Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Color schemesWe looked at the basics of color and its relationship on the color wheel in the previous lesson, “Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1.” Color harmony (also known as color schemes) will be discussed in part 2 of this lesson on the basic art element called color.

What is Color Harmony?

Color harmony is the relationship of colors that work well together. It can be a simple relationship involving only one color with several shades (monochromatic) or two complementary colors, or it can be a more complex relationship involving multiple colors. There are many ideas for achieving harmony in our color palettes. These harmonies are based on the color wheel. A color wheel is a handy tool to have around as it helps the artist understand which colors work well together. Following are some illustrations and descriptions introducing some of the more popular color harmonies.

Color Relationships

Monochromatic

Monochromatic refers to the use of a single color from the color wheel. A monochromatic color scheme can be made using this single color.

A monochromatic color scheme is created by using that single color along with its various tints, shades, and tones. All the variances of the single color work well together to produce a harmonizing and soothing effect.

monochromatic color scheme
An example of a monochromatic family.

Complementary

Basic Art Element — Color relationshipsComplementary colors (a.k.a. color opposites) are located directly opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, violet is complementary to yellow because it is located opposite yellow on the color wheel.

The complementary or color opposites are:

    • Red and green
    • Yellow and violet
    • Blue and orange
    • Yellow-green and red-purple
    • Yellow-orange and blue-violet
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Red-violet and yellow-green
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Blue-violet and yellow-orange

Painting tips regarding color opposites:

1) When equal amounts of color opposites are mixed, they will cancel each other out, resulting in a drab neutral gray.

Basic Art Element — Color2) When color opposites are placed next to each other, especially when fully saturated, they create the strongest contrast between them. They will even create the optical illusion of appearing to vibrate. This illusion is most evident between red and green.

Split-Complementary

split-complementary color schemeA variation on the complementary color scheme is the split-complementary color scheme. Split-complementary takes the two colors directly on either side of the complementary color, rather than the color opposite the key color on the wheel. So, for example, if your main color is yellow, you would select the two colors on either side of violet instead of violet to make up this harmony of colors.

This scheme allows for a wider range of colors while remaining true to the basic harmony between the key and complementary colors. It has the same visual appeal as the complementary color scheme but with less contrast and tension. Split-complementary color schemes are a safe choice for almost any design because they are nearly impossible to mess up and always look good.

Analogous

colorwheel-AnalogousAnalogous colors are groups of three colors that sit next to one another on the color wheel. One is the dominant color and two supporting colors. The effect of this color scheme can be pretty dramatic as these hues usually work very well together in creating a sense of unity or harmony within the composition.

Using this color scheme, choose one as the dominant color (usually a primary or secondary color), a second color to support, and a third as an accent.

Accented Analogous

accented analogous colorsAn accented analogous scheme (also called analogous complementary) combines analogous and complementary color schemes. It consists of colors next to each other on the color wheel and the color directly opposite these. The direct complement then becomes the accent color to create a dynamic contrast against the dominant color grouping. This is a great way to add warmth to a cool analogous color pallet or a cool accent color to an otherwise warm color scheme.

Painting tips using this color scheme:

1) This color scheme works best when the number of colors used is limited to four.

2) A good time to use this scheme is when three closely related colors dominate a design. Then, adding the contrasting color provides a surprising accent for the composition.

Triadic (Triad)

triadic color schemeA triadic color scheme comprises three colors that are equally spaced from one another on the color wheel, forming an equilateral triangle. Thus every fourth color on the color wheel will make up part of a triad.

Some examples of triadic color schemes could be:

    • Red / Yellow / Blue
    • Orange / Green / Violet
    • Yellow-Orange / Blue-Green / Red-Violet
    • Yellow-Green / Blue-Violet / Red-Orange

Painting tips for mixing triad colors:

1) Work with only the three selected colors in your triad and their mixes.
2) Make one of your colors dominant, with the other two acting as subordinates.
3) Add variety to your design by including different shades, tints, and tones of your triad colors.

Test your knowledge of color theory. Take this simple test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2 — You are here.

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Teresa’s Insider News

Be the first to know! Sign up here to be among the first to receive sneak peeks of recently completed paintings, new announcements, and other updates at the art studio.

Teresa has an insider newsletter, and it’s FREE! This is her way of keeping her friends up to date by giving you sneak peeks of new paintings she completes, as well as other announcements before they are made public. Her newsletter is published every other month, so be sure to get on her mailing list. You don’t want to miss a thing!

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UPDATED: 25 June 2021

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Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

What is Color?

Basic Art Element — Color, Pt 1Color is a basic element of art that involves light. It is produced when light waves (wavelength) strike an object and are reflected into our eyes. Each light wave has a distinct color. Objects appear to be different colors because some wavelengths are absorbed while others are reflected or transmitted. The wavelengths that are reflected back to our eyes give us the colors we see.

Color consists of three properties:

  • Hue — The name given to a color, such as red, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange, etc.
  • Intensity (or saturation) — The purity or dullness of a color. A color’s purity is determined by whether it has been mixed with another hue and, if so, to what extent. The most vibrant colors are those right from the tube. Colors that have been combined with various hues are thought to be less intense. To reduce the intensity of a color, there are two options:
    1) Mix the color with gray.
    2) Mix the color with its complement.
  • Value — The lightness or darkness of a color. Adding white or black to a hue changes its value. A “tint” is created when white is added, while a “shade” is made when black is added.

Using color effectively in creating art involves understanding three basic areas: the color wheel, color value, and color schemes (or color harmony.)

The Color Wheel

Basic Art Element — ColorThe color wheel is a useful visual aid used by artists and interior designers to understand the relationship between colors. Sir Isaac Newton developed the color wheel in 1666 when he took the color spectrum and bent it into a circle. The color wheel is a circular chart divided into 12 sections, with each sector showing a distinct color. There are three categories of colors in it: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The term “tertiary” means third.

  • basic art element colorPrimary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These hues are equally spaced apart on the color wheel. There only three primary colors, and they are the most basic colors on the wheel. They can only be made from natural pigments and cannot be made by mixing other hues. These three primary colors can be blended to create any other color on the color wheel.
  • secondary colors on the color wheelSecondary colors are orange, green, and purple (or violet). These colors are created by mixing equal parts of any two primary colors.
    • Red + yellow = orange
    • Yellow + blue = green
    • Blue + red = violet (purple)
  • Tertiary colors are red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, blue-purple, yellow-green, and yellow-orange. There are six tertiary colors, and they are the result of mixing equal parts of a primary color with a secondary color. The proper way to refer to tertiary colors is by listing the primary color first and then the secondary color. Tertiary colors are called by their two-word name.
    • tertiary colors on the color wheelRed + violet (purple) = red-violet (red-purple)
    • Red + orange = red-orange
    • Blue + green = blue-green
    • Blue + violet (purple) = blue-violet (blue-purple)
    • Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
    • Yellow + green = yellow-green

Color Values

Color also has value. A color’s value is a measurement that describes how light or dark it is. It is defined by the color’s proximity to white. For instance, lighter colors such as yellow will have lighter values than darker colors like navy blue.

A good way to see the difference in the values of colors is to look at the greyscale. White is the lightest value, while black is the darkest. Middle gray is the value halfway between these two extremes.

basic art element value

A color’s value can be changed by simply adding white or black to it. When you add white to a hue, you get a lighter value. “Tints” are the lighter values. When you add black to a color, the value darkens, creating a “shade” of that color. See the example below.

colorscale_value_art_element

Color Temperature

The temperature of color is how we perceive a particular color, either warm or cool. Warm colors range from red to yellow on the color wheel, whereas cool colors range from blue to green and violet. Each temperature takes up one-half of the color wheel (see images below). Somewhere in the green and violet spectrums, the temperature changes between warm and cool.

The characteristics of warm and cool colors include:

Warm Colors

    • Warm colorsare made with red, orange, or yellow, and combinations of them
    • tend to feel warm, reminding us of heat and sunshine
    • tend to advance into the foreground, i.e., come toward the viewer
    • may feel more energetic, attention-grabbing, and aggressive

Cool Colors

    • Cool colorsare made with blue, green, or violet, and combinations of them
    • tend to feel cool, reminding us of water and sky
    • tend to recede into the background, i.e., move away from the viewer
    • are more calming and soothing

Neutral Colors

Neutral colors do not appear on the color chart and are neither warm nor cool. They are called neutral because they lack color and are derived by mixing equal parts of color opposites (i.e., red + green, blue + orange, or yellow + purple), resulting in drab-looking grays.

Black and white are also considered neutral because they are neither warm nor cool and do not change color.

This lesson on “Basic Art Element — Color” continues in part 2, where color harmony is discussed.

Take The Quiz

Test your knowledge of color theory by taking this simple online test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1 — You are here.

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

Have a question?

If you have a question about this painting, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Teresa’s Insider News

Be the first to know! Sign up here to be among the first to receive sneak peeks of recently completed paintings, new announcements, and other updates at the art studio.

Teresa has an insider newsletter, and it’s FREE! This is her way of keeping her friends up to date by giving you sneak peeks of new paintings she completes, as well as other announcements before they are made public. Her newsletter is published every other month, so be sure to get on her mailing list. You don’t want to miss a thing!

Thanks for reading this art lesson!

Feel free to share this with your friends.


UPDATED: 25 June 2021

Enjoy this page? Please share it. Thanks!