A Bit about Color Theory

Every day I come across someone who does not seem to know that Blue plus Yellow makes Green.  This is like forgetting that 1+1=2.  Basic color theory is taught in school (well, it was when I went to school) and not something that I would expect anyone to forget.

I thought that this would be a great post for those who have forgotten or were never taught about colors and how they work.  I am not going to get technical, this is just the basics.  Maybe I can make a series of posts about this.

First thing to know is that Art and Science have different ways of understanding and explaining color.  They have different tools and purposes.  Art Color Theory deals with blending colors and, in some circles, the way they make us react. In Science colors are studied as light waves and how they work with the eyes and brain to make us see.

In Art Color Theory black is the presence of all colors.  In Science black is the absence of light or a surface that reflects no light.  Similarly, in Art, white is the absence of all colors and in Science white is the presence of light or a surface that reflects all light.  It is kind of confusing but important to know.

Color Theory basics: For the Artist

There are three colors that are the foundation for ALL other colors.

Yellow,Blue,Red Sample

Yellow, Blue and Red in Gouache

Red, Blue, and Yellow.

Without these three colors there would be nothing for us to see.  Not even black or white.

In theory mixing the three basic colors together makes black.  If you mix red, blue and yellow together in real life you usually get this really nasty brown.  The colors artists use are not usually “pure” enough to mix the way Color Theory says it should.

2015-11-29 10.38.50

The basic colors blended to make secondary colors.  Plus making a composite black vs using a blank paint (center)

Mixing the basic colors together gives you different colors.  Red and Blue make Purple.  Red and Yellow make Orange.  Blue and Yellow make Green.  Mixed in equal portions you should get a middle or generic of each of Purple, Orange, and Green.  Mix in more of one color and you get slightly different mix, an Orange that is more Red or a Green that is more Yellow.

The best thing to do is buy some cheap paints (Tempra is always cheap and easy to use) and play with them.  Find out what they do and what mixes make you happiest.

Playing with the colors and mediums is the best way to learn about them.

I hope this was generically helpful.


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