Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Language of Color

As an art student I took a few painting and foundation classes that focused on the basics of the visual arts. So everything like line, color, form, ect. It was a lot, we had 2 foundation level classes and each subject (painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, ect.) had another introductory level class.

I thought I would share some of my basic knowledge of color after seeing that my language is pretty different than the language that my clients use.
This is going to be a very informative post with some definitions and technical talk but it is something that can help with everything from color schemes for a new room design to a painting hanging on your wall!

**I am NOT an expert on this topic, yes I've had a few classes but I didn't focus in a subject that was too involved with color. So PLEASE just look at this post as an introductory to color theory and know that there is MUCH more to it than what I can hit here. 

First, this is what my "desk" looks like whenever i am about to paint. 
Yes I have a LOT of paint. Mostly craft grade paints but I have some nicer acrylics, oils, and watercolors too. So I pull them all out to make sure I can see all my options :)

 Now lets talk about what categories colors can fall under. I'm gonna keep it basic so many of you probably know this from kindergarten :)

First, there are PRIMARY, SECONDARY, AND TERTIARY colors on the color wheel.
Your PRIMARY colors are, Red, Yellow, and Blue.
SECONDARY colors are the colors made by mixing two PRIMARY colors together. Like orange, green, and violet.
TERTIARY colors are made by either mixing one secondary and one primary or two secondary colors together. So examples are red-violet, blue-green, yellow-orange.

Today I'm going to focus on just the primary colors for showing how TONE, SHADE, TINT, and HUE.

Now to start lets define a few things. Most of these words you have probably heard and used before. But not many people really know  what they mean when referencing a color.

Hue: refers to a "pure" color. So the colors on the color wheel. (Yellow, yellow orange, orange, red orange, red, red violet, violet, blue violet, blue green, green, and green yellow.) Hues are basically what we learn as children.

Tint: Tint is a mixture result of color. Tint refers to the lightening process of colors, so adding white to any color is tinting that color. So pink is a TINT of red.

Shade: Shade is the opposite of tint. Meaning instead of lightening a color you are darkening it by adding black. So taking an original HUE and adding black is referred to as a SHADE of that color. For example, garnet is a SHADE of red.

Tone: Tone is greying down the original color. By some definitions adding any neutral or greyscale to an original hue is considered tone. So you can change the tonal value by how much grey you add to your color.

Now that you have the definitions of some of the language commonly used in art or by anyone interested in paint we can talk about how you actually do those things!

*I know earlier I said I have a lot of paint. And I do, but some how I didn't have my artist grade acrylic red. So bare with me on some of these examples! 

In the picture above I've shown the differences between TINT, SHADE, HUE and TONE using red, blue and yellow. You can see how each tint and shade of the different colors seem to match in intensity or value. That is because of the level of white, black or grey that has been added to the original HUE. You can do this exercise for any color or color scheme. It helps a lot when trying to create a color scheme for a painting or room because you can see all the different tints, and shades of the colors you have chosen.  

Now lets talk about the color wheel. I already mentions the PRIMARY, SECONDARY and TERTIARY colors but didn't get to show you what those where. So when you lay out a color wheel it usually looks like the one above. You can see the rainbow effect that it has because of the blending of each primary and secondary color to create the tertiary colors. 
Color wheels are another awesome tool to use when looking to create a color scheme because you can see the options of your colors and how they relate to one another. 

Now a color wheel is split in two. It has warm colors and cool colors. (This can become much more complicated but I am going to keep it at the surface level of these terms). Typically the yellows, oranges, and reds are considered WARM colors. While the Violets, Blues, and greens are considered COOL colors.  

Like I said earlier, the color wheel is a big tool in selecting color schemes. And part of that is because the language used on a color wheel is already a color scheme.
What I mean by that is you can have a color scheme of ANALOGOUS colors. ANALOGOUS colors are simply colors that are side by side on the color wheel. Our basic color wheel has some of the themes I've shown above. Yellow, yellow orange, and orange or even violet, red violet, and red. Each set of those colors are ANALOGOUS to one another and therefore flow together smoothly.
You can take those schemes and add even more to them by changing the TINT, SHADE, and TONE of each giving you TOOONNNNNSS more options to choose from.

Another color scheme on a color wheel, and the one that is more widely known are the complimentary colors. These are colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel. The colors listed above are examples of COMPLIMENTARY colors. Christmas colors are complimentary. Most sports teams colors are complimentary. This is because complimentary colors typically have a high contrast which draws the eye quicker. 

Now that is a lot to take in and its is just the very BASICS of color. But now when you are talking to a designer, or artist you can be able to tell them you want your room full of warm red tints and know that you are getting softer/lighter reds and no dark heavy reds. Or that you want a tone on tone color scheme meaning you would like a greyed out theme that remains more neutral with little contrast!
Isn't it cool how color has its own language :)

I really enjoyed writing this post and it helped a lot with making me feel more like an artist again! I think I may do some other posts that go a little further on mixing colors and a few other definitions that I didn't have a chance to talk about. Would any one be interested in that or was this just interesting to me as an artist??? :) 

 photo gracie-sig_zps2d86285f.jpg


  1. It's interesting to me too! :P

    I took a color theory class and I loved it! I just LOVE color and everything we can do when we mix them! :)

  2. I remember learning this in my interior design classes in college, but it's nice to have a refresher! I'll refer back to this post often, I'm sure!

  3. I learned this in college in my interior design classes, but it's nice to have a refresher! I'm sure I'll refer back to this post often!

    1. Elizabeth I'm so glad you found the post interesting! I was worried people would think its a simple over stated subject. But I think it's hard to keep the basics in mind all the time!

  4. I know a lot of this information (I was a fashion design major)...and it is so useful for decorating and art and crafts - what a great post! Knowing these essential make mixing and matching colors so much easier.

    1. Thanks Holly! After going through art school I never really thought about how some people just don't understand color. I've used it forever and learned so much about it that I thought I would put it out there in an easy way for all the DIYers out there :)


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