The ABC’s of Color (Basic Color Theory)

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The traditional circle based on the primary colors of red, blue and yellow in the field of art dates back to Sir Isaac Newton who developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then numerous variations of this concept have been designed and studied. While as crafter’s we don’t typically ‘mix’ colors, as you would in using paints or pigments, traditional color theory and the color wheel is based on this concept.

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Primary Colors: Red, Yellow and Blue
Primary colors are the 3 colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary Colors: Green, Orange and Purple
These are the colors formed by mixing two primary colors together. Red and blue combined make purple, blue and yellow make green, and red and yellow make orange.

Tertiary Colors:  Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Red-Purple, Blue-Purple,  Blue-Green & Yellow-Green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color resulting in a  hue with a two word name.

 

Hues

These primary (3), secondary (3) and tertiary colors (6) are the family of twelve purest and brightest colors.They form the full spectrum of hues which progress around the Primary Color Wheel in gradual increments. While the word hue and color are often used interchangeably, I find it least confusing to think of these 12 that form the Primary Color Wheel as hues. By modifying them (by adding black, white or other colors to them) these twelve hues form the basis for all other colors.

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Tints, Shades & Tones

These hues can be altered in three ways by Tinting, Shading or Toning. (And that’s before we even think about mixing two colors together, and then tinting, shading and toning those combinations!)

A Tint is sometimes called a pastel. Basically it’s simply any color with white added. When you add white red for instance the resulting color is pink. A color scheme using Tints is usually soft and soothing and works well for feminine and baby themes.

A Shade is simply any color with black added. When black is added to blue for instance the result would be a navy blue color. A color scheme using Shades is often deep, rich and powerful making them good choices for masculine designs and for adding contrast.

A Tone is created by adding both white and black which is grey. Almost every color we see in our day-to-day world has been toned either a little or a lot. Tones are more complex, subtle and sophisticated and often more pleasing to the eye

 

Warm and Cool Colors

The color circle can be divided into warm and cool colors.

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Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space. Cool colors give an impression of calm and soothing and tend to recede in space. White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.

 

Color Harmony

In color and design, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye and engages the viewer. Harmony can be thought of as “just right” while the extremes on either side of it are boring or chaotic. The human brain tends to reject extremes. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

Traditionally, there are a number of color combinations that are considered especially pleasing. These are called color harmonies and they consist of two or more colors with a fixed relation in the color wheel. Some of the basic formulas follow.

 

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1. Monochromatic

The monochromatic color scheme uses variations (tints, tones and shades) of a single hue. Monochromatic colors schemes are easy to manage, and always looks balanced and visually appealing producing a soothing effect. This is a good choice when you are aiming for a  clean and elegant look. The primary color can be integrated with neutral colors such as black, white which are often the key to creating the contrast that a monochromatic color scheme can lack.

 

Seongsook-Monochromatic

A Monochromatic Color Scheme – Card Created By Seongsook

Cindy-Monochromatic

 A Monochromatic Color Scheme – Card Created By Cindy 

sandy MONO

 A Monochromatic Color Scheme – Card Created By Sandy

kmarcotte (mono)

 A Monochromatic Color Scheme – Card Created By Kristie

2. Analogous colors

Analogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. One color is used as a dominant color while others are used to enrich the scheme. The analogous scheme is similar to the monochromatic one, but offers more nuances.

 

Lee Mae-Analogous

An Analogous Color Scheme – Card Created By Lee Mae

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An Analogous Color Scheme – Card Created By Barb

3. Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as blue and orange or red-purple and yellow-green. The complementary scheme is intrinsically high-contrast and it works best when you choose a dominant color and use its complementary color to highlight important elements. By doing this you will get color dominance combined with sharp color contrast.

 

Lisa-Complimentary

An Complementary Color Scheme – Card Created By  Lisa

Marsha-Complimentary

An Complementary Color Scheme – Card Created By Marsha

4. A color scheme based on Nature

Nature provides a perfect departure point for color harmony, regardless if the combination fits into a technical formula. When you choose color combinations that occur in nature, from a seascape to a field of flowers, it’s hard to go wrong.

 

Julie-Nature

 A Color Scheme Based on Nature – Card Created By Julie

 

Jan-Nature

  A Color Scheme Based on Nature – Card Created By Jan

Homework

Your assignment is to choose one of these basic Color Harmonies and create a card to share with everyone here. Please note the harmony you chose so that it will be easy for everyone to learn from each other as we visit each others links.  You may link up more than once as long as the card relates directly to the lesson. Everyone who participates in the Design Bootcamp by linking up a card created for the class will receive an OWH Design Bootcamp Blog Badge as well as a Class Summary in PDF format via email. 




27 Comments

  1. Madame Wong

    This is AWESOME! I’m still new to this card making business – I started with the VCMP in September. Any sort of guidance / knowledge is welcomed by me. Once the sun is up in DC, I’ll commence the card making.

  2. hands down, this is the best blog post I’ve read in a long while! Such useful information, smartly presented. Thanks for the explanation – now I understand why I like certain color combos more than others :) hopefully the kids will give me some time later to hide away in my craft room!

  3. If the rest of the Bootcamp posts are as good as this one….wow! Thank you so much.

  4. Wonderful tutorial. Great for all levels of card making. I really appreciate effort making this tutorial. I have not doubt anything done by and with OWH is first class! Thanks!

  5. Yay! Bootcamp! Thanks so much for all this fantastic info, Paula! Can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us :)

  6. Randee S

    Thanks Paula for sharing.. A lot of helpful information. Looking forward to what you have next for us.

  7. This is so cool! Thanks Paula, I hope to have time to PLAY today =)

  8. This is so fun… I feel like I have been to school today. :) now only… If the kids were gone to school too…. :) thank you Paula!!!!!

  9. This is TREMENDOUS!!!! I took art in high school but was totally rusty on what I already knew and then learned new things today
    that either were never taught in high school or that I didn’t catch back then (a distinct possibility!!) Anyway, thank you so much for this terrific lesson on color and how we can utilize it more effectively.

  10. Marsha D

    Wow, Paula. Beautiful presentation. Great beginning to Bootcamp. What wonderful cards you pulled out for examples too.

  11. Great inspiration to get me going today. Can’t wait to see what else Boot Camp has in store for us. Thanks again Paula!

  12. Kathy Ashworth

    This is a great tutorital, explanation, lesson on color.

  13. Thank you Paula! You explain this so well, that even a non artist like myself, ‘gets it.’

  14. Awesome tutorial, Paula! I learned a lot and I’m trying to memorize the portion about receding and bringing forward with different colors. I think those rules are going to help with some issues I have from time to time with “flat” looking cards. Can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next!

  15. Terrific color lesson, Paula! This will benefit everyone reading the basics on color and utilizing the Color Scheme Designer badge on the S&S page. Thanks to the creators of the wonderful visual sample cards and to YOU for all the work in putting this bootcamp together for us.

  16. Absolutely AWESOME, Paula!! I had NO idea exactly what Boot camp was going to be like, but I can see that it’s going to be wonderful and so educational too! WOOHOO! I love this first lesson and think it shares a wealth of great information! I’m also very touched that you choose one of my cards to go along with the post!

    THANK YOU for again! I wish I had time to make a card and maybe, jsut maybe I can try and sneak one in very soon!

    Hugs.,
    Lisa

  17. Heather C.

    Wow! Great lesson! Lots of very useful information. Thanks for putting this together and posting. :)

  18. Thanks very much for the wonderful tutorial. I love your color wheel showing what happens when you add white, black, or grey to a hue. Now I know what tint, shade, and tone means. The card samples are great too.

  19. I LOVE YOU PEOPLE! I’ve been stamping without a net for 10+ years. xoxo

  20. Thanks Paula for the great lesson and a showcase of beautiful cards to illustrate! Will try to get my homework done.

  21. This is FABULOUS! Thank you so much, Paula, for such a wonderful first session. And, thanks to all who made such great sample cards. :)

  22. Karen L K

    This is a great lesson. I learned this so very long ago and I like the reminder. I use a color wheel once in awhile while creating my cards.

  23. Dotti Harris

    Awesome, Paula! Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

  24. thanks guys it was FREAKIN AAAAWWWEEESSSOOOMMMEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. So I’m a little late to the boot camp party, but better late then never. I’m not quite sure about the card I just linked up. If anyone takes a look please leave me some feedback on it, I’d appreciate it.

  26. I have been part of OWH for less than a year so missed most of the Bootcamp lessons as they were presented. Just a question – Purple and yellow are straight across from each other on the color wheel so does that not make them compliments rather than yellow and green?

    • Purple is Opposite Yellow so YES they are a complementary pairing. Yellow-Green (which is the name for the color that falls between Yellow & Green on the wheel) is directly opposite Red-Purple (the color that falls between Red and Purple) so they too are complementary. The color wheel contains 6 of these Tertiary Colors in total (Yellow-Green, Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Red-Purple, Blue-Purple & Blue-Green) and they fall between (and are combinations of) a primary and secondary color. If you email me at paula@operationwritehome.org I’ll send you the PDF summary of the class that makes a great guide.

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