Color plays an essential part in our visual experiences. It goes far beyond decorative beauty and can be used as a powerful tool in the creative industry. How well do you know your colors? Discover the beauty of color and its fundamental principles in a step by step process followed by quiz time.
We often take for granted the beauty of color and forget how important the role of color is in our daily life.
But how much do we really understand about the way we see color and the way colors work together?
How many times can you recall being asked?
What’s your favorite color? We rarely get asked why a certain color is more appealing to us than another. Instead, we are all consumed by our own color interests.
It used to be that a color reference went as far as the basic color wheel and our attraction to particular colors would stop at the basic colors.
So how do we make sense of all these colors?
Let’s look at the beauty of color in a more practical way by analyzing color in its simplest and purest form.
Popular color references.
Along with the evolution of our tastes came the need for us to identify colors in a new way.
This meant in some cases letting go of the traditional color sources and opting for more appropriate and specific names that describe each particular color.
You might recognize a few of these colors too.
- Scarlet red
- Primary Red
- Forest green
- Citrus green
- Royal Blue
- Sky blue
- Lemon yellow
- Mellow yellow
- Velvet purple
- Lilac purple
- Fucia Pink
- Baby Pink
- Ash grey
- Charcoal Grey
- Matt white
- Gloss white
- Matt black
- Gloss black
There are many more examples
I have chosen these ones just to name a few of the more popular references. Introducing names that are familiar with our senses allows us to connect with a visual and emotive appeal to color.
There are subtle variances in names for colors if they are either water-based or oil-based however most of them are very similar. Before familiarizing yourself with all the color names it is good to first have a fair idea of how colors are made.
In the next few paragraphs, we will have a look at the key points that make colors what they are.
Understanding the color wheel
What are the primary colors?
The primary colors
Are made up of Yellow, Red, and Blue. These colors are considered the pioneer base pigments of color from which in theory you are able to mix an endless variety of other colors.
They are essential to have in your color pallet. Experimenting with a minimal pallet will help you to understand how color works and what mixes you prefer to use in your artwork.
What are the secondary colors?
The secondary colors
Also referred to as complementary colors are orange, purple and green. These three (3) colors are typically located directly opposite the primary colors and are made by mixing equal portions of 2 primary colors. Here are a few examples.
The combination of 2 primary colors in each example shows from left to right.
Yellow and Red to make Orange. Yellow and Blue to make Green. Lastly Red and Blue to make Purple.
As I mentioned earlier these examples can only be used as a guideline. In reality, when using paint or other color mediums, the mixing will vary depending on the brands and quality of your pigments as well as how you manage the ratios of each primary color.
The color chart is good to know, however it is not necessary to always follow these rules.
Try to play around with different options and discover your favorite colors along the way.
How should you pair primary & complementary colors?
The beauty of color
Is that “it is in the eyes of the beholder” so essentially how you decide to pair your colors is entirely up to you.
It does pay to know a few basic rules to ensure that you are giving yourself the best chance of making a successful colorful work of art.
Unless it is intentional, using certain color combinations may result in your colors feeling dull and muddy. That’s perfectly fine if your painting requires this sort of pallet.
It is important to understand the guidelines but you don’t always have to follow them to a letter. Leaving some area for experimentation will often result in your paintings looking more spontaneous then if you had followed too closely the color principles.
Aside from having a dirty paintbrush or perhaps dirty water. Your colors should remain clean and intentional.
If you are not happy with your original mixes then have another go before applying it to your canvas.
How can you tell if a color is warm or cool?
A simple way to remember your warm vs cool colors is to take reference from the environment you are in.
For example, we can easily associate warm colors with elements that remind us of things that are hot. Things such as fire and the sun.
We can also associate cool colors with trees and shade or water and sky. Although this may seem like a logical explanation it can be confusing when deciding on particular nuances for shadows and highlights.
Think of warm and cool as you would loud and calm or active and inactive. And that’s the beauty of color.
Making sense of saturation?
Saturation in color is best described as the intensity or pureness of a color. Straight out of the tube, color is at its optimum range.
When you add white or black to a color you are essentially changing its aspect ratio to form either a saturated color or nonsaturated color.
Adding white will lighten the brightness of color without loosing too much of its original tint, however adding more black will dull a color giving it an overall grey impression. Saturation should not be mixed up with brightness.
Should I mix black into my colors to make them darker?
Using black to darken your colors can be a risky decision as black has a tendency of killing the sharpness of your original color mix making your overall color look dull and faded.
If this is not the effect you are after then rather opt for using other darker colors or complementary colors to add depth to your mix and maintain a glossy colorful look.
Here are some examples of distinct color palettes used by the masters.
The theory of color goes far beyond the basics that we have touched on here.
In-depth knowledge of how to use color and when to combine colors is largely based on research and experimentation.
Throughout art history, there are several distinct periods where artists have been more inclined to use certain color combinations as opposed to others.
As you develop your own style and preferences you will be able to explore more possibilities of tweaking the rules to your advantage.
Here are a few artists from the not so distant past who have inspired me in my journey through color and paint application. For more information on these artists just follow the links provided.
See if you can identify the color patterns and combinations in these paintings.
To wrap up the beauty of color
Why not try a short quiz
See how much you know about color. Explore, play, discover and rejoice in color for it is what brings life to experiences, memories, and the present moment we live in.
Try this fun introduction quiz to see how well you understand the beauty of color.
So! How did you go with the beauty of the color quiz?
This article forms part of a 12-week foundation course in drawing and painting.
Covering in brief the fundamentals to get you on the right path to creating the art you have always thought about making.
A journey that anyone can take and enjoy with a little bit of dedication and practice.
If you haven’t yet seen the previous work sessions and would like to learn more about drawing and painting you can follow the links below.