Color Theory, Part 1
Heraldry, Part I
Color Theory, Part 1Behind the Art
by Annie Rodrigue
Now is the time to start studying our colors theories. In this article, we will start from scratch. For those of you who already have a good basic notion of color theory, reading this might be a nice reminder, but we will cover shading and illustration theories related to color in our second part.
The Color Wheel
This particular color grid is easy to find in any art store. If you are only starting with color theories, purchasing one as reference might be a good idea. On it, you will find your primary and secondary colors and their complimentary shades. Some color wheels will even show you the result of mixing two colors together! It's a very nice guide to use.
Here, I have provided a simple color wheel for us to follow through this article. If you feel up to the challenge, I suggest you to create your very own color wheel on paper.
Looking at our wheel, let's start searching for our primary colors. What are they? Blue, yellow, and red. Why are they called primary colors? Because they are considered pure colors. You cannot get them by mixing other colors. They are also the only colors you need, with black and white, to mix all the other colors on the spectrum.
Let's move to our secondary colors. They are orange, green, and violet. They are called secondary colors simply because they can be obtained by mixing two primary colors together.
Before getting to our next theory, we'll cover a little bit on mixing colors. I've mentioned earlier that with our primary colors, we can get our secondary colors. Let's see how:
- with blue and yellow, we will get green
Of course, by adding black and white to any of those colors, you will end up getting new values of these colors. (When I'm talking about the value of a color, I mean the lighter and darker versions of this color.) You can also get tertiary colors by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. I suggest experimenting mixing with your paint (it could be oil, acrylic, or watercolor paint) to see what happens. You will get some nice surprises!
If you were to put all three primary colors together (in equal parts) you would end up having brown, gray, or sometimes even black colors. They will give you darker or lighter shades of browns and grays depending on the value of the colors you chose while mixing.
Note that mixing colors isn't always easy. Even though we want a particular color, sometimes it's difficult to mix it right on the first try. Like any other art skill, mixing colors is a matter of patience and practice. Don't be afraid to refer to your color wheel if you need to. Sometimes we mix a color and run out of paint and we try to mix it again, but we cannot manage to get the same color again; unfortunately, there is no trick other than to try and try again. Taking notes while trying some mixes might be a good way to keep a certain consistency in your work.
So far, it's not too difficult, right? Let's now see how complementary colors work. For this, we will need to get back to our color wheel. Colors are considered complementary to each other when they are opposites on the color wheel. So:
- red and green are complementary;
Notice how complementary colors are a group of one primary color and one secondary color? Did you notice also that this secondary color is created by mixing the other two primary colors? (For example: Red and green are complementary. Green is created with blue and yellow.)
Putting two complementary colors in a drawing or painting will create a strong contrast, a duel between the elements. We will cover some clear examples of how to use complementary colors in an illustration in the second part of this article.
Hot and Cool Colors
Our last bit of color theory will be about hot and cool colors. I think we all know when we feel that a color is hot or cool, but what does it have to do with art?
Elements colored with hot values will usually feel like they are closer to us. They will "move forward" on our canvas. Of course, our eyes create this illusion. Hot colors are usually attributed to light, fire and highlights. Anything colored with hot values will feel alive, passionate, burning.
A quick list of hot colors: red, orange, yellow, and lime green. (Any green that is made of more yellow than blue will be considered hot.)
There are also cool colors. They will create the opposite effect of hot colors: Elements colored in cold values will create distance. They will "move back" on our canvas if put next to a hot color. Cool colors are often attributed to shadows and lifeless elements.
A quick list of cool colors: blue, green, blue-green, violet, violet-red. (Red will be considered a cool color when it tends to be on the violet side. This is a tricky color, though.)
After observing these first theories about colors, we will push this a little further and try to use our new knowledge on real illustrations. (Nothing too complex, I promise!) I'll have a few exercises to present you that will help you understand how color can influence a composition. We will also see how colors can create shading on subjects without too much work.
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