Color Theory

As we think about color theory in art, what we care about first is learning to understand colors. The basic theory is that all existing colors (like the rainbow) are on separate wavelengths of light, perceived by the eye as the colors we know. A blue car appears blue to your eye becuase it reflects the wavelength we call “blue”. Here is the color wheel:

Color vision is the capacity of an organism or machine to distinguish objects based on the wavelengths (or frequencies) of the light they reflect, emit, or transmit. Colors can be measured and quantified in various ways; indeed, a human’s perception of colors is a subjective process whereby the brain responds to the stimuli that are produced when incoming light reacts with the several types of cone photoreceptors in the eye.

-Taken from Wikipedia’s page

primary and secondary colored pencils

Part One: Value to Color

Using colored pencils, you will create another value scale that uses color instead of value, using cool colors on the left and moving towards the warm colors in the number 1 space on the right.

warm colors

cool colors

replace these dark or light values with colors...

 Use the coolest, darkest color in the #6 spot to start, then move from that to the warmest, lightest color in spot #1.

   Part 2: Primary Colors- Red, Yellow, and Blue

color wheel

Start by filling in the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) into the center of the color wheel where the letters R, Y and B are located. Primary Colors are considered so because they cannot be mixed or made- they mix to make all of the other colors in the color wheel!

Now fill in the three primary colors in the outside of the wheel where the R, Y, and B letters are located.


Part Three: Secondary Colors- Green, Orange, and Purple (Violet)

When two primary colors are mixed together, we get a secondary color. Now you will gently add both colors to the empty spaces in between the primary colors. Start by mixing red and yellow together to make orange. Be careful, as some colors will overwhelm others. It takes more yellow to mix with red, as red pigment will overpower the same amount of yellow.

Part Four: Tertiary Colors

When two primary colors are mixed together in uneven parts, we get a tertiary color. After mixing red with yellow to make orange, we are left with two empty spaces on either side of the orange- they will be red-orange and yellow-orange.



Part Five : Tints and Shades 

In between the center wheel and the three boxes you just filled in are three more shapes divided in half by a thin line. Use white to mix with the color (a tint) on the left hand side, and mix that same color with black to make a darker version of the color (a shade). Do this for each of the three primary colors

Effects of Color

Can a color change the way you see the world? What if you saw the way that your perceptions can be altered by color? Is it a coincidence that the majority of traffic tickets go to drivers of red cars?

Red appears more brilliant against a black background and somewhat duller against the white background. In contrast with orange, the red appears lifeless; in contrast with blue-green, it exhibits brilliance. Notice that the red square appears larger on black than on other background colors.”- taken from

Color Schemes

By combining certain colors together, or next to each other we can generate a mood or feeling. We can relate objects, create illusion, and manipulate audiences.

Analogous (Related) Colors 

Using colors that are related to each other makes for a pleasing color scheme.

Many sports teams and advertisements choose colors for their product or service that use two or more colors that are somehow related.


Complementary (Opposite) Colors

Many sports franchises choose strong colors to represent them, with one cool and one warm color. Watch what happens to two colors placed next to each other when they are complements.



Warm/ Cool Color Scheme




When a product or service uses one warm and one cool color for their logo it creates an eye-catching color scheme.

Monchromatic (mono- one) Colors

All different versions of the same hue (color) being used in one composition is a monochromatic color scheme. Remember that adding white to a color is a tint, while adding black makes a shade of that color.

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