Color is the element of art that refers to reflected light.  Over many years, artists and scientists together have created general theories about how colors work together in art.  This is called Color theory.

    If color theory is simplified, it can be broken down into 3 parts - The Color Wheel, Value, and Color Schemes (Relationships). Each part of color theory builds on the previous. Understanding each section of color theory fully, will help you better understand the importance of Color in the creation of art.

    The Color Wheel Color Wheel

    The color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton by taking the color spectrum and bending it into a circle. If you follow around the color wheel, you will find the same order of the color spectrum- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo(blue-violet), and violet. 

    Some remember it by the acronym ROY-G-BIV.

    The color wheel is made up of three different types of colors-Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.

    The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.  They are called primary for a couple of reasons.  First, no two colors can be mixed to create a primary color. In other words, primary colors can only be created through the use of natural pigments.  Secondly, all other colors found on the color wheel can be created by mixing primary colors together.

    The secondary colors are orange, green, and purple.  Secondary colors are created by mixing equal parts of any two primary colors.  Yellow and blue will give you green.  Red and blue will create purple(violet). Red and yellow will give you orange.

    Tertiary colors are created by mixing equal parts of a secondary color and a primary color together.  There are six tertiary colors- red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, yellow-green, blue-purple, and yellow-orange.  Notice that the proper way to refer to tertiary colors is by listing the primary color first and the secondary color, second.


    Color schemes are ways that artists use colors together in an intelligent way – they look like they are meant to “go together.”


    Monochromatic literally means “one” (mono) “color” (chroma).  So a monochromatic color scheme is made up of one color and it’s shades and tints. 





    Analogous Colors

    Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

    When used as a color scheme, analogous colors can be dramatic.

    Example: Blue, blue-green, green, and yellow-green; red, red-purple, purple, blue-purple. 





    Complementary Colors

    Complementary colors are colors found directly across from each other on the color wheel.  Complementary color scheme provide strong contrast.

    Example: Blue and orange, red and green, yellow-green and red-purple. 



    Split-Complementary Colors

    Split-Complementary colors are color schemes that are made up of a color and it’s complements closest analogous colors.

    Example: Blue, yellow-orange and red-orange. Red-orange, red-purple, green. 




    Warm & Cool colors

    Warm colors are colors that are usually associated with warm things.  Ex. Red, yellow, orange. Cool colors are colors that are usually associated with cool things. 

    Example: Blue, purple, green.











    The second part of color theory deals with color values.  Value is the darkness or lightness of a color.  When dealing with pure color (hue), value can be affected by adding white or black to a color.

    Adding white to a color produces a tint… Tints  

    Adding black to a color produces a shade... Shades  

    When grays are added to the color, the saturation of the color is affected.  Saturation is how intense, or pure the color is.

    Saturation Chart