Understanding the Basics of Color Theory

Understanding the Basics of Color Theory

While every artist has his or her own unique style, color theory is something that every artist uses. Whether or not you have been formally trained, you probably have some idea of how certain colors work together and how they can be used.

In this article you will learn the basics of color theory which can help you to become a better, stronger artist.

The History of Color Theory

Before you can truly understand color theory, you may want to learn a bit about its history. The very first color wheel was created by Sir Isaac Newton when he split white sunlight into its various color components – red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, and blue. After splitting sunlight into individual colors, he then joined the two opposite ends of the color spectrum to show the natural progression of those colors.

In the years following Newton’s development, Johann Wolfgang Goethe began to study the psychological effects of colors, associating blue with feelings of coolness and yellow with feelings of warmth.

The development of the current concept of color theory is attributed to Johannes Itten, a Swiss artist who taught at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany. His school of art was named Bauhaus and it involves a color wheel based on the three primary colors and twelve secondary hues.

The Three Categories of Color Theory

According to popular definition, color theory refers to the scope of different ways in which colors can be mixed as well as the visual effects produced by certain color combinations. According to Color Matters, there are three basic categories of color theory:

• The Color Wheel – The color wheel is simply a visual representation of different colors, showing the ways they interact with each other. The color wheel can be simple, involving only the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) or it can be more complex, including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

• Color Harmony – This term is used to describe the pleasing arrangement of different colors. Color harmony can be achieved in a variety of ways such as combining complementary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel like blue and orange) or by using analogous colors (any three colors next to each other on a 12-part color wheel).

• Color Context – This term describes how colors behave in relation to other colors – it is a very complex area of color theory. One of the best examples of color context is a small red square placed in the center of larger squares of different solid colors – black, white, orange, and green. The red shows up more brightly against some colors and it may actually appear larger against certain background colors.

Artists use color theories as a means of creating a logical structure for color. While each artist uses color in his or her own unique way, the core principles of color theory remain constant. If you want to advance yourself as an artist, consider taking the time to study color theory – you may find that it improves your use of color and your ability to use color to elicit certain responses or feelings in the people who view your artwork.


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