Join Jim Krause for an in-depth discussion in this video Navigating the color wheel, part of Color for Design and Art.
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- Naturally, if you want to get good at choosing and applying colors to your works of art and design, you need to know a thing or two about color theory and color goes deep. Is it important then that you clearly understand that color is a pulsation of Electromagnetic energy and when wavelengths this energy measuring 635 nanometers passes through our pupils and hits the photoreceptive cone cells at the back of our retinas information is passed along the optic nerve to our brain to let us know we're seeing red.
Is it important that you clearly understand this? Well you know, in our line of work it's really not that important. I mean, it's pretty darn interesting and all that. But most designers can get by without knowing quite this much about color. So what do you need to know? Well, here's one thing that's really worth knowing about, the standard model color wheel. The color wheel that's been in use by artists since around the 1700s or so. Why know about this color wheel? It's because it's a really useful schematic when it comes to understanding how colors relate to each other.
So let's start with the wheel's three primary spokes; the Primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. These colors are called primaries because without them, the other colors wouldn't even exist. Primary colors can't be made through mixes of other colors. These are the foundational, starter hues of the color wheel and all the other colors on the wheel are made through mixes of primary hues. When two primary hues are mixed you get Secondary colors. Red plus yellow creates the secondary hue of orange, yellow and blue make green, and blue and red make violet.
Orange, green, and violet are the secondary hues of the color wheel. When you mix a primary with a secondary color, you get a Tertiary color. There are six tertiaries: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. And there you have it: all 12 colors of a standard color wheel. From here it's super important that you understand that each slice of the color wheel, it's just a placeholder for an infinite number of dark, light, muted, and bright versions of that color.
For example, if you want to apply a red-orange to a logo that you're working on, you aren't limited to just this default red-orange, of course not, you could go with any dark, light, muted, or bright version of that color. This brings up the whole thing about the way colors are named. Some of the red-oranges we just looked at, for instance, they could be called things like crabcake orange or cinnamon spice, or autumnal sunset, or whatever and that's fine. And words like these, they can be useful when, for instance, like you're trying to convince your seaside restaurant client that this is a perfect color for their menu, right? Crabcake orange.
But personally, when I'm talking color with other designers and artists I like to stick with straightforward color language in which case, I'd simply refer to crabcake orange as a medium shade of muted red-orange. This designer name for the color, it's less likely to be misinterpreted. Now, before I wrap up, I want to mention one more thing about the standard model color wheel. It's not the only color wheel out there. For one thing, there's also a wheel that deals with colored light and that's the RGB wheel.
And light behaves differently than physical media like paints, feel free to google the RGB wheel, if you're interested, I'm just not going to get into it here since the colors designers deal with on the computer and with paints, they behave very closely with the standard model of color. And speaking of the standard model color wheel, you want one? Well download and print the pdf color wheel that goes with this video. Maybe tack it up in your work space or somewhere nearby, at least for reference until this thing gets thoroughly embedded in your brain.
Primarily aimed at designers and illustrators, the course leans heavily toward digital tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, but concludes with some challenges using real-world media (inks and paints!), so members can get a solid understanding of mixing colors and what tools and combinations work best.
- Navigating the color wheel and color vocabulary
- Why a color's value is so important
- RGB vs. CMYK vs. spot
- Finding the perfect color
- Working with grays and browns
- Building a color palette
- Borrowing hues for palettes
- Establishing color hierarchies
- Fixing color problems
- Altering color in photos and illustrations
- Using texture with color
- Painting for learning and fun