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https://www.haydnsymons.com/blog/what-are-tertiary-colours/ What are tertiary colours? English Do you want to learn what are tertiary colours? Desire to improve your colour theory? To become an outstanding, world-class artist and designer, you must understand colour theory. It impacts art immensely. As the saying rings true, you do judge... https://www.haydnsymons.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/what-are-tertiary-colours.webp 2023-12-11

What are tertiary colours?

Do you want to learn what are tertiary colours?

Desire to improve your colour theory?

To become an outstanding, world-class artist and designer, you must understand colour theory. It impacts art immensely. As the saying rings true, you do judge a book by it’s cover. With art, ‘the cover’ is a combination of composition, subject and it’s colour. The first impression is crucial.

If you want to improve your colour, learning this topic will strengthen and enhance your art. Or if you’re struggling with colour, this guide will help you.

Within this blog post you will learn what tertiary colours are. I’ll discuss how tertiary colours can improve your colour theory to progress your art. Colour is a key stable within any good piece of art. Whether you paint, draw or create your art digitally, a robust colour theory foundation is key. This article is part of my guides on colour theory. Discussing colour schemes like complimentary colours to analogous colours.

The basics of the colour wheel

The best artists have solid colour theory knowledge, paramount for strong colour choices. If you know and understand the colour wheel, then it can hugely boost your art. So before we dive into tertiary colours, it’s important you get to grips with the colour wheel.

The colour wheel has primary and secondary colours. There are three primary colours of red, yellow and blue. Secondary colours appear from mixing primary colours, orange, green and violet.

Primary Colours

Then there are things like hue, chroma and tonal values. Firstly, every colour has a hue, the origin of the colour and where it sits on the colour wheel. Secondly, chroma, how saturated a colour is in relation to white. Finally, a tonal value, how dark or light a colour is. If you want more detail with this, check out my guide to colour wheel. Now you have this understanding, what exactly are tertiary colours?

What are tertiary colours?

Like previously stated, the colour wheel compromises of primary and secondary colours. Tertiary colours that sit alongside, in the middle, of a primary and secondary colour. The term ‘tertiary’ is third in order or level, according to Dictionary.com. Primary colours are the first colour, secondary colours make up the second, and tertiary colours, the third. There are six tertiary colours:

Red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

With tertiary colours, there’s always a primary colour present in the set of two colours. You can also have a secondary tertiary colour, which mixes a secondary colour with another secondary colour. But as you may realise, this is essentially mixing from primary colours, but at different amounts.

Tertiary Colours

For example, if you mix orange with violet (two secondary colours), you will be mixing red, yellow, red again, and blue. As you’re mixing two secondary colours, the resulting colour will be less saturated. However, this is essential to good paintings. The professional artist knows when to make a colour stand out by using saturation, and pull back, using unsaturation. Another example could be mixing green and violet. This combination derives from blue, yellow, blue again, and red. Finally, you could mix violet and orange. This is blue, red, red again and yellow.

Re-cap: Tertiary colours sit alongside a primary and secondary colour in the colour wheel. You can make a tertiary colour by mixing one primary and one secondary colour.

Why use tertiary colours?

I recommend tertiary colours because it limits your use of colour. Throughout art history, limiting colour has resulted in world-class artworks. Take Van Gogh’s sunflowers, which I mentioned on a previous blog post. See that he only uses a mixture of yellow, green and brown for this piece.

Tertiary colours form from the same colour starting point. As a result, using tertiary colours harmonises your colours. If you created a painting with blue-violet, red-orange and yellow-orange, they all have similar starting points. The secondary colours in this example, red and yellow makes orange, and red and blue make violet. Your primary colours are similar but with a complimentary adjacent. Red and yellow sit close by, with blue sitting opposite.

Using tertiary colours results in vibrant, colourful and striking works of art. However, by using your secondary tertiary colour, this can certainly help create a balanced work of art, which is not too garish.

Using tertiary colours also forces you to really think about the colour that you’re using. Instead of going full guns blazing, your colour will enhance by calculating what colour to use and where. As a by-product, this will then boost your composition, as colour and composition go hand in hand.

Re-cap: These colours limit your use of colour and creates a harmonising piece of artwork. They can result in saturated colours, so balance this with using unsaturated colours.

Tips for using tertiary colours

When using tertiary colours, there’s a few things to need in mind:

  • Tertiary colours can result in saturated images, especially if you’re using full chroma paints. Add some white, burnt sienna or black to reduce the saturation.
  • If you think your artwork is still too saturated, introduce a secondary tertiary colour (mixing two secondary colours together).
  • Rather than use all of the tertiary colours, pick and choose two or three combinations together. For example, yellow-orange, yellow red with a complimentary of blue-green.
  • Plan and test which your colour schemes you want to commit before painting your final artwork. This can be achieved in your art sketchbook.
  • Most importantly, have fun with it!

What artists have used tertiary colours?

I’ve chosen one artist that perfectly represents tertiary colours. It’s Paul Signac, a 19th Century French French Neo-Impressionist painter.

Evening Calm, 1891

My first choice is his painting titled ‘Evening Calm’, 1891, oil on canvas. Signac was meticulous with his colour choices and colour strokes, the result is paintings as stunning as this one. With this example, Signac uses yellow-green, blue-violet and subtle red-orange in the background. It’s a fine piece of art.

Paul Signac Painting Colours

Golfe Juan, 1896

Secondly, it’s this painting titled Golfe Juan, 1896, oil on canvas. Remember that tertiary colours come from mixing one primary and one secondary colour in equal measures. With this example, Signac uses yellow-orange, blue-green, blue-violet, yellow-green in particular. The scene is calming and picturesque, and we get a real sense of the environment just by it’s colour.

Paul Signac Colours

Places des Lices, 1893

Lastly, Place des Lices, 1893, oil on canvas, reveals this magical pointillism artwork. Can you spot the the colours used? Blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-orange and yellow-red. A marvellous artwork, with great colour and composition. We’re drawn to the man in the centre, and ask the question, why is he by himself? Signac’s signature pointillism technique offers a brilliant warmth, and is unique. Coupled with great use of colour, it’s a winning formula.

Paul Signac Painting


We’ve covered a lot of ground in today’s blog post, so I hope you have learnt a lot – I know I have! As a result, let’s go over what we’ve talked about:

  • Tertiary colours come from mixing a primary colour and secondary colour.
  • Situated in-between a primary colour and secondary colour on the colour wheel.
  • There are six tertiary colours: blue-violet, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, red-violet.
  • Using tertiary colours creates harmony, and forces you to limit your colour palette.
  • One famous artist to have used this colour scheme is Paul Signac.
  • Have fun whilst creating your own colour schemes!

If you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post, discover these ten free figure drawing resources. From helpful blogs, videos to great content, this is your place to learn all about figure drawing. Or get your custom designs, pins, and designs from Pins.US. These are the tools and equipment Haydn uses on a daily and weekly basis.

Many thanks for listening and visiting my news page today. You can follow what I’m up to on my Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram pages, I’ll really appreciate it if you do, and don’t be afraid to say hi to me! Many thanks again, and have a great day!

What are tertiary colours?

Haydn Symons

Freelance Illustrator Haydn Symons - Freelance Illustrator For Hire
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