Formal Elements‎ > ‎


The overall use of a colour is used to set a tone, mood, or context. Colour is usually the first thing we see. But don't confuse colour domination with strong composition. The composition should work in grey scale or black and white and come to life when you add colour. 

                                                    Georgia O'Keeffe                                                                            Jean-Michel Basquiat - Election Day
You will find loads more information about colour below at the bottom of the page
Words to help you explain Colour:
Bright                                  Dull
Vibrant                               Subtle
Cold                                     Warm

 The colour wheel is simply a guide on how colours relate to one another.

  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple.

This saying can help you remember the primary and secondary colours = Richard Of York Gave Battle Poorly


Primary colours are the three key colours - Red, Blue and Yellow. They cannot be made from any other colour.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue -1921 -


If you mix equal amounts of the primary colours, you get the Secondary colours - Purple, Green and Orange.

Red + Yellow = Orange

Yellow + Blue = Green

Blue + Red = Purple (violet)


Ellsworth Kelly - Red Blue Green - 1963 -

 Complementary - two colours opposite one another on the colour wheel, e.g., blue and orange, yellow and purple, red and green. When a pair of high intensity complements are placed side by side, they seem to vibrate and draw attention to the element Not all colour schemes, based on complementary colours are loud and demanding -- if the hues are of low-intensity the contrast is not too harsh. Intensity can only be altered by mixing a colour with its complement, which has the effect of visually neutralizing the colour. Changing the values of the hues, adding black or white, will soften the effect.

Henri Matisse - Woman with the Hat, Paris - 1904-5 -

Intensity - brightness or dullness of a colour. A pure hue is a high-intensity colour. A dulled hue, a colour mixed with its complement is called a low-intensity colour.

Raoul Dufy - Nude on a Pink Sofa -1902

Intermediate - colours are created by mixing a primary and a secondary: Red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple.

Henri Matisse - Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) - 1905-06 -

Complementary colour scheme (two colours opposite one another on the colour wheel)

Yellow + Purple
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Set in Tints (colours plus white)

Set in Shades (colours plus black)
Seven Warm/Aggressive colours in a combination of pure colour, tints, tones, and shades.

Seven Cool/Receding colours in a combination of pure colour, tints, tones, and shades