Notes on Colour

a warning note


Take everything in these notes with a pinch of salt—there are no right answers here. I attempt to make these notes coherent, reasonably consistent, and close enough to the truth to be of practical use. I have made compromises in my attempts to make the text readable and the illustrations entertaining.


These notes are intended as an introduction to the subject and as a summary of current thinking. The explanations are necessarily simplified. I don’t think they’re actually wrong, or even misleading, but you should consult more scholarly works if you want greater accuracy.

Health warning

The colour theory taught in painting classes is often wrong and usually misleading. Don’t mention anything you learn from these notes when you’re at a painting class—they’re likely to take offence at the truth.

A viewer’s response is not determined by the way paints mix but by the way the human eye responds. Mixing paint is very complicated. The response of the human eye to colour is very complicated. Confusing these two distinct processes is guaranteed to obscure both of them.