Understanding Color Theory: The Basics

This post is a collaborative article from Danelle Smart Schaefer (text) and Sarah Renae Clark (images). Check out Danelle’s blog at www.swordandsparrowdesign.com

Basic Color Theory

When it comes to using color, the basic color theory rules are the same no matter what medium you’re using. Here I’m going to describe some basic color theory principles so that you can understand how colors work together and take your drawing and painting to the next level.

Learning these principles will not only give you a better understanding of color, but will enable you to create more realistic and visually pleasing drawings and paintings.

The color wheel is a staple in the art world. Sir Isaac Newton first developed the circular diagram of colors in 1666, and it has been in use ever since. Let’s take a look at what makes up the color wheel to find out why it’s so important.

Learn about the color wheel, primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and color harmonies with this handy infographic. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color
The main colors on the color wheel are Red, Blue, and Yellow. These are called Primary Colors. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

The main colors on the color wheel are red, blue, and yellow. These are called primary colors. They cannot be formed by mixing any other combination of colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

When you mix two primary colors together, you end up with the secondary colors. Orange, green, and purple! Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

When you mix two primary colors together, you end up with the secondary colors. Orange, green, and purple are the secondary colors.

Tertiary colors are the colors you see between the primary and secondary colors, and they are formed by mixing the primary and secondary colors. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

And finally, tertiary colors are the colors you see between the primary and secondary colors, and they are formed by mixing the primary and secondary colors together, hence their names. Yellow-green is formed by mixing yellow and green, red-orange is formed by mixed red and orange, and so on.

Color Harmony

Now that we’ve gone over the fundamentals of the color wheel, let’s talk about color harmonies.

Color harmony is basically a fancy term for what colors are going to look good together, and there is an actual science behind figuring this out. Here are some options when choosing your colors:

Complementary colors are found across from each other on the color wheel. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

Complementary colors are found across from each other on the color wheel. So red and green go well together, yellow and purple, etc. The harmony is found in the contrast that they have from one another.

Analogous colors: These are groups of three colors found next to each other on the color wheel. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

Analogous colors are groups of three colors found next to each other on the color wheel. When using an analogous color scheme, choose one color as your dominant color and the other two to support it.

Triadic colors: This color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. They tend to be bright, and like analogous schemes, it is recommended that you use one color as your dominant color and the other two to support it.

Split-Complementary colors: This color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. Choose one color on the wheel for your base color, and then instead of choosing it’s complementary opposite, choose the two colors adjacent to the complementary color. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

A split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. Choose one co­lor on the wheel for your base color, and then instead of choosing its complementary opposite, choose the two colors adjacent to the complementary color. This color scheme is strong and good for beginners.

Tetradic colors are a set of two complimentary pairs which form a rectangle on the wheel. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

And finally, the tetradic colors, which are a set of two complimentary pairs combined to form a rectangle on the wheel.

Of course, as with anything in art, these are just guidelines so feel free to play around with it and see what color schemes you can come up with.

How to mix your colors using neutrals

Neutrals are found throughout nature and can really add a realistic touch to your artwork, however, you don’t just want to add black or brown when shading. Here are some tips on mixing and using neutrals.

Mixing your own neutrals:

Browns are actually made from mixing complementary colors on the color wheel. Mixing different amounts of complementary colors can create either a cool or warm brown, and gives the artwork a much richer feel that just plain pre-packaged browns don’t have.

Grays are obviously created by mixing white and black, but can also either be on the cooler or warmer side by mixing additional colors in.

Shading with neutrals:

A big mistake that beginners make is shading with black. This gives the shadow unrealistic emphasis. Instead, try shading with a neutral in the same color range as the object you’re coloring. For instance, when coloring a red flower, try mixing red and green to create a red-tinted brown for the shadow.

 

So there you have it – the basic principles and tips for using color in your artwork.

I really suggest just playing around with color and experimenting though, seeing what color schemes and techniques you can come up with. After all, art is about experimentation. Once you work through this, for a more in-depth look you can check out this article by Hubpages. And if you have any other questions or tips you’d like to share, be sure to let us know in the comments!

If you need some color ideas to copy, please check out my color palettes in my color inspiration section!

Learn about the color wheel, primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and color harmonies with this handy infographic. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #colorLearn about the color wheel, primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and color harmonies with this handy infographic. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

Learn about color harmonies including complementary colors, analogous colors, triadic colors, split-complementary colors and tetradic colors. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

Learn about the color wheel, primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and color harmonies with this handy infographic. Read more about basic color theory at www.sarahrenaeclark.com #colortheory #color

About the Author

Danelle

 Danelle is a graphic designer at Sword & Sparrow, a company she started with the desire to help mindful small business owners craft their one-of-a-kind brand, so they could stand out in a sea of competitors and truly embrace their awesomeness. Her Bachelor’s Degree from the Art Institute of Indianapolis, plus several years of experience as an in-house designer have taught her priceless lessons about branding, marketing, and of course design. 

Visit Danelle’s website: swordandsparrowdesign.com

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By | 2017-09-07T06:37:02+00:00 September 7th, 2017|Adult Coloring Tutorials, Color Inspiration|0 Comments

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