in the brush stroke and gives us a more pleasant colour. The more thinning medium is added, the lesser its saturation. You can also reduce saturation by adding black or white. But this will lead to a change in value, apart from decrease in saturation.
  • Value : It is the relative lightness or darkness of the colour pigment. By adding white, we get lighter values. By adding black, we get darker values. And when we mix both white and black, it gives out a greyish dull tone. Depending on how much grey is added, the colour changes its value and saturation accordingly.

As you can see, all these 3 attributes are interlinked and are essential in describing and understanding any colour.

Why is understanding colour so important in art?

what is colour
Why is colour so important?

To answer this, you must understand why we create art?

We put in a lot of effort in creating something from our real world. We strive to make it as similar as possible. If you are creating an imaginative artwork, then it becomes even more important that even though the whole composition is not real, the various elements in it are close to reality.

In paintings, we use various elements like lines, shapes, sizes, and textures to create an illusion of reality. But perhaps the most important element among all these is colour. Because it is the first thing out eyes are designed to notice. Not just that, but our brain is wired to percieve certain colours with certain emotions.

This is because when our journey started as hunter gatherers, how did we understand what was going on around us? How did we understand if something was safe to eat or not? Yes, you are right. Its because of noticing colours.

So, we can’t ignore colour in our artworks no matter what.

Not just artists, but everything around us has been designed keeping colour at the forefront. From restaurants, public transport, buildings, homes, etc. everything has used colour to their benefit.

As an artist, you must observe your surroundings and understand what kind of psychological effect a particular colour is having on you.

How does colour influence us?

There are various theories that surround how colour influences us. Including the colour theory, the psychological effects of individual colours. But each of these have their own drawbacks.

For instance, colour theory is no doubt a simple guide to understanding the various relationships between various pigments. It answers ‘how’ to create a particular shade of colour. And how much saturated is the colour, what is the value of that colour. It is a handy tool for artists while creating their artwork. But it doesn’t answer how these colours influence one another when views in isolation or in a composition.

Coming to the psychological effects of colours. Let me first illustrate with a the example of red. Red is said to assicate with passion, energy, dyamism, anger. But did you notice how the same colour can relate to completely different emotions – passion and anger? One emotion evokes a positive response. While the other evokes a negative response. How can a single colour denote so many different things? And if so, how can you as an artist understand what emotion does red evoke in various places and minds?

What is colour affects system?

There is so much confusing regarding colour among artists. And the easiest guide I have found till date is the colour affects system created by someone. It is a simple to follow guide and you can apply to anything – be it a painting, or a movie poster or natural surroundings, or interiors.

Here’s how it goes:

This system entirely depends on the hue, saturation and value (Remember, the 3 most important attributes in every colour?)

And all colours are divided into just 4 groups:

Group 1 : Spring Colours

All colours in this group have low value, has a warm undertone and has very low saturation. Use these colours to convey a feeling of liveliness, childlike, joyful, playful, etc. In nature you can see these colours during spring, hence the name.

what is colour
What is colour : group 1 : Spring Colours

Group 2 : Monsoon Colours

All colours in this group have a lot of grey in them. They are cooler colours with medium saturation. Use these colours to convey a feeling of relaxation, calmness, understatement, gentle, supportive. These colours are ususally seen during monsoon season.

Group 3 : Summer Colours

In summer, we usually are surrounded with fiery colours that have a warm undertone. What do I mean by a warm undertone? Basically, even if you look at blue, it feels energetic. It doesn’t calm you down. These colours are highly saturated and have very low change in value. Use these colours when you want to evoke a sense of dynamism , energetic, popular, offbeat etc.

what is colour
What is Colour : Summer Colours

Group 4 : Winter Colours

These colours are mostly used in branding for premium products. These colours have a cool undertone but contain a pint of black. Ther are also saturated but have a darker value. These colours covey a sense of sophistication, luxury, premium, timlessness, classy, etc.

Using this system, you will not only easily understand colour, but also be able to apply colours efficiently.

How to make various shades of colours?

Now that you have understood how to understand and use colours, its time to actually create colours. And, yes, we will create all the popular colours using just 3 primary colours that you can buy readily at any art store.

Even if you have all the shades, as a beginner artist, try to create colours using just 3 primary colours because this will allow you to grasp colour theory in its entireity.

How to make purple colour from just 3 primary colours?

Blue and red colours give you a wide variety of purples. The kind of purple you create depends on the proportion of red with respect to blue.

How to make orange colour?

Red and yellow, when mixed in equal proportions can give you a beautiful shade of orange

How to make peach colour?

On close observation, you can see that peach primarily has 2 colours – lemon yellow, and pink. Mix yellow and red first to create a saturated pigment of orange. Now add a good amount of white to it and mix it well. At this point, you can add a sliver of green. This will compensate for the green ususally present in lemon yellow. And voila! your peach colour is ready!

How to make lavender colour?

On close observation, you will see that lavender is a pinker and lighter version of purple. So what do you do? We had previously create purple right. To this just add a generous amount of white. And if your proportion of red was lower or equal, then just add a little bit more of red untill theres more red in the pigment than blue.


By the end of this guide, you should successfully be able to understand what is colour, why should you incorporate appropraite colours into whatever you do, and how to understand colour. You also got a fair idea about how to analyse colours and create your own shades of beautiful colours.

Now, as a person who has gained much knowledge in colours, you can utilise colours to the fullest extent and create amazing works of art.

About Kavi Art Studio

Learn what is colour at Kavi Art Studio
At Kavi Art Studio

From the last 16 years, Kavi Art Studio has been independently run by Mrs. Kavitha, a passionate artist who loves teaching. 

​Her childhood hobby to paint at every opportunity, translated into a rewarding profession of inspiring hundreds of students from all over the world to seek solace in art. A versatile artist, she has created numerous handmade paintings in different mediums like tanjore painting, watercolours, oil, madhubani painting, abstract modern painting, etc.

At Kavi Art Studio, you can buy a wide variety of artworks, with any kind of budget. Because we have paintings just from Rs 2000, which would be perfect for gifting or to put on your desk.

You can visit our website for the entire collection and choose something that connects with you.

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