COLOR THEORY - HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?
Most artists love color, some more than others. We have all seen paintings that just scream bold color. Some I love, others not so much. The ones I like the most have really good color harmony. Harmony is the key to using color successfully.
Perhaps you have seen books, color wheels, or little pocket guides that teach you how to use color harmony. Every artist has or should have one of these in his library or right beside his work area if new to painting. We are able to buy about any color under the sun in a tube these days so many feel it's not important to learn how to mix colors. But in a pinch it may be necessary to do so. What if the store is out of the color we want? I've had that happen often! Or we need just a small amount to finish the painting and we have run out of that color? That has also happened to me. Why make a trip for a tablespoon of paint, especially if it is a color we don't often use? It breaks our concentration and possibly our rhythm, and don't even mention the frustration involved! Perhaps you can begin to see the reason for learning to mix colors, or at least have reference material on hand in case you ever need to.
Color harmony involves choosing and using colors in your painting that create unity. Just like we do when we choose an outfit to wear. Certain colors clash, others harmonize. Some, in fact many, artists actually sit down and plan out the colors they will use BEFORE they even START the painting. This is a good habit to develop. Just as the composition is very important, so is color harmony. So below is a basic lesson on colors and color harmony.
This is simple. We all learned in school that RED, YELLOW, AND BLUE are the primary colors.
But we have hundreds of colors to use so how do we choose? Well, next we go to..
SECONDARY colors are created by adding together two of the primary colors:
Red + yellow = ORANGE
Yellow + Blue = GREEN
Blue + Red = VIOLET
TERTIARY or INTERMEDIATE COLORS
TERTIARY colors are created by mixing a PRIMARY with a SECONDARY color:
Red + Orange = RED ORANGE
Yellow + Green = YELLOW GREEN
Blue + Violet = BLUE VIOLET
Red + Violet = RED VIOLET
Yellow+Orange = YELLOW ORANGE
Blue + Green = BLUE GREEN
TINTS, TONES, AND SHADES
This is where it can start to get a little confusing, and why I recommend keeping a pocket
guide or color wheel handy as you work. It would be good to memorize these three:
TINT = made by adding WHITE to your color
TONE = made by adding GRAY to your color
SHADE = made by adding BLACK to your color
WARM AND COOL COLORS
WARM COLORS: yellow to red-violet
COOL COLORS: yellow-green to violet
This is much easier to remember, and you probably already know this. What some aren't aware of is that many artists paint using only warm or cool colors in any given painting. If they use ANY of the opposite in the painting at all, it will be only a touch in the focal point. An artist who has become well known for painting in this style is Elin Pendleton in California. She uses what she calls her Color System Flash Cards and instructional DVD's to teach this method, and her paintings are lovely!
Colors that go together or harmonize without clashing. Hopefully, we all know what that means. Although we have all seen people wearing certain outfits and wonder, LOL! There are three basic color schemes; Complementary, Split-Complementary, and Triadic:
Colors that are OPPOSITE each other on the color wheel. Some are very familiar to us; red + green, yellow + violet, blue + orange, but all the colors that are directly opposite one another on the wheel are complementary. So you can add blue-green + red-orange, yellow-green + red-violet, and blue-violet + yellow-orange to this section.
THREE colors that are SPACED EQUALLY apart on the color wheel. It too is fairly easy to determine. Just divide the wheel into 3, remember there are 3 colors BETWEEN each Triadic harmony color (so every 4th color is the one you want) Another reason to keep the color wheel handy!
Blue + Red + Yellow
Blue-violet + Red-orange + Yellow-green
Violet + Orange + Green
Red-violet + Yellow-orange + Blue-green
It gets just a little more complicated here, but still not too hard. Simply put; the split complementary is A COLOR plus the TWO COLORS NEXT TO ITS COMPLEMENT on the color wheel. the color on each side of the complement is what you want:
Red violet + Yellow + Blue violet
Red + Yellow green + Violet
Red orange + Green + Red violet
Orange + Blue green + Red
Yellow orange + Blue + Red orange
Yellow + Blue violet + Orange
Yellow green + Violet + Yellow orange
Green + Red violet + Yellow
Blue green + Red + Yellow green
Blue + Red orange + Green
Blue violet + Orange + Blue green
Violet + Yellow orange + Blue
Now do you see why I strongly recommend having a pocket guide or a color wheel by your easel or desk at all times? I cannot keep these colors in my head and I'm just as sure that you can't either unless you have a photographic memory. I wish!
Color MIXING is even MORE to remember. I will give you a few basic mixes, after that you probably want to get a book or guide. I like Jerry Yarnell's "CAPTURING COLOR"
or Betty Edwards "COLOR - Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors." Both are excellent books.
BLACK: I always like to mix my own. It is much richer than store bought. But NEVER let ANY
white get into the mix or it is ruined!
Mix 50% Ultramarine Blue, 25% Burnt Sienna, 25% Dioxazine Purple = A Beautiful rich
GRAY: Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna = Basic gray
Basic gray + Burnt Sienna + white = Cool gray
Basic gray + Burnt Umber + white = Warm gray
FLESH TONES : Even if you don't do portraits this is a good mixture to know. Store bought is just
not satisfying! Plus, adding people to landscapes even if they are not
in detail, makes the painting more desirable to buyers, why, I'm not sure, but
most likely it becomes more personal, the viewer places
themselves or a loved one in the painting.
Phthalo-yellow green + white + Alizarin Crimson = basic flesh tone
Add blue or violet for shadows or different races and white to tint lighter.
This is a photo of my pocket guide. It is well used!
Try to sit down and plan out the color scheme of your
painting before you start. Get into the habit and soon
you will begin to see a big difference in your work!
Plus, you will learn the color combinations rapidly and
soon will have a large "repertoire" of colors to use and
you will establish favorites I am sure!
I hope this helps, and Thanks for following me!