color wheel

In all the painting books the beginning pages are usually reserved to the color wheel, which is used to explain some fundamental concepts such as primary, secondary and complementary colors. On this blog I will talk about these subjects, but I will treat them in a totally different way trying to analyze them with theoretical lessons and practical examples.

color wheel
From Wikipedia the following definition for Color:

The color of an object is a complex result of its surface properties, its transmission properties, and its emission properties, all of which factors contribute to the mix of wavelengths in the light leaving the surface of the object. The perceived color is then further conditioned by the nature of the ambient illumination, and by the color properties of other objects nearby, via the effect known as color constancy and via other characteristics of the perceiving eye and brain.

Leaving aside the physical definition of color, let us focus on its representation. The first mistake artists make when representing the concept of color with the color wheel, is to think that it is a two-dimensional size. In reality, the true color representation is three-dimensional, whose three dimensions are: saturation (chroma), tone (value) and hue (the name of the color).

color wheel

With saturation I intend to specify the brightness of a color. A highly saturated color is a bright color, a low saturated color tends to gray. The term tone refers to the lightness of a color, or chiaroscuro. Finally, the hue is the name of the color and it can assume only six possible values: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and green. When someone looks at a table he immediately say that its color is brown. What we identify with the brown is just a color whose hue falls in the range of yellow/orange, has a dark tone and a very low saturation. A similar thing happens to a lot of colors that, commonly, we identify with words such as: flesh-color, olive green etc.. So you should always think in terms of hue, tone and saturation. Fixed a tone, at given height in the color space, imagine a knife to split it horizontally and observe everything from the top, ithe color wheel relative to that tone will appear. The beginner artists trying to paint objects on the canvas, often have trouble understanding how to reproduce their colors. The reason is that they often ignore the basics of color theory. First of all, when you look at an object you should always ask yourself four basic questions:

  1. Which is the hue of the object color? The possible answer is: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green.
  2. What is its saturation? The possible answers are: bright, medium gray and gray.
  3. What is its tone? The possible answers are: light, medium and dark.
  4. What is the temperature (exact hue) of the color object? If the first question we answered “yellow”, then you need to understand if the color is actually a yellow, yellow/green or yellow/orange (orange and green are the colors next to yellow on the color wheel).

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