Color Theory

Color Theory

by Robert H. Zondag
homeeddirectory .com/articles/3_May09

Part of being an art educator is introducing color theory to students both from the perspective of creating art and from the perspective of appreciating art.

What is color theory? Color theory is the concept of color mixing and the visual impact of using specific color combinations. The concepts of color theory first appear in the writings of various artists beginning in the 15th century, including Leonardo da Vinci. However, color theory as we know it begins in the 18th century, most notably with Sir Isaac Newton who developed the first circular diagram of colors (a color wheel). A color wheel is a circular diagram that represents the sequence of colors in an artistís palette.

Standard color theory starts with the three primary colors. Primary colors are the three pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these three colors: red, yellow and blue.

To these three primary colors we add the secondary colors of green, orange and purple. These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors. These form the basic color wheel. We can continue mixing colors to produce tertiary colors and increase the palette of the color wheel.

How does an artist use a color wheel? The artist uses the color wheel to help plan a painting (a color scheme). For example, the artist may use analogous colors. Analogous colors are any three colors which are side-by-side on the color wheel, such as red-purple, purple, and blue-purple. Generally when using analogous colors the artist will choose one color to dominate the color scheme. In this example, purple may dominate.

Or an artist may choose a complementary color scheme. Complementary colors are any two colors that are directly opposite each other, such as red and green or orange and blue. Using opposing colors creates strong visual contrast for the viewer.

When talking about color theory it is important to talk about color harmony. How does the artistís choice of colors impact the viewer? When art is harmonious it engages the viewer and delights the eye. The wrong choice of color may unintentionally produce a visual experience that the mind rejects. (Of course, this is provided the artist did not intentionally wish to produce this effect on the viewer!)
As an art educator, I ask my students to analyze several paintings for color harmony. This allows me to discuss the color wheel and color theory. It is helpful to have a color wheel available for your students. You may want to have your students create a simple color wheel in your classroom using crayons, color pencils, or watercolors.

As an artist, Robert H. Zondag has turned his passion into teaching children and adults to both create and enjoy the visual arts. He continues to act as a catalyst and consultant for administrators, educators and parents to design and assess art education programs. As a Regional Program Director for Young Rembrandts, Robert works with various districts, community education programs, private institutions, and home educators to incorporate successful drawing courses into schools, early education programs, and summer enrichment sessions.

Robert is available for consultation with your home schooling group or to speak at state or local conventions and meetings.
Robert H. Zondag
Regional Program Director
Young Rembrandts
729 Summit Ave
St. Paul MN 55105
651.292.1582 (fax)