Color Theory-Lesson One
Color Theory is based on the 3 Primary Colors; Red, Yellow & Blue.What this means is that you can not create these 3 colors by mixing any other colors together. They are the base colors from which all other colors are created.
Secondary Colors: You create Secondary Colors by mixing two Primary Colors together:
- Yellow + Blue = Green
- Blue + Red = Violet
- Red + Yellow = Orange.
Intermediate / Tertiary Colors
You create Intermediate or Tertiary Colors by mixing one Primary Color (Red, Yellow, Blue) with one Secondary Color (Green, Violet, Orange) and the colors that result are:
Tints, Tones and Shades
Tint: You create a Tint by adding White to any color.
Tone: Gray added to any color will create a Tone.
Shade: By adding Black to any color you create a Shade of that color.
Warm and Cool Colors
The color wheel can be divided diagonally into warm and cool colors.
Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space – Warm colors include: Reds, Oranges & Yellows. Warm colors appear to come forward in the landscape, and seem closer than they really are. They make big spaces feel smaller. Use them to draw the eye toward features you want people to notice in your painting.
Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing environment – Cool colors are: Greens, Blues and Violets. Cool colors appear to recede in the landscape. They seem farther away than they really are, and can make small spaces feel bigger.
White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.
Complementary colors are located directly across from each other on the color wheel (examples: red & green, violet & yellow, blue & orange).
Complementary pairs contrast because they share no common colors. For example, red and green are complements, because green is made of blue and yellow.
The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation.
Two colors, placed side by side, will appear differently than they do on their own depending on which colors are used and what they are placed next to. The effect of this interaction between colors is called Simultaneous Contrast.
Simultaneous contrast is the most intense when you place two complementary colors next to each other, red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple.
If you look at sports teams or the commercial aspects of holidays, many of them use complementary colors as their signature colors. The LA Lakers, purple/yellow, The NY Knicks, orange/blue, Christmas, red/green, Easter, yellow/purple. That is because these colors can really make one another pop when used together.
Example: blue placed directly next to orange if you focon the edge of the contrast you will notice a small vibration, but our eyes aren’t very comfortable resting on the edge because two complementary colors in their purest, most saturated form don’t sit well together and can be tough to look at for long periods of tus ime.
However, if you want to try and focus your gaze on one particular part of a painting, or draw your viewers gaze to a certain spot then you can use this contrasting technique with great results.
Harmonious Color Schemes
Monochromatic: Using any tint, tone or shade of just one color.
Analogous: Using colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Use at least two but no more than five consecutive colors on the wheel. Example: yellow –
green, blue-green, blue-blue-violet.
Complementary: Using two colors directly opposite each other on the wheel.Example: blue-orange, red-green, yellow-purple.
Split Complementary: Using any color with the two colors on each side of its complement. Example: red-orange and red-violet.
Triad: Using three colors equally spaced apart from each other on the wheel that are two sets of compliments. Example: orange, violet and green.
Tetrad: Using a combination of four colors on the wheel that are two sets of compliments. Example: blue and orange with red and green.
Why Things Are That Color
Color theory is as much of a science as it is an art. It was mathematician Sir Isaac Newton who developed the first scientific experiments relating color and light when he put white light through a prism. The prism broke up white light into all the colors of the rainbow.
Everywhere you look you see color. But have you ever wondered what makes something the color it is?
The color of an object is determined by several factors. First let’s start with the basis. Everything is made up of electrons and atoms and how something will look when bathed in light, is determined by these atoms and electrons. Different materials/objects have a different make up of atoms and electrons.
Every object when exposed to light, will do one of the following:
Reflect or Scatter Light:
Many objects reflect light to some degree, but something that is particularly reflective, has more free electrons that are able to pass from atom to atom with ease. Example: Polished marble or a mirror, most glossy surfaces will reflect light.
The light energy that is absorbed by these electrons, is not passed onto to any other atoms. Instead the electrons vibrate and the light energy is sent out of the material at the same frequency as the original light coming in.
When something appears opaque or does not have a reflection it is because the incoming light source frequency is the same as, or extremely close to the vibration frequency of the electrons in that object or surface. Example: Any matte or dull surface or object.
The electrons of the material absorb the energy from the light source, and since the light is absorbed, the material or object appears opaque and has very little or no reflection.
Have you ever placed a straw in a drink and noticed that the straw appears to be bent under the water? The reason for this optical illusion is Refraction.
When the energy of the incoming light is the same as the vibration frequency of the electrons in the material, the light is able to go deep into the material, and cause small vibrations in those electrons. These vibrations are passed on to the atoms by the electrons, and in turn they send out light waves at the same frequency as the incoming light. Even though this happens extremely quickly, some of the light that is inside of the material slows down, but the frequency of the light outside the material stays the same. The result of this is the light inside the material is bent. The angle of the distortion (refraction) depends upon how much the material is able to slow down the light.
Transmission of light occurs when the energy of the light coming in is either much lower or much higher than the energy or frequency required to make the electrons in that particular material vibrate.
Because of this the electrons in the object that appear to be transparent let the light wave pass through the object/material unchanged, making the object/surface transparent to that frequency of light.
Chromatic Value refers to the amount of lightness or darkness of a particular color based on a percentage scale.
Starting with a color at it’s full intensity you either add or subtract from it’s full saturation by adding white or tinting your color to lighten it, or by adding black or shading your color to darken it.
When you change the chromatic value of a color you will set the mood and define the tone of your painting. For instance if you were painting a beach scene and you wanted it to be a happy, playful scene you would probably use vibrant yellow for the sun and bright blues for the sky and sea and maybe use red on a beach ball or umbrella, you might incorporate a vibrant green as the color of a towel or bathing suit. These colors would pop and would give the viewer a light, happy feeling.
However, if you made the ocean a stormy deep blue with shades of black in it and instead of a bright yellow sun you painted the sky gray you would completely change the tone and mood of the painting and therefore you would affect the mood of your viewer to a more solemn feeling.
This is a project that I had to do while I was in art school at UCLA a few years ago. Our teacher was a stickler when it came to color and I had to re-do this piece several times before I finally received an A grade.
The strips down the center are the colors at their full saturation. This gives you the opportunity to see that each color starts out at a different percentage on the scale, the red on the right is at full saturation at 60%, while the gray on the left was fully saturated at 40%.
Color Psych: Meaning of Colors
Color is a very expressive form of communication. In different cultures colors have very different meanings or connotations. However there is a universal meaning attached to most every color, a feeling or an emotion that transcends culture or geography.
When I go for a job interview I always wear RED. A bright RED top or a red skirt or a shiny pair of RED high heels, it reminds me to be strong, to put forth my best and not give in to my nerves. To me it shows that I’m a bold, passionate person and my hope is that they will want someone that is passionate about their work. However, I have to make sure to balance it with other colors so that I’m not perceived as being too aggressive, some people find RED to be an angry color either on a conscious or subconscious level.
ORANGE is the color associated with social communications and optimism. It is also considered the color of safety. ORANGE cones are used in construction areas and signs because it is believed to be the most eye catching color that will draw attention to the potential for danger. When I was little I always used an ORANGE crayon to make my Christmas wish list for Santa, I guess I wanted to make sure he
noticed it! Negative color meanings attached to ORANGE are pessimistic and superficial.
YELLOW is the color most associated with the mind and intelligence. It is considered cheerful and optimistic. It’s the color of sunshine and also associated with cleanliness. The negative associations of YELLOW are, impatient, critical and cowardice, that’s where the term”yellow-bellied” comes from.
GREEN is the color most associated with nature, growth, renewal and balance. It is widely used to show consumer consciousness. Being GREEN means that you try not to add to our landfills by using biodegradable or recyclable products. It means both self-reliant as a positive trait and possessive or jealous as a negative. “She was GREEN with envy”.
BLUE is the color of peace and tranquility, It is a color you can trust. It is often associated with loyalty and integrity. Many companies choose BLUE as their corporate color because it is known to be reliable and dependable. IBM has also been called BIG BLUE for decades. Negative associations of BLUE are, sad, frigid and stodgy or ultra-conservative and uptight.
PURPLE is the color of magic and is associated with the imagination. PURPLE signifies royalty and creativity and individualism. On a less positive note, it is the color most associated with immaturity and being impractical. PURPLE is also associated with magic or the occult.
PINK is the color of innocence and of unconditional love. PINK is sweet and nurturing. It also means joyous “I’m tickled PINK”. Pink is negatively meant to denote immaturity, childishness and silliness.
BROWN is the most serious, down-to-earth color in the bunch. It is used to show security, reliability and protection. UPS chose BROWN as their corporate color because they wanted to show that they are reliable, trustworthy and give you confidence that your packages would be safe with them. Brown is know as a “solid” color. Negatively brown is dull, boring or dirty.
WHITE is pure, the color of perfection. WHITE is used to show purity and innocence, white weddings, white christening gowns and white flowers are all used to symbolize new beginnings. WHITE is often associated with the unknown and many religions use WHITE in their practice and rituals. Negatively WHITE is associated with sterile or cold environments, lacking warmth.
BLACK is the color of the unknown, “the BLACK hole” things that are hidden. It is a very mysterious color, “being kept in the dark” It keeps things hidden and lurking in the shadows. It is widely used in magic which are also known as “the dark arts”. Negatively it is associated with the occult.