Curated by Erin Cross, Assistant  Professor of Art

 Primary is a curated selection of artwork from Doane University’s art collection. With the primary colors being the focus, these paintings, drawings and prints are anything but basic.


An understanding of basic color theory is not exclusive to the artist and/or designer. We all make decisions based on color, one way or another, everyday. Although the study of color can be quite complex, everyone can benefit from an understanding of basic color essentials.


Color is also referred to as hue. Hue refers to the name of the color. For example, red, yellow and blue are hues. Although color and hue can be used interchangeable, there is a specific difference between the two words. Hue describes the visual sensation within the color wheel spectrum. One hue can represent many colors. For example, pink, burgundy and maroon are all colors of the red hue.

Example 1: The color wheel

The color wheel is a visualization of hues and colors organized to showcase the harmonious relationships within the color spectrum. Although color was studied in the 15th century by Sir Issac Newton and Leone Battista Alberi through the examination of light, the artistic and design focus of the study of color theory was first created in the eighteenth century by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Michel Eugene Chevreil and Charles Hayter. In the early twentieth century, the artists of Bauhaus movement (Johannes Itten, Joseph Albers) made huge advancements towards the modern color wheel used and understood today.

The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. All other hues (colors) within the color wheel are created through the primary colors. Hues opposite each other on a color wheel are called complementary sets. For example, the primary hue, red is opposite to the secondary hue, green. Mixing two primary hues, yellow and blue, together, creates green. All secondaries are created through the mixing of two primary hues. Analogous colors are created when a primary and a secondary are mixed together. For example, primary red + secondary orange = red orange. With this understanding, all hue and color mixing starts with the fundamental use of the primary hues. A solid understanding of the primary hues is the beginning of color theory mastery.

Example 2: Aileen Wallace’s Study for a Painting

To help illustrate the complexity of the primary hues, a diagram has been created from Aileen Wallace’s study to aid in the explanation of primary mixing theory.

The hue/color focus of the composition is the basic red, yellow and blue. However, the traditional bright hues are not present. The red hue has been mixed with black to achieve a burgundy shade (the inclusion of black creates a shade). The yellow hue was been mixed with a pink color to create a fleshy tint (the inclusion of white creates a tint). The blue was been mixed with a medium neutral gray tone (the inclusion of gray creates tone). Through hue/color mixing of the primaries, this study offers a strong example of how far three hues can be pushed.

I encourage the viewer, to take time and examine each artwork displayed and focus on how each artist pushes and pulls the primary hues within the composition. The hues presented may be translated through emotive and/or symbolic interpretations or through the deceptively complex display of its simple formalistic properties.


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