top of page

Color Theory: 5 Things Beginner Artists Should Know

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Color theory for beginner artists

R-O-Y-G-B-I-V. If that's all you know about color, this blog is for you.

Color theory is pretty complex. For the purposes of this blog, we're going to keep it pretty simple. In the future, we may dig deeper. Today, we're just scratching the surface.

1. Hue

As introduced by Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

We're starting easy peasy. Hue simply refers to the color of the color in question.

For painters, hue doesn't just refer to the color of paint, it also refers to the quality. For example, on student grade paints, you may see the term "hue" on the label. Because pigment is so expensive, paint makers use less of it in paint they want to sell for less. Due to this, paints with the word "hue" on the label may not be as lightfast or have the same kind of archival durability that professional grade paints do.

2. Saturation

This gif is so saturated it makes my brain hurt.

So what is saturation, anyway? Saturation has everything to do with color intensity. In other words, it has to do with how much grey is mixed with your out-of-the-tube paint color.

3. Tint and Shade

According to Wikipedia, tint is a mixture of color with white which reduces darkness, while shade is a mixture of color with black which increases darkness.

I used a little Microsoft Paint magic to throw together this guy. Don't judge me. I'm a painter not a graphic designer. Ha.

Color diagram

You can see where you start with your pure color, or hue, and as you add white, you make a tint, as you add black, you make a shade. If you're adding both, you're affecting the color's saturation and creating a tone.

4. Color Groups and Schemes

This is where the use of color can get really powerful. Often, novice artists who aren't familiar with these will make color choices that muddy or distract from a piece of artwork that had a lot of potential.

Monochromatic: This is the easiest to remember and, in some cases, the most difficult to execute. Monochromatic color schemes are those that use tints, shades, and tones of a single color.

For the next few, you'll need a color wheel reference.

Analogous: Analogous color schemes use three colors that sit right next to one another on the color wheel.

Complementary: Complementary color schemes use colors directly across from one another on the color wheel.

Triadic: Triadic color schemes use colors that create a triangle on the color wheel.

There are a lot more color schemes that just these four; however, for beginners in color theory, it's best to get a handle on these before jumping into more complex ones.

Print out a color wheel and hang it by your work space. Refer to it before you begin laying color into your pieces.

I still mostly use complementary color schemes in my work. Usually variations of red and green as well as blue and orange. What you choose is up to you. Experiment to figure out which schemes you like using and those which you find the most compelling.

5. Color Psychology

Colors chosen by graphic designers and artists are also selected to elicit a specific emotion in the viewer.

For example:

Red is associated with danger, passion, or anger.

Orange is most often associated with energy or creativity.

Yellow is kind of a wildcard. It is associated with happiness, caution, or even hunger.

Black is associated with death and power.

Green with healing and nature.

Blue with calm, wisdom, or sorrow.

Purple with wealth and ambition.

White with purity and peace.

So, when selecting your color scheme, keep in mind that the colors you're going to use aren't just going to look dynamic together, they're also going to evoke an emotion. You can read more about color psychology with a simple Google search. OR, better yet, go to your local library and ask a reference librarian to point you toward some good resources.

Best of luck, friends! As always, I'm available to answer your art related questions on Instagram @msrmcgaughey or Facebook @ArtByMSRM.

38 views0 comments


bottom of page