Artists generally regard red, yellow, and blue as the most basic, or primary, colors. If you ask most artists to select three tubes of paint to match their mental image of the primary colors, they will most likely pick something like cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and ultramarine blue.
Why those three colors? From Greek and Roman times to the Renaissance, most people thought green should be included as a primary, too. As we’ve noted on a previous post, green actually has more psychological salience than yellow. It’s mentioned much more often in the English language.
What is a primary color? The idea is that you should be possible to mix every other color out of the three primaries. You may have noticed that with the traditional artist’s primaries you can mix clear oranges, but the greens and violets are on the dull side.
The traditional artist’s color wheel,” above, presents yellow, red, and blue spaced at even thirds around the circle, in the position of 12 o’ clock, 4 o’ clock, and 8 o’clock.
Mixtures of the red, blue, and yellow primaries create secondaries. The secondary colors are violet, green and orange. They appear at 2, 6, and 10 o’clock on the traditional color wheel. But in truth when I painted this wheel, I didn't paint those secondaries from the primaries. If I had tried, they would have come out much duller.
As we’ll see in future posts, there’s nothing written in stone about any of those colors being primary or secondary, and we can take a fresh look at the whole arrangement.
Reviewing the posts in this series:
Part 1: Wrapping the Spectrum
Part 2: Primaries and Secondaries
Part 3: Complements, Afterimages, and Chroma
Part 4: Problems with the Traditional Wheel
Part 5: The Munsell System
Part 6: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow
Part 7: The Yurmby Wheel