Word of the day 'Hue'

Word of the day 'Hue'

What does 'Hue' mean in Art?

The word Hue - When we refer to a colour by its name we are referring to its hue. This is most clear when using colour charts, and colour wheels as names of hues are dominant and familiar to us, for example RED, BLUE, YELLOW, GREEN, etc... However, we can use this term 'hue' in much more finer detail once we are familiar and understand the colour families; for example if you think of a hue as the underlying colour or its source of origin, lets use Blue as an example, within this Blue family we can give the hues different colour names such as; Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Turquoise Blue etc... From the Red colour family, familiar Red hue names are; Alizarin Crimson, Magenta, Cadmium Red, Vermillion, Rose Madder etc...In the Yellow family, familiar hue names would be Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow, Raw Sienna etc...and so on.

As you read further we look at probably our first experience of colour in the visible colour spectrum and further explain common Art and Design terminology, developing a knowledge of colour theory will underpin and inform your visual literacy and aid you on your creative journey!

Let's begin with rainbows!

Paint RainbowPhoto by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

One of our first introductions to colour as a young child is possibly the colours of the rainbow, we all know the song Red and Yellow and Pink and Green, Orange and Purple and Blue! (which incidentally is not the order in which we see them). We all marvel at the beautiful spectacle for as long as we can when they do arrive, knowing how transient they are! Like a huge painting they hang over us, the more vivid and intense the more thrilling! As children it is hard to understand that the colours we perceive are varying wavelengths created by light and not physical colour! Red being the longest wavelength and violet being the shortest, then all the other colours in between! In fact we 'think we see seven distinct colours, but in reality the edges of every hue is blurred somewhat, so we might see yellow green or green blue.

Dominant Wavelength

The colours we see when light strikes an object are indeed the result of certain wavelengths (individual colours) being absorbed by the object while other wavelengths are being reflected back at us. Those colours reflected back are focused by the lenses of our eyes and projected onto our retinas, these are the colours we see.

Prism made from cottonPhoto by John Anvik on Unsplash

However colour is subjective, as physiology differs from one person to the next, we each perceive colors slightly differently, and some are even color blind!

When we talk about colour, we use a certain vocabulary; using words like hue, value, shade, tint, tone, complimentary colours, and saturation (also known as chroma or intensity) etc... We talk about the language of colour and how we attach meaning to colour for example the colour 'Red' for danger or how colour speaks to us on an emotional or spiritual level e.g. 'Red' is associated with love and passion! (this does change from culture to culture)

Choosing colours and pigments to work as a vehicle for communicating your ideas can be incredibly confusing and time consuming as an aspiring artist! however knowing a little bit of colour theory and understanding what is in your pigment goes along way! this information could save you time in your practise and save you money when buying pigments. There are some great books out there to help you develop your understanding of the power of colour and help you develop your style!

Further Reading!

  1. Josef Albers's Interaction of Color : 50th Anniversary Edition
  2. Color Theory: An essential guide to color-from basic principles to practical applications
  3. Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors
  4. Author Nita Leland Confident Color, an artist's guide to harmony, contrast and unity.
  5.  James Gurney Color And Light, A guide for the Realist Painter.
  6. David Hornung Color: A Workshop for Artists and Designers
  7. Julie Collins, Colour Mixing Guide Watercolour
  8. Johannes Itten , The Art of Color.
  9. The Encyclopedia of Coloured Pencil Techniques LINK
  10. Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes Link
  11. Take Three Colours: Mountains in Watercolour: Start to Paint with 3 Colours, 3 Brushes and 9 Easy Projects
  12. Watercolour Seascapes: Start to Paint with 3 Colours, 3 Brushes and 9 Easy Projects Link

Further Colour Mixing guides:

Brief overview of the most commonly used terms.

Understanding colour vocabulary, will help you to describe, discuss and categorise colour within your artwork. (this list is not a definitive list of terms artists use within this area of study, but a small dip in the ocean of an extensive area known as colour theory, but it is a start!)

Hue noun:

The word 'hue' refers to a particular colour family, examples of hue, Red, Blue, Yellow, Green; describing the dominant wavelength of a colour.

Also refers to any pure colour when used to describe different palettes for example "a palette of pure hues will create a strong contrast when used with a palette of neutrals"; or used as a term to describe the creation of tints, shades or tones; for example when written, "a pure hue is used plus white to create a tint"

When buying pigment the word 'hue' can mean the pigment is not pure, it describes a mix of alternative synthetic pigments to create a similar historical colour which may no longer be manufactured due to toxicity levels or that has been created as a cheaper alternative to a very expensive natural mineral ingredient pigment such as traditionally made Ultramarine (made by crushing Lapis Lazuli a semi precious stone). French ultramarine pigment was developed as a cheaper alternative.

See below for more information on pigments.

Saturation (chroma, brightness or intensity):

Dominant term used to describe the richness or purity of a colour. Highly saturated colours are very rich and have a pure pigment load, whilst colours that are low in saturation may appear duller or muted.

Primary colors:

Commonly known as Red, Blue, Yellow; colours that cannot be created by mixing any other colour together.

Secondary colours:

Two Primary colours mixed together; Green, Orange, Purple.

Tertiary colours:

A tertiary colour is made up of a primary and a secondary colour, for example ; Red-orange, blue-green, or red-violet.

Complimentary colours:

Complimentary colours sit opposite each other on the colour wheel for example Red and Green or Blue and Orange, when painted adjacent to each other they create strong contrasts.


The lightness or darkness or brightness of a colour.


A tint is created when a white pigment is added to create a paler or lighter version of the original hue. Varying degrees of white pigment added to the mix, will create a pallet of pastel colours. Any colour can become a tint when white is added.


A tone is created when grey is added to the original hue to create a darker or muted, less intense alternative. Varying proportions of grey can be added to the mix to create different tones light or dark. In this context grey is made from mixing just white pigment and black.


A shade is any colour that has been darkened with black. Colours can darken very quickly, so by adding small amounts of black incrementally will help you to control the shade.


This is means having one colour but in different values.


This term refers to having no colour, black, grey or white, also sometimes called Neutrals. An achromatic scale would be a range of greys (greys mixed from varying degrees of black and white pigment) to create a range of values; starting from white through to black. Artists create achromatic value scales and use them to check the value of a colour within their artwork to determine whether they are creating enough contrast.


White, Black and Grey are classed as neutrals and are the opposite of a pure hue. (some artists refer to Brown as a neutral)


Three colours that sit side by side on a colour wheel, for example Red, Orange and Yellow, or Blue, Indigo, Violet.


Three colours that are equally spaced around the colour wheel.

What Hue means when Buying pigments!

Natural Pigments & Hues

In the Technical Art Questions Top 40, this query must have spent more time at No. 1 than any other. And it's a fair question, since one will see you buying a relatively inexpensive paint, and the other could see you spending two or three times as much.

So why is this? If you roll back the clock to when pigment production was in its infancy, one of the qualities sought after by those early manufacturers was permanence. Now, 'infancy' could mean as far back as when our ancestors, grief-stricken by the death of a relative or pretty chuffed at the successfully bludgeoning of an ill-tempered elk, first tried to immortalise that event on a cave wall, using those colours available to them. It's hard to believe that the earliest of artists didn't try a bit of everything, employing bog-standard trial-and-error to ascertain which of those 'found pigments' didn't flake off, didn't wash away, and didn't fade too quickly. We know from archaeological evidence that ochres, sienna and umbers - naturally-occurring iron compounds - stand the test of time; they still exist today, thousands of years later, paying testament to the ingenuity of the artists who painted with them.


Thanks to artistic pioneers, whether they be from the Palaeolithic or the Renaissance, we now have at our disposal knowledge of thousands of pigments, most of them selected for vibrancy and permanence. The flipside of this is that, owing to the limitations of the time, safety hasn't been much of a consideration, and substances which are now well-known for their toxicity were commonly used in pigments. Heavy metals such as cadmium, cobalt and lead all found their way into the mix, with lead eventually being replaced with the far safer titanium dioxide.

Mixing Colour

Substitute Pigments

The search for safer and, in some cases, cheaper pigments has lead to an increase in the synthesis of alternative compounds. These are what are used in 'hues'.  Cadmium red hue  does not contain any cadmium - it is simply 'the hue of' cadmium. The 'hue' indicates that the paint does not comprise the genuine pigments found in the non-hue product. An alternative, nearest colour, pigment, is used, or a blend of pigments, in order to create the colour.

Comparisons of genuine-pigment colours and their hues: (l-r) Cadmium red vs. cadmium red hue; cobalt blue vs. cobalt blue hue; cadmium orange vs. cadmium orange hue. (Copyright © 2016 Granthams Ltd.) " />

Artist quality paints (and variously  Artists' Quality  and  Artist's Quality ), i.e., those which contain genuine pigments rather than hues, are generally preferred by artists from the point of view that their constituent pigments do not fade badly over time. Hues may not replicate the vibrancy of their genuine counterparts, and they may be prone to fading in sunlight. Another issue which some artists experience is that the blended substitute pigments may separate during drying, resulting in a slight colour shift. Fading and colour shifts are not critical for everyone; the less expensive alternatives are often nicknamed 'Student Quality', in recognition of their popularity with those in education, for whom budget is another consideration.

As always, it comes down to preference. Jobbing illustrators who digitally scan their work soon after completion may not be too concerned with a pigment fading over time. Even professional artists and illustrators may have budgetary constraints. It's entirely possible that future hues will be closer than ever to their genuine counterparts, and it's also possible that some genuine pigments may be banned, as nearly happened to cadmium last year.

Ellie Jakeman
Ellie Jakeman

I have had a strong interest in the visual and creative arts since a very early age. I completed with great success ‘A’ level Fine Art, Textile and Embroidery City and Guilds, Foundation Diploma in Fine Art, (BA hons) Degree in Embroidery and Textiles from Manchester Metropolitan University and a PGCE from the University of Huddersfield. I have taught Art and Design, Fashion and Textiles, Textile design and Fine Art print and Illustration for over 20 years. Before teaching I was a freelance artist and illustrator and decided 4 years ago I would return to freelance and commissioned work. I have created many domestic and commercial murals for hospitals and hospices. I work part time for ARTdiscount as a content creator and product tester.

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