11. COLOUR 101


There has been SOOOOOOO much written about colour, I feel as if ANYTHING that I say, has definitely already been said……& yet so many people struggle terribly with it.  I am naturally gifted in this area (some times I wish it was accounting & not colour, but for better or worse ………for me………it’s colour)Title_page_web  Fernarnd Leger, a Painter, said ‘Colour is a basic human need….like fire & water, a raw material, indispensable to life.’ 

Colour is all around us, we cannot live our day without being exposed to it in some form.  Even in the presence of our modern day monochromatic colour schemes (schemes from a single palette)  colour is evident.   The way that each of us percieves colour is uniquely individual.  Texture, light, shadow & adjoining colours & textures impact our interpretation of colour.  What the eye percieves to be the purest white is tainted, as pure white is eye piercing and cannot be reproduced in any natural form.  And so, where to from here? 

The word COLOUR, in fact is a generic term When professionals talk about colour, the 3 words you will often hear are the following terms:

HUE: the hue is the colour ‘gamut’ or family. ie blue, red, yellow (the example below is a ‘red’)

SATURATION: is the intensity of the pigment ie apricot or rust

VALUE: is the amount of white or black added to a colour that alters it’s ‘tonal appearance’

Using a colour wheel is a bit like looking at a 2D map of the world to understand the nuances of terraine.  The real world is actually a sphere.  The same thing can be said of colour.  The colour wheel you may have or use, is the ‘2d map’, however the real thing can be better illustrated as a globe.  Munsell developed the ‘global’ method of illustrating & explaining colour & some people find this helpful.  Imagine the colour wheel now in 3D. The flat 2D wheel you are used to seeing is like a slice out of the middle of an orange.  (not a segment, a slice through, which reveals little triangle shaped pieces & a core in the middle)  Now lets look at it another way.  Below is the red from the out side of your 2D colour wheel, but now we can see the whole ‘red wedge’ showing us what happens if we add white or black to our clear red in the outer corner.   This is indepth & perhaps a little complicated for ‘COLOUR 101’ however it is helpful to understand this to move forward. Red_colour_family

The simplest way to work with colour, if it is something that you struggle with, is to work with either complementary (opposite on the colour wheel) or a harmonious scheme (colours next to or near each other on the colour wheel).  Once you have that sorted, the next thing to consider is HUE.  Hue refers to the depth of pigment (ie how light or dark it is).  To have something look harmonious the intensity of the pigment (the hue) of the colours you are using, should be close for the best look to your work.  There are some great books available my two favs. are not even ‘art’ books, but the principles apply whether you are talking about mixing beads, paint, or curtains!!

COLOUR: colour themes for every room by Joanna Copestick & Meryl Lloyd.  ISBN: 0 86411 781 7 (I think this has been republished under the title Vital Colour) & one I only picked up a year or so ago, The Colour Scheme Bible by Anna Starmer. ISBN 0 7318 1257 3. Both available in Oz & on Amazon.com.  I will definitely have lots more to say on this………..but this is a start.

ps there’s more below, if I haven’t confused you enough!! LOL!!…….I have even started a new catagory on this subject…………I think being THE Colourguru…………I should have done that first.


AS A VERY BROAD GENERALIZATION, warm colours tend to be more ‘murky’ & clear clean colours tend to be cooler.  I say a broad generalization, because yellow in it’s purest, clearest form is warm, however the clearer it gets, (by adding white) the cooler it gets.  It doesn’t make the headlines these days, however it used to be quite important to painters of earlier centuries, in relation to the observed contrast in landscape light, between the "warm" colors of daylight or sunset and the "cool" colors of a gray or overcast day. (Remember they didn’t have a digital camera fused to their hand like me)  Warm colors are hues from red through yellow, including umber & ochre; cool colors are the hues from blue green (clear, water colours) through blue violet, including greys derived from black.   (Warm grey is derived from mixing umber & black).  There is much conjecture about where the dividing line falls on the colour wheel, but it is generally accepted to be between red orange & greenish blue.

Your composition will be more pleasing to the eye if you stay within either a warm or a cool palette.  When you mix the 2, ie mostly warm with one cool element, that single cool element, will become the feature & what your eye is draw to, & that isn’t always a good thing.



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