|Introduction to Color Theory
Color is a very broad topic. Entire books have been written on color and it would be quite difficult to cover every aspect of it within the confines of this article. My hopes with this introduction to color theory is to peek your interest and hopefully cause you to study this topic further on your own. Understanding color theory is perhaps one of the most important aspects of becoming a good painter. When you understand the elements of color and how colors interact with one another, you have unlocked one of the biggest puzzles of painting
WHERE DOES COLOR COME FROM?
Our beautiful world of color is only possible because of the solar spectrum. You can certainly do your best to mimic natural sunlight with today’s technology and they have done a pretty fine job of that with full spectrum lighting. But even full spectrum lighting is not as true as sunlight. One only needs to spend a day painting outdoors to see how your color pops out at you under natural sunlight when compared to indoor lighting.
So what exactly makes a rose appear “red” or grass appear “green”. In the green grass, you are only seeing green because the grass has pigments in it that absorb all colors of the solar spectrum except green. So green is the color that is reflected back to your eyes. The same holds true for the red rose, only the rose absorbs all colors of the spectrum besides red.
THE COLOR WHEEL
Sir Issac Newton laid the foundation for today’s color wheel with his experiments that began in 1666. Since then, many variations have been developed. A color wheel is essentially a diagram that represents the colors of the visible solar spectrum. Your basic color wheel consists of six colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
Another popular color wheel called the Munsell color wheel, is slightly more involved. Instead of 6 basic colors, the Munsell wheel consists of ten colors: red, yellow-red, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, red-violet and violet.
The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. These colors are your base colors from which all other colors come from.
When you mix two primary colors together, you get a secondary color. The secondary colors are orange, green and violet. Orange is made by mixing red with yellow. Green is made by mixing blue and yellow. Violet is made my mixing blue with red.
Tertiary colors are made by mixing one primary color with one secondary color. For instance, mixing the primary color blue with the secondary color green, will give you a tertiary color called blue-green.
These are colors that are opposite from one another on the color wheel. Red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet, are examples of complimentary colors. Complimentary colors are colors of extreme contrast. When used together in a painting, they can produce brilliant vibrant images.
Analogous colors are colors that are close to one another on the color wheel. They more or less will produce harmonious effects with very little contrast. For instance, a violet, red-violet, and blue-violet are examples of analogous colors.
Hue: Without getting too technical, and to put things into laymen’s terms, hue is just another word for color. For instance, grass and leaves are two variations of a green hue.
Value: Value refers to how light or dark a color is. Colors like pink or aqua are identified as colors of high value. Colors like maroon and navy are identified as colors of low value. If you produce a painting with predominately higher values, the painting is referred to as a “high key” painting. On the contrary, paintings produced with predominately lower values, are referred to as “low key”.
Intensity: Intensity refers to a colors brightness or saturation. Intensity refers to how pure a color is. For instance, if you were to use cadmium red straight from the tube, it would have a high intensity. If you were to mix it with another color however, its intensity would be diminished.
TEMPERATURE OF COLOR
Colors have temperature, referred to as warm or cool. In painting, reds, yellows and oranges are referred to as warm colors and blues, violets and greens are referred to as cool colors. One of the biggest lessons you will ever learn about color temperature though, is that the appearance of color can change drastically depending on its surroundings. For instance, a certain yellow would appear much hotter if it were surrounded by a violet then say an orange. Another important lesson in color temperature: Warm colors will advance in a painting and cool colors recede.