Color and Color Theory
Color is the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum is color.
As electrons move from one electron shell of an atom to another, they
either absorb or emit a photon. The human eye senses the photon as a color.
Color is a hue with a certain saturation and value.
- Hue is the main component of the color. In light it is the
frequency; in paint, the pigment. It is the pure, unmixed color from
a tube or from a ray of light.
- Saturation is how much of a hue is in a color, also called
- Value is how light or dark a color is. Value is usually used
to describe form, with changes in value reflecting the changes in form.
- A Tint is White added to a color.
- A Tone is Grey added to a color.
- A Shade is Black added to a color. In common language,
a shade is any variation of a color.
In visual art, color is the only thing that is actually
seen. We don't actually see objects; we see the light reflected off
of the objects. Color is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Photons
emitted from electrons moving up or down levels in the rings of an atom
are the substance of color. Differences in color that define a shape
are called value, and some people wrongly call this an element; value
is merely the color changes along a form.
In audible art, color is the feelings, mood, and
emotions created by a work.
In written art, color, like texture, comes from details of people, places, and events.
Color Theory is simple a system to describe
and organize colors. Calling it a theory is apt, because there are no
hard and fast rules that always work. As a corollary, there is no "best"
color theory. Each color theory has advantages and disadvantages, and
one would do well to study several and take the relevant parts from each
that best meet one's objectives.
A circular, logical organization of colors. The
most common color wheel starts with Red, then moves to Orange, Yellow,
Green, Cyan, Blue, Purple, and ends with Red-Violet. Color wheels are
the basis for most color theories.
- Primary Colors on a color wheel are the fundamental, unmixable
colors. They're like assumptions in a logical argument. In light, the
primary colors are Red, Green, and Blue. In paint they are Red, Yellow,
and Blue, though some color theories add Green, which is more realistic,
because in real life it is hard to mix a good Green.
- Secondary Colors are the result of mixing equal parts of two
primary colors together. In light, the secondary colors are Cyan, Magenta,
and Yellow (three of the four colors for 4-color process printing).
In paint they are Orange, Green, and Purple or Violet. In the 4-primary-color
system Green is replaced by Yellow-Green and Blue-Green.
- Tertiary Colors are the result of mixing equal parts of neighboring
primary and secondary colors together.
Color Harmony/Color Schemes
Combinations of colors that work
- Complementry Colors is the most commonly used harmony. Complimentary
colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel. They are called complimentary,
because they contain all the colors the other needs to be "perfect"
meaning it contains all the colors in the color wheel. In light, two
compliments make White; in paint the result is a Black.
For example, in paint, the compliment of Red is Green; Green contains
Blue and Yellow, the two primary colors red doesn't have. In light,
Yellow is the compliment of Blue; Yellow contains Red and Green, the
two primary colors Blue doesn't have. Because the compliment "completes"
the other color, they tend to harmonize very well; no color is left
out. Most color theories only look at color wheels of paint, ignoring
so many more combinations that work equally as well together.
- Split Compliments are a color and the neighboring colors
of its compliments.
For example, in paint, Orange is the compliment of Blue. Red-Orange
and Yellow-Orange are the split compliments, because they are next to
the true compliment.
- A Color Triad is made of three colors equidistance from each
other on a color wheel. The two most common are the Primary Triad
(Red, Yellow, and Blue) and the Secondary Triad (Orange, Green,
and Purple), both based again on the color wheel of paint.
Nature scenes tend to have a primary triad scheme.
- Analogous Colors are colors next to each other on the color
wheel. They usually include one color and the next door neighbors, though
some think it's ok to travel half way around the color wheel. Remember,
this is a theory and whichever one works in a given situation is right
in that situation. Don't worry about the rules.
Analogous color schemes are useful for emotional paintings, because
they are usually focused on one color and the emotions it inspires.
- A Monochromatic Color Scheme is one color and all the tints,
tones, shades, and chromas of that color.
Color Context - Colors are affected by their environment. If you
want to change a color, many times you can just change its environment
and the color will appear to become a new one.
All these elements are great, but we need someway to arrange them in a meaningful way. The brings us to Principles of Design, the subject of our next lesson.
Click on a lesson below:
Elements of Art
Principles of Design
Essential Reading & Online Resources
Web Design & Development
Lettering & Typography