Lesson 2 - A Quick Lesson in Color Theory

What is Color Theory?

Color theory is essentially the science and art of color—its principles. It is the culmination of the studies of color, its measurements and its relationship with other hues.


Color theory creates the rudiments and nature of hues for artists to follow. However, we must remember that it’s rules are not absolute. The concepts you’ll find within the theory should be merely considered as guidelines and should not hinder your creative process.


The logical structure that we follow can be divided into three (3) categories, namely: The color wheel, color harmony, and colors in context.


What is color?

Color is our eye’s perception of light. The process of light bouncing off objects and into our eyes includes the making of color combinations. Our brains then interpret those combinations and translate them into what we call color.


Definitions and Terms


1. Hue

It is essentially what the color is. Or in the context of speaking, it is the color you are specifying. It also refers to the dominant wavelength of color out to the 12 colors. For example: the hue of navy is blue


2. Saturation

It is the intensity of color. In other words, saturation is the measurement of how pure a color is. To have a high saturation means the color is very bright. Desaturation means the color is washed out or grayed out


3. Varieties of color

a. Tints are hues to which white is added. hue.

b. Shades are hues to which black is added

c. Tones can be produces by adding gray to hues



4. High Key and Low Key

This refers to the overall value scale used in a painting. High key paintings have high value scales. In other words, light. And vice versa


The Color Wheel

The color wheel is considered a tool for artists. However, there’s a common misconception that it is a tool for finding color combinations—that’s rarely the case.


The theory behind the color wheel is the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Therefore, the wheel is a tool for determining the relationship of the colors we want to choose.


The color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton around the early 17th century. In his book, Opticks, he concluded that light is made of different colors, and those colors are arranged in a particular way for a reason.



The Color Wheel is a circle divided into twelve equal parts. The parts in turn are colored purposefully.


As I’ve mentioned before, the theory behind the color wheel is the relationship between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors. Consequently, you’ll find that the distance between each primary (secondary or tertiary) colors are equal, and in between, you’ll find the succeeding set of colors.


Primary Colors

Red, blue, and yellow. These colors are “primary” for a reason. The reason is that they can not be made from other colors. In other words, they are essentially the most basic of colors—the parent color. Furthermore, because they are the root of every color, they can be mixed to produce a wide gamut of colors.


Secondary Colors

Green, orange, and purple. Think of secondary colors as the children of primary colors since they are a mixture of two primary colors, and can be found in between them.


Tertiary Colors

Think of these colors as grandchildren of the primaries and children of the secondaries. They’re a mixture of two (2) secondary colors and can be found in between them.


The tertiary colors in the color wheel are as follows:

  1. Yellow-orange

  2. Red-orange

  3. Red-violet

  4. Blue-violet

  5. Blue-green

  6. Yellow-green