Introduction to colour theory

You've booked your date to come into the studio and you're excited to get all arty! If you're looking for a little inspiration before your pottery painting visit then this introduction to colour theory is a great place to start. If you're bringing little ones with you then this is an excellent way to make your visit to us educational as well as fun.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in 1666 whilst he was studying light reflecting off of prisms. He noticed the relationships between the different colours and created the colour wheel. This is now the basis of colour theory.

You can put colours together in a number of different ways. There are 5 different ways and they each have names; complementary, monochromatic, analogous, triadic and tetradic. We'll explain what each of them is but first let's go back to Primary School and take a look at the basics of colour.

The colour wheel. Introduction to colour theory

Primary colours

Primary colours are those you can't create by combining two or more other colours together.

There are three primary colours:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

Secondary colours

Secondary colours are the colours that are formed by combining any two of the three primary colours. You can see the secondary colours where the primary colours cross over in the Venn diagram above.

There are three secondary colours: orange, purple, and green. You can create each one using two of the three primary colours. Here is how to mix primary colours together to make secondary colours:

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

Tertiary colours

Tertiary colours are created when you mix a primary colour with a secondary colour. Not all colours work together when mixed, however. If you mix colours that aren't harmonious then you'll create brown (which is okay if that's what you want).

There are six tertiary colours and here's how to create them:

  • Red + Purple = Red-Purple (magenta)
  • Red + Orange = Red-Orange (vermillion)
  • Blue + Purple = Blue-Purple (violet)
  • Blue + Green = Blue-Green (teal)
  • Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange (amber)
  • Yellow + Green = Yellow-Green (chartreuse)

Colour combinations

Now we know how to mix colours and what the colour wheel is, let's find out how we can put colours together to make some awesome pottery designs. Remember earlier we explained there were five different ways to put colours together with the following names; complementary, monochromatic, analogous, triadic and tetradic? Let's find out what each of those is now.


Complementary colours are two colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel.


This is three shades of the same colour.


Analogous colours are three colours that are side by side on the colour wheel. 


Triadic means three colours that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel. 


Tetradic is the same as triadic but with four colours instead of three.

We hope you have fun using our introduction to colour theory guide! We'd love to know how you use these theories in your pottery painting so make sure you tag us on Instagram. If you're interested to experiment more with colour theory then why not play around with this colour wheel on Canva?

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