Color theory is the science and art of using color. Color is a powerful element in art when used effectively as it can invoke specific emotions; be sure to check out my blog on color psychology. For artists, painters, and designers, color theory provides guidance on the relationship between colors and the physiological impacts of certain color combinations. By understanding color theory, you will better understand the relationship between colors and how we perceive them. Color theory is complex, but today’s blog will cover just the basics.
The general principles of color theory have existed since the 15th century, evident in the writings of figures including Leone Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. It wasn’t until the start of the 17th century that Sir Isaac Newton developed the first color wheel, a powerful tool still used to this day. Altogether, the color wheel consists of 12 colors: three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six tertiary colors.
Primary colors allow artists to mix virtually any color on the spectrum. These are the building blocks for all other colors and cannot be created by mixing any other pigments. The primary colors are blue, yellow, and red. Secondary colors are created when any two of the primary colors. They are equidistant from each other on the color wheel and are orange, green, and violet. Tertiary colors are formed when mixing a primary color with a secondary color.
There are a few terms in color theory that you will encounter, including hue, value, and saturation. Hue refers to the “root” color, and is often used similarly to color. It generally refers to the dominant wavelength of color out of the twelve colors on the color wheel. For example, the hue of navy is blue, or for burgundy, its hue is red. Value refers to how light or dark a color is. A color can be lightened with the addition of white and darkened by adding black. However, different colors can have the same value! Saturation is a measure of a color’s intensity or purity. To reduce the saturation of a color, add grey or the color that is opposite of your color on the wheel. Adding the opposite color essentially neutralizes the colors, thus making it less intense.