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Color theory, is Johannes Itten all you need to know or is there more?

Did you ever mix colors and wondered what you did wrong?

Was the result dark and dirty colors?

Did you think you made a mistake?

You didn’t! There is a secret that is not told too often you need to know about!

Color theory sounds hard, and it can be complicated. But if you start at the beginning it is not so hard.


Colour theory

Primary colours

The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. The most used scheme is the color wheel from Itten.

Primary colors can not be created. But with these colors, you can make all other colors. At least, in theory, practice is a bit more complicated, but I’ll get back to that.

Secondary colors

Secondary colors are colors that consist of two primary colors that are mixed.

  • Red and blue make purple.
  • Yellow and blue make green.
  • Red and yellow make orange.

If you mix the secondary colors with other primary or secondary colors, we call that tertiary color.

You can forget all the hard terms if you remember that red, blue and yellow are the colors you can make all other colors with.

Okay, I would tell you something about the practice of mixing colors.


Mix paint

What happens if you mix the blue color and the red color of Itten’s color wheel?

Dark, a little muddy purple.

The same goes for blue and yellow: dark green.

This is the practice I was talking about.

Do you really want bright purple and bright green, then you need magenta and cyan. For the ones paying attention, yes, indeed, the print colors that are also found in your printer!

What is going on


The color circle and color contrasts that Itten has devised are still relevant and useful, but scientifically the color circle is not correct.

Magenta, Cyan, and Yellow are the scientifically correct colors to blend all colors. Red and blue are wide interpretable colors. A red-pink is also in the category “red”. Cyan, a bright light blue is still in the category “blue”. Experienced painters choose a red pink or orange-red depending on the color they want to mix.
If you really want to make all the colors, you will need these two extra colors, in addition to the warm red and the darker blue you see in the color circle.

I can hear you think: “So the color circle is not complete. Why is not there a complete version?” It does exist, but it is less known than Itten’s color circle. The color circle of Gerritsen has all the colors to make the most of the colors.



All good, all this theory, but now we going to practice!

Create a color wheel yourself


If you do not have paint in your house; buy some cheap paint to practice with. It’s handy to buy colors that you want to paint with later. You do not have to pay the highest price immediately. There are several types of “studio quality” tubes and jars that will help you get started.
If you just started painting, I recommend you to choose gouache (washable) or acrylic paint. These are more user-friendly than, for example, oil paint.


  1. Make the shape of a triangle with red, yellow and blue with paint. You can also use cyan (light blue) and magenta (bright pink).
  2. Mix the secondary colors and place them between the primary colors.
  3. If you like, you can also mix all colors with white or black. With these, you create a circle around the other colors.
  4. Done with your color wheel? Choose the most beautiful colors and paint something fun, the paint is already there!

The idea is that with this color wheel you can quickly see what shades you can make with the paint you have at home. Then you quickly choose the best colors for your project.

When mixing different colors red, blue and yellow you get different results. There is no right or wrong. With different shades of red, you can mix different types of purple and orange.

I talk Dutch in my video’s, but you will be able to see how I mix the paint!

What do you do with the left over paint? Create a nice painting!

A few more tips to shop for paint:

  • Do you already have a brand you want to buy? Search the internet for the primary colors for that brand and/or series. This may differ.
  • No information found on the internet? Ask the seller. Still not clear? Choose the brightest red, blue and yellow. White paint and black paint are also useful if you want to make lighter and dark shades. If there is any budget left you can choose bright pink and light blue too.
  • You can buy a tear-off palette. This is a block of sheets where you can tear off the top sheet when finished. This saves you from a lot of washing up and you can clean up quickly. You can even cover it and store it in a plastic case.
  • No tearing palette found or too expensive? The lid of a plastic bowl also works fine! After painting, you can put the bottom of the bowl back on the lid, then you paint will not dry.
  • A palette knife is also useful because you do not have to clean your brush every time but you can wipe the palette knife quickly after mixing.
  • Buy different sorts of brushes. If you are just starting out, you can better paint a looser style in stead of painting too much details. This works better with bigger brushes.

Tips for painting:

  • Acrylic paint dries very quickly and there are mediums available to mix with the paint. This increases the drying time.
  • Take two cups to wash your brushes. Use cup 1 to wash brushes with paint, use cup 2, to water your brush before putting the brush on your paper. This means that you need to refresh your water less frequently.
  • Rinse your brushes immediately after you are done with painting, because once the paint has dried, you have to throw away the brush.
  • Have fun! Do not let yourself think too much about the “perfect artwork”, see it as an exercise. If you fail, you learn the most from!


Next time in color theory: mix the perfect skin color.


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