Color Theory and Art-Color

"Color" is a term used in art that indicates reflected light. The theory of color, or color theory, is considered a theory because it is a generally accepted concept that cannot be proven and made into a law. There is a lot of information available about color theory, but this page will present the concept in a more understandable fashion. Color affects the way we feel, how we behave, and the way in which we react to certain circumstances. Color theory is an exciting science that perpetually changes.

Definition of Color Theory

Color theory can be simplified into three separate parts: color schemes, color value, and the color wheel. Each portion of the color theory builds on the previous portions. Understanding these facets of the theory will help you fully understand the theory as a cohesive whole. The first portion of the theory we will discuss is the color wheel.

The Color Wheel

Sir Isaac Newton first developed the color wheel by bending the color spectrum until it formed a circle. The colors on the color wheel are in the same order as the colors in the color spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. There are three color types on the color wheel: primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. The primary colors are yellow, blue, and red. The primary colors can't be created by mixing any other colors together. Furthermore, different combinations of the primary colors can create all of the other colors on the wheel.

The secondary colors on the wheel are purple, green, and orange. All of these colors can be created by combining equal parts of two of the primary colors. A combination of yellow and red will create orange. Combinations of blue and red will create violet, and combinations of blue and yellow will create green. The tertiary colors can be formed by combining equal parts of a primary color and a secondary color. The tertiary colors are yellow-orange, blue-purple, yellow-green, blue-green, red-orange, and red-purple. In the names of all tertiary colors, the primary color is listed first with the tertiary color second.

Color Value

The term "color value" refers to a color's lightness or darkness. Adding black to a color makes it a darker shade, while adding white makes it lighter. For example, navy blue is formed by adding black to blue. Sky blue, on the other hand, is created by adding white to blue.

Color Schemes

A color scheme is a group of colors with a common property. Below are some examples of color schemes.

  • Cool colors: colors commonly associated with things that are cool. The cool colors are green, purple, and blue.
  • Warm colors: colors commonly associated with things that are warm. The warm colors are orange, yellow, and red.
  • Color triad: a group of three colors spaced equally apart on the color wheel. For example, purple, green, and orange are a color triad. 
  • Complementary colors: two colors located across from one another on the color wheel. For example, orange and blue are complementary colors. 
  • Analogous colors: colors that are located side by side on the color wheel. For example, blue-purple, purple, red-purple, and red are analogous colors. 
  • Monochromatic: a scheme of colors that is composed of one color and all of its shades.

Color Theory Definitions

  • Color: an art element created through the reflection of light.
  • Color wheel: the color spectrum bent to form a circle.
  • Primary colors: Colors that can't be formed by mixing any other colors.
  • Secondary colors: colors formed by combining primary colors.
  • Tertiary colors: colors made from a combination of a secondary color and a primary color. 
  • Arbitrary color: color an artist chooses to express their mood or feelings. 
  • Optical color: the color a person perceives.
  • Shade: result when black is added to a color.
  • Tint: result when white is added to a color. 
  • Color value: a color's level of lightness or darkness.

For more information on color theory, consult the following links.

  • Color Theory: A page with information about color theory that is accompanied by images. 
  • Color Theory Tutorial: A page with a lesson on color theory, the color wheel, and the primary colors. 
  • Color Psychology: An article that discusses the psychological of different colors. 
  • Art in Action: An in-depth explanation of the color wheel, primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. 
  • The Phenomena of Color: A page with definitions and explanations of color theory.