Using Primary Colors

Using Primary Colors

Primary colors, Yellow, Red and Blue are the three colors from which all colors are made - that's what makes them primary - you can't mix any colors to get primary colors. We probably first learned about them in elementary school, but what was the last time you thought about them before doing a painting?

Each of the primary colors has a warm version, cool version, and I would even say a neutral version that is closest to the true primary color, being neither warm nor cool. Some paint manufacturers even make a primary yellow, primary blue and primary red.

Here are the warm, cool and neutral versions that I use (along with other possibilities):

Warm: Indian Yellow (Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre)
Neutral: Hansa Yellow Deep (Primary Yellow)
Cool: Hansa Yellow Light (Cadmium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow)

Warm: Cadmium Red Medium (Cadmium Red Light)
Neutral: Cadmium Red Deep (Primary Red)
Cool: Quinacridone Magenta (Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Magenta)

Warm: Ultramarine Blue (Indigo Blue)
Neutral: Cobalt Blue (Primary Blue)
Cool: Cerulean Blue (Phthalo Blue, Manganese Blue)

A great exercise to learn how each primary version mixes to make secondary colors (orange, green and violet), is to take each version and mix with each other primary version to see what the results are. I make a color chart that shows each mixture with text below it noting the colors used. For example, the results in mixing a warm blue with a cool yellow is significantly different than a warm blue mixed with a warm yellow. Just have fun with it.


If you'd like to learn more about primary colors, then please join me for a painting workshop: (You can view a list of 2018 workshops HERE)

  • July 13-14 Art Alliance of Greensboro, Greensboro, NC. To register contact Liz Busch:
  • July 27-29 Western Colorado Center for the Arts, Grand Junction, CO. To register contact Haley Van Camp:
  • August 8-10 David M. Kessler Fine Art Studio, Winston-Salem, NC. For information and registration Click Here.
  • August 23-25 Franciscan Life Process Center, Lowell, MI. For more information and registration Click Here.
  • September 6-8 Live Your Art Studio, Carlsbad, CA. For more information and registration Click Here.
  • September 10-12 Merced Art Center, Merced, CA. To register contact Bo Petty 209-388-1090.

As always, thanks so much for your support!


P.S. If you you'd like to learn how to utilize primary colors in your work in the comfort of your home or studio, Design Fundamentals for the Artist is my online course:

Design Fundamentals for the Artist will provide you with a firm foundation on which to build all of your art making activities. For Information Click Here.

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