The color tree

I wanted to understand and structure the mixing of colors and hypothesized that a tree structure would be the best way to structure the colors and the mixing of them. I took the primary colors Red, Yellow, Blue (RYB) and used codes to structure a tree. I used the codes across each level of the tree, starting at the center of the circle moving outwards. You can see the codes within the colors. By going on with mixing across the levels, like Y – YR – YRRR – YRRRRRRR (as seen in the picture), you can keep mixing the shade of colors to an infinite level. There are (theoretically) an infinite amount of colors; from the primary (3 colors, 1 code per color), to secondary (6 colors, 2 codes per color), tertiary (12 colors, 4 codes per color), fourthly (24 colors, 8 codes per colors), and so on. Next to the fact that an infinite tree takes much time to make, I bumped across one problem when making it on my computer.

When making this tree I wanted to make the colors correctly; mixing the right amount of shades proportionally. But I noticed that the computer programs use the RGB-scheme; Green instead of Yellow. So I couldn’t find the exact right colors at the 3rd level. Although, I believe the 3rd level is quite a representative color pallet, I didn’t want to try to make the fourth level.

Making an RGB color tree

So to comply with the computer scheme, I made the same tree but then with the Red, Green, Blue (RGB) combination. This gave quite a different tree (see picture below). In this tree, we don’t find any yellow or orange, but we do find brown, and turquoise shades.

RGB versus RYB-tree

With the RGB-tree we get brown and turquoise, but we miss orange and yellow. The funny thing is that the RYB-tree gets green in its tree (second level YB), so I would assume that on the fourth or fifth layer we also get turquoise. But you will never get the brownish colors in the RYB tree because Green and Red in the RYB-tree are separated by Yellow until the infinite, they will never converge. However, if you move you move up in the tree, instead of down, you might get brown. Because when you paint, and mix yellow, red, and green you get a brownish color, this might be some negative dimension in the tree (weird). A second you could do is making the circle three dimensional; adding Green on top to make it a half-sphere. Then, you could get all the colors when you expand the tree. But then, it is out of balance because some color variations will occur twice; the G & BY variations for example.

Blue’er than blue

What I like about the tree structure is that the primary colors continue across all the levels. First you have B, then BB, then BBBB, BBBBBBBB, and so on (similar to R and Y). Blue might seem to be the same color across all levels, but the depth is different. I like to think of this as an extra addition to the tree, although it has no practical implications on this fundamental level.


There could also be added lightness to the Color tree. Shades of white and black give an extra dimension (literally) to the color tree. I envisioned this like the picture below. Where shades of black mix below, and shades of white mix on top.

Anyhow, I think there is a lot to learn for me on colors. I still don’t really understand the difference between the primary colors from RGB and RYB. There is digital, paint, and light. And they all do something different. I don’t believe paint is perfect, don’t understand why computers use the RGB-scheme, and have the most trust in light.

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