Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Elements of Art - Color

Color is a difficult word to define. The dictionary defines it as follows:

Color: a phenomenon of light or visual perception that enables one to differentiate other-wise identical objects.

Now, forget about the definition. color is a product of light. Our ultimate source of light is the sun. When the sun shines on an object, it sends light rays towards that object. These light rays contain all colors. We can see the different colors in the form of a rainbow. A rainbow is simply a ray of light broken into smaller pieces (colors) by a prism (usually a raindrop). (bring a prism to class)

A rainbow's colors always appear in the same order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet (purple). A good way to remember the order of these colors is to think of a guy named:


The color of an object is really light reflected, or bounced off its surface. For instance, if you see a read flower, the flower is absorbing all other colors except red. The red light is reflected into your eye, and that's what you see.

Objects that are WHITE reflect all light (all colors combined).
Objects that are BLACK absorb all light (absence of color).

The color wheel is a diagram which illustrated how the different colors are related. It is divided into different categories which will help you in choosing the correct color for any project you are working on. It will be beneficial to become very familiar with the color wheel.

There are three main types of colors: Primary, secondary, and tertiary.

1. Primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. All colors on the color wheel are made up by mixing different amounts of the primary colors. Primary colors can NOT be made by mixing any other colors.

2. Secondary colors: These colors are created by mixing two primary colors in equal amounts. Orange (red + yellow), Green (yellow + blue), and Violet (Purple) (blue + red).

3. Tertiary colors: are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. There are six of these colors: yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange (see color wheel above).

Warm vs. Cool

Colors can be divided into two main groups: warm and cool colors. They are so named because they actually look as the names imply. If you draw a straight line that passes between yellow and yellow-green, then passes between violet and red-violet, you will have the dividing point. The colors on the side from yellow to red-violet are the warm colors. The colors from violet to yellow-green are the the cool colors.

Color Relationships

The colors are the color wheel relate to each other in different ways.

1. Analogous colors: are next to each other on the color wheel. They are usually in groups of threes and have a color in common. For example, blue, blue-violet, and violet all have the color blue in common.

2. Complementary colors: are directly opposite each other on the color wheel:
a. Red to Green
b. Yellow to Purple
c. Blue to Orange
d. White to Black (not on color wheel, but still opposites)

When complements are mixed together, they make a neutral gray or brown. When used next to each other in a painting, they create a strong contrast (see post "Principles of Art -Contrast").

3. Hue: another name for color. It's the name that identifies what the color is, such as red or blue.

4. Tint: a lighter value of a pure color, usually made by adding white. For example, pink is a tint of red.

5. Shade: a darker value of a color, usually made by adding black.

6. Neutral: a color not associated with a hue - such as black, white, or gray (sometimes brown). They are called neutral because they can be combined next to other hues and create pleasing color schemes.