The Color Wheel, Who Is R. G. Biv?

Color Wheel 101 or Who is Roy G. Biv?

Roy G. Biv, you ask? He’s the anagram for the color wheel: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet!

Throughout the tutorials on this site we do refer to colors, color terminology, and the color wheel, so it seems worthy to take a few moments and define these terms. We will be working with paint colors for this quick look at the color wheel.

Working with colors can seem confusing especially when those colors fall into the different categories of light, color, and paint. Each color wheel, those for light, color, and paint, have specific properties. Here we will be working with paint colors … so our color wheel is an RYB wheel not the CMYK wheel for printing and computers or the CMY wheel of light.

Some basics to paint color:

  1. There are only three colors, called Primary … red, yellow, and blue.
  2. White is the absence of all color … think of an unpainted white canvas
  3. Black is the presence of all colors … paint a canvas with every color in your box and it will end up black. (Remember, think paint not light.)
  4. Pure colors, those that have no added white, black, or brown are called hues.
  5. Hues can be primary, secondary, and tertiary. It is not how many pure colors are mixed but that all the colors contain no white, black, or brown.
  6. Colors that have the addition of white, black, or brown are called tones. Both pink (red + white) and burgundy (red + black) are tones of the hue Red.
  7. Since there is no color Black, black paint is made by darkening either blue or green.

Primary Colors

color-ex1There are only three colors: red, yellow, and blue. These are called primary colors. That’s it, just three. Theoretically every other paint color that you need can be created from just the primary colors. Primary colors can not be created by mixing any other colors together.




color1So you paint kit must contain these colors
Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Ultramarine Blue


Secondary Colors

color-ex8The secondary colors are orange, green, and purple. These colors are created by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors. How good a color you can create is dependent on the quality of the primary colors that you use.

 My paint kit does contain pre-mixed secondary colors: Cadmium Orange Hue, Cadmium Verde Green (Permanent Green), Dioxazine Purple


color2Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Purple

By beginning to add the secondary colors your palette is greatly increased and the color range you are using is more realistic.A little artist’s trick is used in this design to intensive the secondary colors … the one primary color in the quilt is blue. The blue is used in a repeating pattern, the pale blue squares with the fine pink flower. The background behind the quilt is also blue, just a slightly deeper tone than the quilt squares. By repeating the blue in the squares you eye believes they are part of the background and you therefore notice the orange and green squares as dominate.


Tertiary Colors

color-ex7Tertiary colors are created by mixing one primary color with one secondary color. Pure colors, those that have neither white, black, or brown added are called hues.  All other color hues are made by mixing the primaries.  Pure hues most often fall in the middle layer of your design. For a scene with a grassy field in the foreground, barn complex in the middle ground, and mountain range in the background, the barn complex would be painted with pure hues.


color3Orange + Red = Red Orange
Since Red + Yellow = Orange this can also be written as
(1/2 Red + 1/2 Yellow) + Red = Red Orange
or 1 1/2 parts Red + 1/2 part Yellow = Red Orange

This Golden Retriever pup sits in front of a quilt filled with an entire range of colors created from mixing red and blue. The colors available has become unlimited to the artist.


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