However, it wasn’t always quite so simple. It is believed that the first theories surrounding colour were by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. He maintained that the ‘principal’ colours were black and white and that all other colours were derived from one of four elements: air, earth, fire and water.
In 1435, Italian architect, Leon Battista Alberti wrote a piece opposing Aristotle’s philosophical approach, demoting black and white to non-colours. ‘Through the mixing of colours infinite other colours are born, but there are only four true colours – as there are four elements – from which more and more other kinds of colours may be thus created. Red is the colour of fire, blue of the air, green of the water, and of the earth grey and ash.’ As we move further on, following the discovery of the colour spectrum, Sir Isaac Newton is believed to have attributed the very first colour wheel by arranging red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet in a natural evolution on a rotating disk.
This circular diagram became the model for many colour systems throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, which included Claude Boutet’s painter’s circle of 1708, which was probably the first to be based on Newton’s circle.
However, shaping the colour wheel into what we know today was Michel Eugène Chevreul’s Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast in 1839. He concluded that the three primary colours were red, yellow, and blue and that all other colours could be created through various combinations of these primary colours. So, whether you're after a high colour contrast or a serene and comfortable design, you can use this guide to help you plan your next creation.
Choose a colour, then select the shade opposite on the colour wheel for a beautiful combination.