Color Basics – Hue

The Easiest Characteristic To Understand

Of the four characteristics of color, hue is the most easily understood. A Hue is simply the name we give it – red, yellow, blue, etc. Usually, the hue is a fairly general name that really describes a family of colors. This lesson covers the idea of Hue, the simplest Color Characteristic to understand.

We most commonly use a colors hue to describe the local color, or inherent color. The color of a yellow sunflower will look different in different kinds of light, but we are likely to still think of it simply as “yellow”, even though the apparent color will change depending on the quality of light.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Colors

One of the simplest ways to understand basic, simple Hues and their relationships to each other is by organizing them into one of three categories: primary, secondary, tertiary.

Primary Colors

The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue.  These are “primary” colors because they cannot be mixed from any other colors.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are those colors which result from a mixture of two primary colors.  Quite simply:

Red plus yellow equals orange

Red plus blue equals purple or violet

Yellow plus blue equals green

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are essentially everything that is not a primary or a secondary.  Often they are referred to with a hyphenated name; red-violet, blue-green, yellow-orange, etc.

Tertiary colors are the result of mixing a primary color with a secondary color or an proportionally un-equal mixture of two primary colors.

The color wheel at right shows primary, secondary and tertiary colors.

“Palette Primaries”

It is important to know and remember is that there are few true primary colors that can be purchased in a tube.  Nearly every color available, from every manufacturer, is some version of a tertiary color. There are truly many reds, blues, and yellows available, all are bright, beautiful and useful. Think of these as palette primaries – they are colors with Hues that appear red, blue or yellow. The difference is that there is some portion of another primary Hue to make them tertiary Hues.

Info Download

The link below downloads a four page info sheet on Hue with more detail and information on color temperature, common watercolor paints listed by temperature and how to test new or unfamilar colors for temperature.


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