Color Theory

A practical guide for artists, by Wes Loper

   Albert Einstein never made a direct contribution to the theory of color but artists can take a lesson from his ideas. When it comes to understanding color we must think of it as being not absolute but "relative" if we are to apply what we know about it. When we realize as artists and individuals that our perception and experience of color is conditioned by guiding principles it becomes more manageable. These factors are both objective and subjective and although knowledge of scientific color theory can guide our perceptions and handling of color imagination is all-important to its successful use and enjoyment. The artist's unique "vision" is where design principles come into play as a part of the system of thought known as color theory.

   Theory informs talent and talent revitalizes theory.

   All color theory begins with the idea that color is light. White light contains the colors of the spectrum a group of bands of continuous colors changing in hue from red to orange to yellow to green to blue, indigo, and violet. The idea that color is in fact light is attributed to Sir Isaac Newton. In a darkened room he broke a beam of sunlight (white light) into it’s components of color by passing it through a prism. So the painter uses pigments which reflect light of a certain wavelength to yield a particular hue. The specific hue produced by the artist is the result of many things affecting the quality of light that reaches the viewer of the work of art.

Color Wheel


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This page last modified: November 25, 2009



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