Color Theory

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When painting, it is almost impossible to have every color you desire in a separate tube. Not only is this highly unlikely but it is rather expensive.

Thankfully, you don’t need to go out and buy hundreds of different colors of paint. This is where color theory comes in. Color theory is the act of understanding and mixing colors to create new ones.

Once you understand how to use colors, you are not only going to understand how to create any shade and tone in the rainbow, but what colors work best side by side.

Primary and Secondary Colors

To start, you always need the three primary colors. These colors consist of red, blue and yellow. These are the three color paint tubes you must have on hand.

When you mix the blue and red together you create purple. Blue and yellow mixed together turns to green, and red with yellow added produces orange. These three colors are known as secondary colors, as they are created by the mixture of primary colors.

When you look at the colors created with your initial primary colors, you are able to see a difference in warmth. The warm colors are red, orange and yellow, while the cool colors are purple (also known as violet), blue and green.

Using warm colors or cool colors allows you to create a specific pallet design for your painting. You may choose to create a piece completely in warm colors or completely in cool colors.

Many painters using color theory have created these tonal works before. One such painter was Picasso, as he produced hundreds of works completely in cool tones using blue.

Complementary Colors

The down side to using only warm colors or cool colors in a painting is no area is really going to pop off the page. This is because you are not using complementary colors.

Complementary colors are two apposing colors that are directly across from one another in the color spectrum. These colors make each other pop and not only function well in the world of art, but in fashion also.

Each primary color is matched with a secondary color as its complementary. Red is the complementary to green, while yellow is the complementary to purple (violet). Lastly, blue is the complementary to orange.

Understanding this knowledge allows you to create the three addition colors and allows you to save the money you would spend on three tubes of paint.

Achromatic Colors

Achromatic in painting theory is a method of using all gray scale colors in a particular piece. This is often a technique also used in photography. It is best known as “black and white,” although most of the work is generally in different shades of gray.

Achromatic is also seen in film, and even popular wallpaper, as just about all colors works well with an achromatic back drop. You may have an inclination to create achromatic grays by mixing black and white. Although this is possible, it is not necessary, as there really never is a need to have black paint (very few natural objects in the world are actually black).

By mixing two complementary colors together you are able to create an achromatic gray. Equal parts of blue and equal parts of orange create gray. You are able to adjust the overall tone of the achromatic gray by adding more of one complementary to the mix. This allows you to not only brighten or darken the gray, but add a hint of certain colors (such as blue or orange) to it.

Break the Rules

Theory is in all forms of art, not just in painting.

Understanding this allows you to correctly create any tone, warm colors or cool colors directly from the three primary colors. It also allows you to break the rules, once you understand how it works.

Understanding primary colors and what each mixture makes ensures you are never without colors you may need for a painting. It also helps you save a good deal of money, as many specialty tones are rather expensive. The theory of using primary colors has been around for hundreds of years and has been used by painters almost since the creation of art itself.

Most artists were poor, and they could not afford dozens of different pigments readily available. Instead, they used the primary colors to create secondary colors, cool colors, warm colors and achromatic grays.

Understanding colors and its theory also has other benefits, as you are going to see works of art, photographs and even movies differently and you’ll understand why certain colors just seem to pop. It is also going to help you create new wardrobes, once you understand what colors work with one another, what a full outfit in cool colors or warm colors looks like and how accessories may help certain colors pop.

2 thoughts on “Color Theory

  1. My college painting professor gave me a list of minimum oil paints for his class. It was to comprise of all the colors we would need that mixed well. Do you happen to know where I can find a list like that?

    • Hi Brooke. I would choose these paints: Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Blue, Titanium White, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson to start, but you can supplement them with some Burnt Sienna, Permanent Green Light, Viridian, and some Burnt Umber to round out your paints and your palette. Good luck! :)

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