I’m currently working on an art project and came to a barrier. I need to implement a third color that is asssociated with one another based on the color wheel and color theory, to these colors as shown in the picture:

Image of artwork; print (It’s a print)

I’m thinking a light, lime green could achieve this; however, I’m uncertain and some second thoughts could help.

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    When you say add a third colour, which two of the three colours in the picture (purple/orange/yellow) are you adding it to?
    – walrus
    Jun 1 '18 at 8:19
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    "Based on the color wheel and color theory" - not sure I understand this part, are you trying to ask what color scheme (e.g. split complementary, triadic, etc.) these colors could be described as, and what a third color in that scheme would be?
    – user812786
    Jun 1 '18 at 12:44
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    There are already three colors in the photograph. So do you mean we should ignore the yellow? Jun 2 '18 at 3:27
  • Based on those colors in which way? We did exercises in producing related colors in terms of transparency (as if the colors are layered films) as well as simply making primary and secondary complementary hues.
    – rebusB
    Jun 6 '18 at 23:32

This is based simply on classic color theory:

You're currently using two colors, and want to add a third. So, using color theory would involve choosing the third color based on the relationship of the first two to one another.

Since the coral orange and dusty purple (based on my screen) are about 1/4 of the "wheel" away from one another, there's really two color schemes that fit:

  • Light, lime green fits in with a triadic color scheme.

  • A rose pink could fit in quite nicely with an analogous scheme.

Triadic color schemes have 3 colors that split the color wheel into equal thirds. Closely related is the split complementary theme, where two of the colors are adjacent to the complement of another. In my example, you'd be using a blend of both. Your first two colors aren't so close together that the complement of the lime green, rose pink, is actually adjacent to them. That's why it's more of a triadic color scheme, despite not being a perfectly even split around the color wheel.

The analogous scheme is using three colors that are near each other, the "outer" two (on the wheel) about the same distance from the center color. That's how I arrived at my rose pink suggestion.

It's important to remember that there's room to play, and color theory can be used to develop rich palettes with many distinct colors, even if it's only three base colors from the wheel. And the color you pick can affect the mood or tone you're trying to set in your work. Consider the difference it would make shifting the lime green closer to yellow or green. Or making the light green even lighter, or darker, which would add contrast of brightness.

Here's a quick example palette with the four colors discussed (roughly), as generated from the link I provided to Palleton (a simple interactive color wheel with built-in scheme options).

enter image description here


Color theory is not the same as color science. The color wheel is more properly A color wheel - as in one of many, because there are very, very many competing systems of color. Since you are speaking neither scientifically nor semantically, and we have neither insight into your cultural background - nor the ability to look at your version of light, lime green, all we can offer is color sociology, as the last domain standing...

Choose the color you take because you liked it. If someone tells you that a color is wrong based on a system of gradients that somebody (probably not them) mapped to a circular shape like a pie-chart, politely remind them:

Prevailing 18th and 19th century German color theory for example, showed that both Goethe and Itten made their respective color theories “contemporary” with radically different systems. From a sociological perspective both were right, from a scientific perspective both were wrong. Outside of their cultural epoch, these systems reveal themselves as methods for telling us more about the people than about colors.

In response to @creationEdge’s comment about the quote (from myself above), the so-called “artist’s color wheel” as we know it today is a remnant of the teachings of the Bauhaus in Weimar that were regurgitated by that school’s “Meister”, Johannes Itten, in 1973 and successfully (as the comments to this response show) introduced as a method of indoctrinating a culturally (not scientifically) defined color-theory to art students.

This is his work: ittens farbkreis

It reflected pseudo-futurist sentiments about the salvation of humanity through technology and the very German distribution of interconnectedness through “specialization”. My main critique of this “system” is that mixing opposing colors (red and green, blue and orange etc.) should produce black, but it invariably creates a muddy brown.

Speaking of brown, the famous polymath Goethe also designed a color-wheel, and although the natural pigments he used have faded with time’s passage, his (and Schiller’s) work reflected their cultural dependence on nature as opposed to technology. This is his color wheel from 1810:

goethes color wheel

And as very thoroughly described on Wikipedia (although the German version is written much better) here we can see through to Goethe’s intention of anthropocentric color theory:

goethes colored emotions

If someone wants you to believe that some color has a “universal” meaning outside of culture, show them this picture:

found in reddit

For insight into a parallel from computer science about how training bias can go too far in education (which is the entire point of this response to your question), feel free to read this article. Although not specifically about color, it speaks about the perils of training sets.


So what is the answer? Don’t trust your art teachers, because they learned a skewed theory of color. If you need to have a scientific explanation for colors, I recommend considering the complete spectrum of color including both reflected and projected light. The full spectrum includes eight colors:

  • Red
  • Green
  • Blue
  • White
  • Yellow
  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Black
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    "from a scientific perspective, both were wrong" deserves an explanation outside of this throwaway line in the quote. If they're talking about differences in the artist's color wheel compared to the RGB light spectrum, then the comparison is invalid because the color wheel isn't based on additive light.
    – user24
    Jun 2 '18 at 22:15
  • Also, that BBC link took me to today's article, not anything about color
    – user24
    Jun 2 '18 at 22:16
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    Same for me, I got an article about a psychopathic AI called Norman.
    – walrus
    Jun 4 '18 at 8:34
  • @CreationEdge - Color has always been a very decisive matter, as we are seeing here. For your information, I wrote the “quote”,. The “artist’s color wheel” as you call it, is only one part of the entire scientific system of color. Jun 16 '18 at 9:36

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