My art work

Colour bias and hue ~ Day 2

I left the workshop on Tuesday feeling satisfied. I had battled with my painting, and to honest, it won. However I learnt a great deal and was looking forward to two more days of sitting and painting. The only problem was that Helen had mentioned roses for Day 2.

During day 1 of the workshop Helen Burrows took us through tone and grey scales. Day 2 was to be hue and colour bias.

As I mentioned before, I can see tone fairly easily. However, colour confuses me. I was a long time into my artistic learning before I was confident to use colour. While I can mix a colour reasonably accurately, my use of colour always seemed a bit hit and miss. Now I understand that my problem was that I had missed out on a basic concept — the colour wheel.

A colour wheel explains bias in colour. There are 3 primary colours ~ red, blue and yellow. Everyone knows that! But the primary colours that we have in our paint tubes are not pure. They have a bias towards the secondary colours of green, orange and purple. This is why, at times we wonder whether a yellow is yellow or green, or why a blue can also look purplish. It is important to know the bias of your paints. You can make your painting sing by using the right colours, by thinking about 3 “rules”. When you don’t take bias into account you end up with an uninteresting mix as the colours compete, often neutralising each other.

I have create a very rough colour wheel, using coloured pencils but it will help illustrate the rules.

Colour wheel
Colour wheel

Rule 1: Family is always welcome. They are the other colours/hues around it. However, you need to bear in mind the bias of the colour. For example, is your blue a green blue or has it a bias to purple? If to the green, then the hues of your colour will be somewhere in the greeny blues. It is to those hues that you will look to mix your paint.

Rule 2: Next door neighbours are friends So a colour only a little away from the one you want will work harmoniously. Blue/green. Yellow/orange etc.

Rule 3: Opposites attract. These are the colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. Purple/yellow. Blue/orange. Green/red. They are the ones that can add zing and depth to your work. Think about a blue room with accents of terracotta (orange). Interestingly (well, to me, anyway!) to make a colour darker you add its complimentary colour. Want a darker green? Add red.

So, Helen took us through colour bias and wheels and hues. I came away with a much stronger understanding. Yay! Then to our roses. Maybe not so Yay!

Roses are complex. Their shapes are complex; their colours and hues are complex. They are for Grown Up Painters. But Helen wasn’t letting me get away with that mind set! And I wasn’t letting me get away with any more tantrums. So with my colours mixed and my hue scales done (sort of), I settled down to draw and then paint the rose bud. This is what I ended up with 🙂 . I think it looks like a flouncy fish….but I am happy with what I learnt.

My "rose bud"!! (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
My “rose bud”!! (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

The original drawing was not accurate. That meant that I got lost in the drawing, not sure at times of where the lights, darks and mid~tones were. Lesson 1~make your original drawing as accurate as possible.

I could see the highlights and darks, and managed to get most of those down in the washes. Lesson 2~be very careful of your highlights. Unlike oils and acrylics, where you add white paint to make a highlight, watercolour relies on the white of the paper. Many a cry of anguish has been heard from a watercolour painter who has mistakenly painted over her white paper!

I think I was getting the mid-tones. Lesson 3~remember that the mid-tone in paint is the middle section of hue scale.

And lastly I did my usual trick of getting carried away in one area, one petal, putting in all the lovely detail. Lesson 4~remember to work over the whole, to compare tone and hue to the overall. Detail comes later.

So it wasn’t a perfect rose ~ or even a perfect fish! But I had fun. I played, and learnt so much through playing.

[If you are interested in finding out more Windsor and Newton have a really interesting article here. It will give you more detailed information. Maybe more accurate too!]

12 replies on “Colour bias and hue ~ Day 2”

Oh! What a great post Anne, and as a layperson, I thought your rose bud was beautiful. Nonetheless, I’m going to get my daughter to have a look at this. She mostly does 3D modeling with Maya, but many of the textures she applies to the models are created in Paintshop and she has had to learn by trial and error. She could find this very useful – if Mum can convince her.:)


You know there’s also psychological bias when interpreting colour. If you ask someone to paint a cloud, they’ll instinctively go for white, when in reality, the great cloud painters in history didn’t.
I’ve got an unusual ‘disorder’ that makes me see the world with less filters than other people. It also allows me to look at a pearl and see pink, blue, grey, yellow etc.
Keep that in mind the next time you look at something. What colours are really there vs. what colours you think you see.


That is so true. And it depends on the colour that it is next to. Not only because of reflected colour, but also because our eyes automatically try to merge colours. Well, most for most of us….with your condition do you see the colours as separate bands, or does it mean that you are able to distinguish the colours?


Hmmm, hard to explain. I guess I distinguish them as if they were separate. Last summer my partner and I ended up having a horrible argument in a restaurant over the colour of cumin. He was sure it was ‘yellow’. Even after we got home and I got a magnifying glass to show him it was a scale of colours, he still didn’t see it.


I bet there are not too many people who argue over the colour of cumin!
I have often wondered whether everyone sees colour in the same way. It is interesting to know that you have a special facility for it. Do you see numbers and words in colours too?


I’m not rain man or anything like that 🙂 I’ve never considered this carefully, but I think I’d describe it more as seeing things in patterns. By taking whatever apart in my mind, I see distinct colours, shapes etc. and organize them into separate groups. Cumin (as I see it) is a scale of cream to brown which when mixed gives the impression of yellow.


Like all things, there are so many levels of complexity! I am still coming to terms with information only a few levels down into Colour. Life should be a learning journey. 🙂


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