Now and then I teach art classes, and I talk to my students about color. It’s one of my favorite topics, because in any composition you can arrange shapes and create dark and light areas, but understanding color makes it easier to achieve the results desired and gives the artist a greater way of expressing themselves. In fact, color is one of the most important tools that an artist has, which could be why artists tend to be very much aware of the colors around them. This is how it is with me, anyway.


Hue is the word used to name a color. Red, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange are all hues. Mixing these colors can give us even more hues. If you mix white with a little red, for example, you get pink. If you mix blue with green you get a blue-green. There are numerous hues, which are achieved by mixing various colors or by mixing colors with black or white to change its value. Every color that you can think of has a hue. This to say, it has a name.

The Color Wheel

A circle of colors, commonly referred to as a color wheel, has been used by artists for generations. It is a diagram that shows the primary colors — red, yellow, and blue, and the secondary colors — purple, green, and orange, which are achieved by mixing equal amounts of any two primary colors. Some color wheels show the tertiary colors, which are achieved by mixing equal amounts of any primary color with a secondary color, and some color wheels show an even greater amount of colors achieved by further mixing.

Color WheelBlack and White

Black and white are not usually included in a color wheel, since many feel that black and white are not colors — based on a popular theory that says that black is the complete absence of color, and white is the presence of all colors simultaneously. Confusing, I know, but you don’t need to understand everything about color in order to mix it. Though if it interests you to learn more, go to Color Matters and read Are Black and White Colors?

Color Schemes

The logical relationship of colors on a color wheel are called color schemes. They take the guess work out of choosing colors that look good together. There are several combinations of color schemes in which to choose from. Here are seven popular color schemes:

A single color, used in different values and intensities.


Two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel.


Tertiary TriadTriads
Three colors with a balanced triangular relationship.


Analogous ComplementAnalogous Complements
Three adjacent colors, plus the complement of one of the three.


Three to four colors that are adjacent on the color wheel.


Split ComplementSplit Complements
One color plus the two colors on either side if it’s complement.


Double Split ComplementDouble Split Complements
Two colors on each side of any color, plus their complements.



The value of a color is its lightness or darkness. If you take blue, for example, and add to it white, you will have a light blue or a tint of blue. If you take the same blue and add to it black, you will have a dark blue, or a shade of blue. When a color is light we say that its value is high. When dark, its value is low. The more white added to a color makes its value higher, and the more black makes its value lower.


The intensity of a color is its brightness or dullness. If a color is bright, it is considered to be intense. If it is dull, it is less intense. A pure blue, for example, is intense. If you add a little orange to this blue it becomes less intense, and the more orange you add the less intense it becomes. Equal amounts of pure blue and pure orange make gray. The same goes for any two colors opposite each other on the color wheel.

Color Temperature

The temperature of a color has to do with its warmth or coolness. In general, the warm colors are reds, oranges, and yellows. The cool colors are blues, greens, and purples. However, any color can become warm or cool depending on what color has been mixed into it.

Color Influence

If you know how to manipulate color, you can create a desired effect or mood. When a color is placed on top of another color, for example, it influences how it appears. It may appear cool or warm, or less intense, or lighter, or darker, depending on the color it sits on.

See how color effects color.

Color Emotion

When musical notes are placed together they create a melody that can affect our emotions. Colors can also cause an emotional response. Colors that are bright and/or warm tend to produce a cheerful feeling, similar to a lively, toe-tapping song. Colors that are slightly saturated tend to produce a feeling of relaxation, similar to a genera of music known as easy listening. Other color choices create other moods. In fact, color can help to convey whatever mood you can think of.

Light Affects Color

There are three different kinds of light that artists might consider when painting. These are local color, optical color, and arbitrary color. Local color, also called objective color, is when an artist reproduces the colors seen in nature in daylight — the grass is green, the sky is blue, apples are red, and so on. With optical color, the artist paints the colors they see under a light other than day light, such as moonlight or candlelight. With arbitrary color, natural colors are ignored and the artist uses choices of color based on aesthetics or emotional reasons. Artists, such as Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck often used arbitrary color.

Painting in Color

Hopefully you now understand color a little more than before. And if you take painting classes and practice, your understanding is likely to grow and your paintings will improve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *