What is the Color Wheel and Why is it Important?

color in the roundThe color wheel is how colors are organized, and knowing about it can help you select co-ordinating colors for your home. 

In the beginning, Newton discovered that color is light. All of the colors of the spectrum are within sunlight. Every time we see a color, we are seeing colored light. An item may appear to have a colored pigmentation, but what is really happening is that particular pigment has the ability to absorb many colored wavelengths of light…. However… it also has the ability to reflect certain wavelengths of light and that is the colored light we see! Now that’s the kind of stuff that really gets me excited, but of course, Matt would be in the middle of one of those huge uncontrollable yawns! Believe me, this does get better.





The arrangement of colors is quite scientific also, invariably, the precise order of violet, blue, indigo, green, yellow, orange, and red turns up again and again in nature. Ever present in a rainbow, beautiful if in the spray of a waterfall, or reflected on the walls as the sun shines through a crystal chandelier, is the spectrum.

For a designer’s or artist’s purposes, the spectrum has been bent to create a continuous circle of color that holds inherent color relationships that are used in all creative and colorful fields of interest including design, physics and psychology. 



Color in the round….. the basic “map” for color theory is known as the color wheel. And although our world is filled with nearly 10 million discernible hues, the color wheel displays only twelve, each representing approximately 1 million colors in that particular family. 






The most important colors are referred to as primary colors, and there are three: red, yellow, and blue. These three are special because they are pure. No other colors can be mixed together to create any of the three. They are spaced equidistant from one another on the color wheel, and when mixed together, in varying amounts, they create the remaining nine colors. 





The second group of colors on the color wheel, those that are equal parts of two of the primaries are called secondary colors. (The second group of colors is called “secondary” colors… get it? See, this stuff isn’t that tough!) A mixture of half red and half yellow, gives us orange and it is located right between red and yellow on the color wheel. The same holds true for green, which is half yellow and half blue, and also for violet which is half blue and half red! And, that gets us half way through the color wheel! 



The remaining six colors that complete the color wheel are called tertiary colors. They are the mixture of one primary and one of it’s next door neighbors, a secondary color. For instance, between red and orange, is red-orange! How about that, between orange and yellow is yellow-orange! There’s also, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. (Notice how the primary colors exert their power and use their name first in every tertiary combination!) 



Now, on to warm vs. cool colors. Red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow and yellow-green are considered the warm half of the color wheel. When used in a design scheme, they add the equivalent of a little sunshine. Since our minds do react to color, warmer colors used in a room will help you to feel warmer, be more interested in conversation and lively activity, and they tend to cozy up a room. In other words, warm hues expand and come towards you, sometimes giving the appearance of a little smaller space. 

The rest of the hues are considered the cool colors. They give the feeling of water and sky. They can tone down a too sunny room and are generally more relaxing hues. They are often used in bedrooms and studies to promote quiet. You will find that cool colors tend to recede, or move away from you, potentially expanding the appearance of a room.

So, as you can see, knowing a few of these simple color facts can really help with your decorating projects.If you have a room that is too bright, decorate it in colors from the cool side of the spectrum. If your room is aching for some life, cheer it up with a sunny, warm hue. And this is just the start of color theory and color science. Another day I’ll fill you in on the three dimensions of color and how to use that information, I’ll explain all about color relationships using the color wheel, and some of the magic you can perform using the special properties of color. Uh-oh, I hear Matt yawning again. You know, he feels the same way about shopping, so I’ve learned to just not pay any attention to it!


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