Traces of Colors III – Primary Colors, Secondary Colors, Warm and Cool Colors, Color Mixtures


We took a little countryside trip over the weekend. The weather was sunny, yet not scorching. Sometimes, the autumn sun radiates the ideal warmth. The trees along the roadside had adorned themselves with countless shades of red, yellow, and green. We discussed at length how these colors are obtained.

Today, as I sit down at my desk and open this page, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: how we classify colors and how we obtain them. Experimenting with this on a palette and canvas with paints is undoubtedly much more enjoyable, but I will do my best to explain it in words.

First and foremost, let’s remember that color corresponds to the visual perceptual properties that we label as red, green, and blue. The seven colors of the spectrum are sensations formed when light from the sun or other sources strikes objects and reaches our eyes.

The colors that the human eye can perceive start from around 380 nm at the red end and extend up to 760 nm for violet. Sunlight generates all the colors of the spectrum. When we interpret the wavelengths of light reflected from an object, we perceive color. Color is the light traveling to us in waves from the sun, and our eyes are capable of seeing more than seven million different colors. All colors are derived from primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

So, essentially, if we have these three primary colors, there is no color that we cannot create. If we want to achieve a certain color and tone and don’t have precise measuring instruments, it can be challenging to capture the correct proportions. However, we can create our own green, pink, or lilac.

Primary colors are the three fundamental colors: red, blue, and yellow. These colors cannot be created by mixing other colors and form the basis for all other shades of color. When primary colors are mixed in equal amounts, the resulting color is always black.

Secondary colors, or intermediate colors, are obtained by mixing equal amounts of primary colors. There are three secondary colors: green (a mixture of red and yellow), orange (a mixture of blue and yellow), and purple (a mixture of red and blue).

Tertiary colors are obtained by mixing equal amounts of primary and secondary colors. There are six tertiary colors: light green (a mixture of green and yellow), violet (a mixture of purple and red), saffron (a mixture of orange and red), lavender (a mixture of purple and blue), amber (a mixture of yellow and orange), and turquoise (a mixture of green and blue).

When mixed with black or white, various shades of colors are achieved. Colors containing a high amount of blue are described as cool colors, while those with red are considered warm colors.

Knowing the components of color allows us to create the atmosphere we desire through painting. Different colors and tones can be used to create various effects and reflections. Color is one of the elements that effectively expresses emotions. A single color can have different meanings and interpretations for different people in different parts of the world. For example, white is a color of mourning in China but signifies purity and cleanliness in European societies. In Asia, orange is seen as positive, spiritually enlightened, and life-affirming, while in the United States, orange is the color of road hazards, traffic delays, and fast-food restaurants.

The relationship between colors and cultures is a vast topic, one that I’ll leave for future writings. At Woodsaka, we’ve been discussing our favorite colors since yesterday. Who likes which color. The results of this discussion will have to wait for the next article, but let me share my favorite color: yellow. The color of the sun, brightness, and joy. At least for me.

What’s your color? Which colors dominate your palette?

Stay cheerful and happy and healthy.


Sevinc Kurt and Kelechi Kingsley Osueke, 2014, The Effects of Color on the Moods of College Students, SAGE Open, DOI: 10.1177/2158244014525423