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Color Theory for Beginners

It's time to get to know THE WHEEL!!!

Now, I know I always say that this is NOT art class. And it's NOT!!

But... there are some art-y basics that will help to build confidence as you grow through these exercises and this is a GREAT one!!

What you see above is known as the color wheel and it is FUNDAMENTAL in art-making. You might not recognize it right off the bat, but the color wheel, and color theory in general, is ALL AROUND YOU.


And understanding how they work together is a HUGELY helpful tool when we're working on all this crazy, wonderful, creative stuff, because at the end of the day "color theory" is just a roadmap for how colors interact with each other. And there are some relationships and names that you might not have specifically heard before... but you definitely already know them:

Warm vs. Cool Colors:

Think of the colors you associate with cold... blue, right?

How about heat? Red! Right!!

Now take a look at the color wheel above and use your imagination to split the wheel in half. What feels more connected to the cool/blue side of the wheel? And what feels more connected to the red/warm side?

Primary Colors:

Ok... get this... if you don't have a ton of money to throw around on paint... you can literally make ALL OF THE COLORS from the three primary colors on the wheel. Why? Because the primary colors (yellow, blue, and red) are the prime numbers of color. There are no combinations of colors that can make red. Red is red. That's it. Just red. Same goes for blue and yellow. You cannot mix and match to make the three primary colors, but you can use those three primary colors to literally make EVERY OTHER COLOR. They are "primary" because they are singular. Not combined. They just... are.

Secondary Colors:

So.... primary colors are just 1 color. And secondary colors? You guessed it... 2 colors combined. How do you make green? Yellow and blue. How do you make orange? Red and yellow. Purple? Yeah, red and blue. You're getting it. To make a secondary color, you mix 2 primary colors. Now that we've got that figured out, take a look back up at the wheel. Notice where the 3 secondary colors are in relationship to the 3 primary colors. That's going to come in handy with the next one.

Tertiary Colors:

Did you see it? Did you see how the primary colors and secondary colors line up in sort of triangle formations? And did you see that there are still a bunch of colors we haven't talked about yet? Well, those are the tertiary colors. Mix a primary color with a secondary color... you get a tertiary color. Subtle, nuanced, complex, beautiful. And to mention math, again, a great way to understand tertiary colors is 1+2=3... Primary + Secondary = Tertiary.

Complementary Colors:

OK!! Now that we've touched on all the colors on the wheel... let's talk contrast and complement. Because complementary colors are POLAR opposits. Literally. Look at any color on the wheel and then find the color that is it's exact physical opposite in that same wheel. ie. Red is opposite to Green and Blue is opposite to Orange. Make sense? Now, want to know something cool? Pick any color, find it's complement, and then mix them together... BROWN!!! The way you make the color brown is by mixing any 2 complementary colors. COOL RIGHT?!?!

Analogous Colors:

This one's easy, as long as you've got the wheel as a reference. Pick any color on the wheel and then also pick the color immediately to the right and the left of it. Those are analogous colors. So if I pick green, the analogous colors to green are yellow-green and blue-green. Sounds complicated, but is SUPER SIMPLE in practice. If you EVER feel lost with all this color stuff... find the wheel.

And since we've talked about ALL OF THESE COLORS... AND we even talked about brown... what else is missing?


Well... strap in and hold on tight because...

White is the ABSENCE of color. No color. Nothing. Technically not even a color.

And black?? Black is ALL OF THE COLORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Technically you can mix the 3 primary or 3 tertiary colors to get black, but I like thinking of black as being an overwhelming abundance of color. Because it's funny in an ironic sort of way. Turns out my goth phase in high school was secretly and abundantly COLORFUL!!!!


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