fyi friday: color theory

4:30:00 AM

Today I'm going to be posting about color theory - I can never keep the difference between hue, value and saturation straight, so I thought why not do a post about it! And then, I started researching all about color, and came across some pretty cool tid-bits (that's the geek in me talking...)
Claude Boutet's interpretation of Newton's Color 
Wheel, approx. 1706. Unable to represent the 
spectral red with any pigment, the artist 
substituted two reds, omitting one of 
Newton's two blues. As well, the artist misread
two of the hues: "orange" and "violet" (2)

History of the Color Wheel:
The first notation of the color wheel in history is attributed to Isaac Newton, who was the first to assign the colors of the rainbow (remember? ROY G BIV?) to a disc shape in the year 1706 with the help of the painter Claude Boutet; as the disk spins, the colors blur together so rapidly that the human eye sees white (1, 2). The colors were based on a series of refraction experiments conducted by Newton between 1666-1672. It was his idea to place primary colors across from their complimentary colors "as a way of denoting that each complementary would enhance the other’s effect through optical contrast." (2) 

You'll notice the (first) color wheel depicted by Boutet on the right is incorrect; the orange wedge is painted purple, and the purple (violet) wedge is painted orange. Oops! Also omitted is the color "indigo". 

I guess even famous artists have bad days...

Generating Color Schemes:
Primary Colors:
Red, Yellow, Blue - the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors, and all other colors are derived from these 3 colors (1).
Image courtesy of (4)
Secondary Colors:
Orange, green and violet, colors all created by a mixture of two primary colors (1).
Image courtesy of (4)
Tertiary Colors:
Tertiary colors are a combination of a secondary color and a primary color next to it. They include yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green(1).
Image courtesy of (4)

Analogous Colors:
Analogous colors are any two-six colors beside one another on a color wheel(3,4).
Color wheel image courtesy of (4)

Complementary Colors:
Complementary colors are colors which are directly across from each other on the color wheel(1) -
Color wheel image courtesy of (4)
A color scheme of one color, in varying intensities(2).
Image courtesy of (4)
A triad is three colors forming a triangle in the center of the wheel(2).
Image courtesy of (4)
Color Definitions:
Hue: used interchangeably with 'color', refers to the colors within the wheel; a gradation or variety of a color (3,5).
Value: adding to a hue: white to create a tint, black to create a shade or gray to create a tone. (5)
Saturation: the purity of the hue. The colors on the outside of the wheel are considered to be in their purest form (most saturated). As the colors move towards the center (see below), they are considered desaturated and no hue dominates (i.e. - moves towards being 'white'). (5)
Image courtesy of (4)

Hopefully this helps a little bit when you go to choose your color palette for your next it monochromatic, analogous, or another color scheme, the color wheel is a great tool to have in your arsenal!

(1) Extracted January 21, 2013: Colour Lovers - History of the Colour Wheel.
(2) Extracted January 21, 2013: Web Newton and the Color Wheel.
(3) Extracted January 21, 2013: Basic Color Theory.
(4) Extracted January 21, 2013: HGTV - Color Wheel Primer.
(5) Extracted January 21, 2013:

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  1. Great job! A wonderful lesson in color theory!!!
    Art teachers everywhere will Love and Thank you for this tutorial...As an art teacher one thing that I find 'argish' is when folks don't know their primary and secondary colors...You would be surprised how many times I am asked "how do I make blue?"

    1. Yes, me too! Each school year again I am asked how to make blue!
      From a fellow art teacher,
      Esther F.

  2. Very nice exlanation! I've made a quilting resolution to make this year my 'year of color.' I received a very nice color wheel poster for Christmas and have been spending more time being thoughtful of my color choices and combos (and trying really hard to remember what I learned in my High School art class).

  3. Rosemary B here:
    This is really helpful!
    Hey guess what? I got your surprise in the mail today.
    GORGEOUS fabric. Thank you so much for your give away prize. I am proud to have this from you
    Thank you bunches

  4. It's fun to look at this post and get a better understanding of why some quilts really grab my interest. Thank you!


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