Basic Colour Theory, part 1Colours can be a lot of fun to experiment with--they can take a black and white outline and create something that pops and sizzles! Most people have a colour they favour or are drawn to. They can even express emotions in an abstract way--blue and grey for sadness, yellow for joy, red for passion.
Yet for how important they are and how influential they can be in art, they're something of a mystery for people. We may think bright red and hot pink don't 'match', but we can't explain why. Green and orange may feel off or discordant, but explaining it can escape us.
This is where Western color theory comes in! All colour is a matter of perception. When we see blue, it's because the surface or molecules we're looking at are absorbing every other wavelength of light and bouncing back the one our eyes interpret as 'blue'. Because of this, to get new shades of colours, we simply mix our primary colours! For this blog, we'll be referring to mixing pigmented colours, not light. (That's a lesson for another time!)
Almost everyone has probably seem the infamous colour wheel, which divides colours into primary, secondary and tertiary colours. This model was created by Isaac Newton in 1666, so it's well-established in the art world as well as kindergarten's worldwide. The primary pigmented colours are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colours are created by mixing these primary colours--red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow make green, and blue and red make violet. Tertiary colours are named after the two colours they're mixed with, first a primary and then a secondary. Red-orange, yellow-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, yellow-green and blue-green. Crayola may have given them other names, but with these 12 shades, you can make any colour of crayon in their box!
Now that you know which colours are on the wheel, you may be thinking, "That's great, but how do I choose which ones to use to look good?"
These is where we talk about colour schemes. There are countless ways to blend colours (you may even be aiming for a discordant mixture!), but the most familiar and pleasing schemes are complimentary, analogous, split complimentary and triadic.
Analogous colours sit right next to each other in a group of three, without skipping tertiaries.. Red-violet, violet and blue-violet is one such scheme. So is green, blue-green and blue. These schemes can add a lot of depth to a painting and are especially beautiful in gradient shading.
Complimentary schemes are two colours that sit across the colour wheel from each other. Violet and yellow are complimentary, as are red-orange and blue-green. The famous red and green colours of Christmas are complimentary. This kind of scheme is great for creating striking contrast and tend to feel very vibrant.
Split-complimentary is similar, except it picks one colour (yellow) and two colours on either side of the corresponding complimentary (red-violet and blue-violet). This is good for that same contrast, but allows for more range of colours in the total palette.
Triadic colour schemes are easiest to visualize while looking at the colour wheel. If you were to drawer a triangle in the center of the circle, the three points would be the colours of the scheme. The primaries are triadic to each other--red, blue and yellow. Red-violet, blue-green and yellow-orange are also triadic. These schemes create a very full range of shades and colours that give depth and dimension to a painting without clashing.
There are many other schemes to choose from (monochromatic, grayscale, etc.), but for an intro to colour theory, this can help you start picking paints for your next grand masterpiece!