Color Theory

Properties of Color

A basic understanding of the four principles of color is essential to using color successfully in your painting. These principles are:

HUE: Hue is the name of the color family. It identifies a color by name … red, orange, purple, etc.

VALUE: Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, in relation to black and white. Value is crucial in painting for several reasons.

  • Value creates form. Without value changes within objects, they will appear flat, with lack of dimension.
  • Value contrasts help establish the center of interest. Strong value contrasts attract attention, and pull objects to the forefront. Closely related values will minimize attention and relegate objects or areas to a more distant plane.
  • Value affects size. An object will appear larger if painted a lighter value, rather than a darker value.

The value of a color may be changed in several ways.

  • It may be lightened with white. This is technically referred to as a “tint”.
  • In watercolor or transparent painting techniques, the value may be changes by adding more water (i.e. medium).
  • To create a darker value or “shade”, you may add black or another color darker than the normal value of the origin color.
  • In watercolor, or other transparent painting techniques, the value may be darkened by adding stronger pigment.
  • Adding the compliment of a color will also change the value. This is due to the dis tance between complimentary colors on the color wheel.

INTENSITY: Sometimes referred to as the “chroma” or “saturation” of a color. More easily understood terms are the brightness or dullness of a color.

  • The normal value of a hue is full intensity. Some colors in their normal hue are more intense than others.
  • There are several ways to lower the intensity of a color. This may be referred to as toning’ or neutralizing’ the color.

These are:

  • Mix black with the color.
  • Mix with the complimentary color.
  • Mix with an earth color… Burnt Umber, Bumt Sienna, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna
  • Adding white also reduces the intensity.

COLOR TEMPERATURE: Is the color warm or cool? Warm colors are generally identified with sunlight or fire (red, orange, yellow). Cool colors are identified with sky, water, grass, forests (blue, green). Remember the following:

  • Color temperature is “relative”. It depends on the context in which the color is seen.
  • Color temperatures are used to establish spatial illusions. The illusions occur because of slight muscular reactions in our eyes when we focus on different colors.
  • Warm colors tend to advance.
  • Cool colors seem to recede.