Painting 3: Advanced Color Theory
What you'll need
Min 8 colors
Full Spectrum Set of Paints
1
Water Container
1
Paper Towels or Rag
Several
Color Swatches or Magazine Pictures
1
Paintbrush
Make sure you have a full spectrum set of colors (see Painting 2: Colors You Need for Color-Mixing).
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Let’s first review color theory vocabulary. The Color Wheel is a rainbow in a circle.
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Primary colors are red yellow and blue, the three colors that, in theory, can make the other colors.
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The Secondary colors are purple, orange, and green. They are halfway between the Primary colors.
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The Tertiary colors are between each Primary and Secondary. An example would be yellow-green.
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The color wheel can be divided into many more colors. Each color is called a Hue.
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The number of Hues are uncountable. But each Hue can contain thousands more colors.
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For example, each Hue can be made lighter or darker. This is called the Value of a color.
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These are “Value Scales” showing the full range of a hue from light to dark.
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Saturation is how vivid or intense a color is. Neutral means a color is dull: grayish or brownish.
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High Saturation is vivid (top). Low Saturation is dull (bottom).
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Complimentary colors are opposites on the color wheel, such as red and green.
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Together, compliments make neutrals. If you want to make a color duller, add its opposite.
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Let’s go back to primary colors. Red, Yellow and Blue are called the “painter’s primaries”.
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There is another set of primaries that is used by printers: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.
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Neither set is perfect, which is why the colors I recommend include similar colors to both sets.
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We’ve already made the Secondary colors with our six Primaries. Let’s mix some more complex colors.
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Gather some paint chips. You can get them free from the paint section of any hardware store.
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If you don’t have any, cut squares of color from magazines or anything else.
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Choose three colors that are vivid and three colors that are more neutral. We are going to mix them!
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Start with your vivid colors. To make this peach, I’ll try combining red, yellow and white.
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You can see that my first try is too dark in value. I’ll add more white!
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Closer. Still just a little too dark. I’ll add a tiny bit more white.
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Now that it’s the right value, I can see it’s too yellow. It needs to be more pink.
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Now I’ll add a tiny bit of my magenta. Then a little more white. When it disappears, you’ve got it!
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Sometimes it takes many tries as we adjust the hue, value, and saturation. We’re training our eyes.
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Now my vivid purple. I know to use magenta and ultramarine. First it was too dark, then too pink.
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The vivid colors are easier. For this teal I used phthalo blue, cadmium yellow light, and white.
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The neutral colors are trickier. I start by using the primaries that will make a duller green.
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It’s still too vivid, so it needs more of its complimentary color, red. I steal some from my peach.
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Now this brown. Follow my brush to see all the colors I use to adjust it until it is correct.
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First too dark, then too purple, still a little too dark, finally both lighter and a little redder.
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Last, this blue-grey. I’ll start with light blue and slowly adjust it with tiny bits of color.
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We are training our eyes to see what a color “needs” to move towards the correct color.
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If you can make all six colors match, you’re really starting to understand color. It takes practice!
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These paintings are all by the artist Paul Klee. Try making an abstract painting to practice color.
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I like to make subtle color shifts and explore color relationships in mine. Good luck with yours!
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