Color Theory for Practical Use

Published Date: February 14th, 2009
Category: Graphic Arts

Color Wheel Pro
a program that allows you to see color theory in action: you can create harmonious color schemes and preview them on real-world examples.

By K Bidwell Ferreira

Color is appreciated by everyone. Don’t most people have a favorite color? The colors we choose to surround ourselves with can reflect our various personalities and affect our moods. We make important choices when selecting colors for our living spaces and for personal adornment, such as what we wear. Color theory is used by artists and designers but it can also be applied to every day use for any kind of decorating that we choose to do. The variety of colors we choose can affect each other when combined and in their relationships to one another.

Lets start at the beginning. Every color in the universe is made up of three primary
colors; red, yellow and blue. Difficult to believe, isn’t it? This was learned long ago
in the seventeenth century by Sir Isaac Newton who analyzed a ray of sunlight
projected through a glass prism. The dispersed ray of light separates into a
spectrum of color looking very much like a rainbow. You might wonder about black
and white. Actually, they are not colors at all, white is the presence of all color and
black is the absence of all color. All colors displayed through the prism at once
displays as white, the absence of light is black. From these color theory
observations, we not only learn about the three primaries; but also that there are
three secondary colors; orange, green and violet. The secondary colors are made by
adding two equal parts of the primary colors, such as when mixed, red and yellow
make orange. You may have learned this as a child in art class in school. These six
colors, primaries and secondaries, make up the basic color wheel.

The next set of colors we call the tertiaries. The six tertiary colors are made up of
equal parts of one primary and one secondary color. For instance, blue (primary)
plus green (secondary) makes a blue-green. All twelve colors; the three
complimentary colors, three secondary colors and six tertiary colors create the
complete color wheel. Try making your own color wheel by starting with red at the
top and moving around a circle clockwise; red-orange, orange, yellow-orange,
yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, red-violet and
back to red.

There are a many other color properties to learn but here are a few of them. A color
by itself is a pure hue. The addition of white to a color changes that color to a “tint”.
Adding black changes the color to a “shade”. A “tone” is created if both black and
white are added, this makes a grayer version of the color. the relative warmth or
coolness of colors Another property of color is called temperature, colors can be
warm or cool. Warm colors have red, orange or yellow present and cool colors
contain green, blue and violet. However, it is also possible to have a warm blue or a
cool red. If a little of a warm color is mixed with a blue, it will become warmer. The
same principles apply if a bit of a cool color is added to red. Color temperatures are
formed by variations in the pigment. Color temperature can create a mood and also
depth. Warm colors come forward and cool colors recede.

Putting colors together and using them in different color schemes can be exciting
but sometimes difficult to know where to begin. There are different types of color
schemes that can be created using color, and here are a few to try. One type, the
easiest to begin with, would be a monochromatic color scheme. This means using
variations of one color only. This color can be modified by adding black and/or
white to create tints, shades and tones and vary the intensity of the color itself. This
type of color scheme is rather subtle with little color contrast.

Another type of color scheme would be the analogous color scheme in which you
would use three colors that are adjacent to one another on the color wheel, or
neighbors. An example would be, green, blue-green and blue. This type of color
scheme works well because the neighboring colors create a color harmony. When
used in a design, one color is dominant while the others are used to enhance the
color. Again, the intensity of each color can be varied with black and white.

The strongest of color schemes would be the complimentary color schemes.
Complimentary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel. For
instance, red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet are all
complimentaries. When complimentary colors are placed next to each other, they
create energy and movement. Two complimentaries create a strong contrast,
intensify one another and attract attention. Often its best to use a warm color with a
cool complimentary but keep in mind that the warm color will come forward while
the cool color recedes. Use the two complimentary colors carefully, as too much of a
good thing can be overpowering!

Balance your designs and color schemes, whether you’re using paint, fabric, yarn or
decorating a room. By repeating color in a design, emphasis is given to the effect
produced by each color and will carry the viewer’s eye from one part to the next.
This movement or flow around the pattern is called the rhythm of color. Contrast is
important too; use lights (tints) and darks (shades) to add impact to your design.
Also balance by keeping colors somewhat uncomplicated. Too many colors and too
much detail will distract from the overall design.

Each person uses color differently to express themselves. Experiment with color and
let your own intuition lead you to your own unique color expression.

Born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Kendra moved to Rhode Island with her family as a teen. She was immediately drawn to the beauty of the ocean and shoreline throughout the state. Currently she lives in Portsmouth, just outside of Newport, with her husband and three sons.

A graduate of Massachusetts College of Art with a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, Kendra was first attracted to graphic design and worked at a newspaper and later a printing company for several years. In 1996, Kendra chose to pursue her art full time and also to be home with her sons as they grew. She currently teaches watercolor and colored pencil classes at local art associations and continues to take art classes and workshops herself in order to grow as an artist. Her exhibits her works in local art galleries as well as and

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