Skip to main contentSkip Navigation or Skip to Content
Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

VISA 1101: Colour

Note: This course is only available for registration to students residing in Canada.

This studio course in art, based on ten half-hour video programs about understanding and using colour, is for anyone who wants to work with colour and use it effectively. The course covers basic colour theory, colour research (mixing pigments), colour energy and temperature and colour schemes. Each unit's program begins with a lecture/demonstration followed by a studio session featuring students working on the program theme. Each program concludes with an exhibition of students' work.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Mix pigments to produce mid-values for the six primary and secondary colours.
  • Distinguish between subtractive and additive colour.
  • Identify a range of pigments by their commercial names.
  • Make a colour circle, showing mid-values for the six primary and secondary colours, and identifying the warm/cool axis and the light/dark axis.
  • Identify the "natural order" of light and dark colours.
  • Exploit effectively the chromatic energy that results from combining warm and cool colours.
  • Develop colour schemes.
  • Identify and mix complementaries for a wide range of colours.
  • Mix chromatic greys, blacks, and whites.
  • Prepare a grey scale.
  • Mix a range of classical discords, alternating discords, and complementary discords.
  • Demonstrate variations in the impact of colours produced by variations in mark, texture, size, etc.
  • Produce colour studies and analyses of natural objects.
  • Analyze the use of colour in a painting.
  • Analyze the use of colour in, advertising, display, signage, food presentation, and fashion.
  • Discuss the "colour revolution," of the late nineteenth-century
  • Outline the contributions that the great colourists of European painting made to the "colour revolution."

Course topics

Unit 1: Basics of Colour

  • Brief survey of subtractive and additive theories of colour
  • Physics of colour
  • Relationship between pigments and colours
  • Primaries, secondaries, and complementaries
  • Mixing mid-values
  • Preparing a basic colour circle
  • Colour energy
  • The cyan, magenta, yellow (CMY) colour wheel

Unit 2: Colour Energy

  • Impact of complementaries (maximum contrast)
  • Contrast of extension
  • Warm/cool dimension of colour (maximum energy)
  • Colour/form relationships

Unit 3: Colour Structures

  • Importance of colour temperature in colour structures
  • Analyzing colour schemes in paintings
  • Points, lines, and marks
  • Triads and tetrads in colour schemes

Unit 4: Between Black and White

  • Analyzing use of black, white, and grey in paintings
  • Mixing chromatic blacks
  • Mixing chromatic greys
  • Mixing chromatic whites
  • Grey scale
  • Breaking a colour with its complementary

Unit 5: Discord Energy

  • Definition of classical discords and examples of their use in paintings
  • Mixing classical discords
  • Mixing alternating discords
  • Mixing complementary discords

Unit 6: Colour in Nature

  • Major developments in twentieth-century landscape painting: shifting point of view and using colour to create form
  • Analyzing colour and form in natural objects

Unit 7: Living with Colour

  • Please note that there are two half-hour video programs for this unit.
  • Analyzing use of colour in architecture, interior decoration, fashion, food, packaging, advertising, and signage

Unit 8: Colour Light

  • Additive theory of colour
  • Effect of different kinds of light on colours
  • Computer-aided exploration of colour organization and colour relationships
  • Reflections
  • Colour dynamics
  • Iridescence
  • Lasers

Required text and materials

Students will receive the following:

  1. Itten J. Elements of Color, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1970.
    Type: Custom Reprint Textbook. ISBN 0-471-28929-9.
  2. Gregory, Richard L. Eye and Brain, The Psychology of Seeing. 5e. Princeton University Press, 1997.
    Type: ISBN 978-0-691-165165
  3. TRU Open Learning. Colour: An Introduction.
    Type: USB
  4. TRU Open Learning. Color Wheels and Information.
  5. TRU Open Learning. Postcard Booklet.
  6. VISA 1101 Art Supply Kit.

Students are responsible for supplying a number of minor items for their studio work:

  • Odourless mineral spirits and baby oil to clean up paint from palette
  • Masking tape
  • 18" x 24" acrylic or glass sheet for mixing
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Ruler
  • Pencils
  • Paper towel
  • Wax paper
  • Push pins

Additional requirements

Additional common items may be required to complete assignments. Refer to the detailed course description on the TRU-OL website or contact Student Services.


Please be aware that should your course have a final exam, you are responsible for the fee to the online proctoring service, ProctorU, or to the in-person approved Testing Centre. Please contact with any questions about this.

The assignments for units 1 to 7 are studio-based, requiring students to work with pigments and other materials. Assignment 8 is a written assignment. Students are also expected to keep a notebook in which they record personal extensions of the ideas introduced in the course. The notebook could include sketches, clippings, samples, colour studies, notes, photos, etc. In some units, specific notebook activities are assigned. The notebook must be submitted to the Open Learning Faculty Member at the end of the course.

It is strongly recommended that students complete all assignments in order to achieve the learning objectives of the course. The total mark will be determined on the following basis:

Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 10%
Assignment 3 10%
Assignment 4 10%
Assignment 5 10%
Assignment 6 10%
Assignment 7 10%
Assignment 8 10%
Assignment 9 (Notebook) 20%
Total 100%

There is no final exam in this course.

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

Search To Top