26 April 2012

Let's talk color: Theory (part I)

In visual arts, such as makeup and photography, color can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Thus, you should get to know it better, in order to make it work for you, instead of against you. In past couple of months I’ve been learning about color theory and found it very useful. That’s why I would like to sum it up for you and share my knowledge. I will stick to the necessary basics as this is quite broad topic and I’m not planning on writing a book. :) However, if you’d like to know more, let me know and I’ll tell you where to find it.


Color is the perceptual characteristic of light described by a color name. Specifically, color is light, and light is composed of many colors—those we see are the colors of the visual spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Objects absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others back to the viewer. We perceive these reflected wavelengths as color.


A color wheel (also referred to as a color circle) is a visual representation of colors arranged according to their chromatic relationship. The twelve segments of the color wheel consist of primary, secondary and tertiary hues and their specific tints and shades.

Color wheel

The color wheel identifies the three primary hues of red, yellow and blue. They are at their basic essence and cannot be created by mixing others. These colors form a triangle within a circle. The three secondary hues of orange, violet and green are located between each primary hue and form another triangle. Red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue green, blue-violet and red-violet are the six tertiary hues. They result from the combination of a primary and secondary hue.

Primary colors

Secondary colors

Tertiary colors

There are three relative attributes that define all colors: hue, saturation and value. Each primary, secondary and tertiary hue is at a level of full saturation, or brightness, which means that there is no black, white or gray added. Color is described in terms of vale, which is the lightness or darkness of a color (the amount of black or white in a hue). Addition of white to any of the twelve colors results in lighter values of the hue called tints. The addition of black or gray to a hue results in darker values of the hue known as shades.

How are we going to experience a certain color also depends on its context such as the perspective of the person looking at the color or the other colors surrounding it. There are ten basic color schemes.

Achromatic scheme – without color, uses only black, white and grays.

Monochromatic scheme – Uses one hue in combination with any or all of its tints and shades.

Primary scheme - a combination of the pure hues of red, yellow and blue.

Secondary scheme – a combination of the secondary hues of green, violet and orange.

Tertiary triad scheme – a tertiary triad is one of two combinations: red-orange, yellow-green and blue-violet or blue-green, yellow-orange and red-violet, all of which are equidistant from each other on the color wheel.

Complementary scheme – Uses direct opposites on the color wheel.

Split complementary scheme – consists of a hue and the two hues of either side of its complement.

Clash scheme – combines a color with the hue to the right or left of its complement on the color wheel.

Analogous scheme – uses any three consecutive hues or any of their tints and shades on the color wheel.

Neutral scheme – uses a hue which has been diminished or neutralized by the addition of its complement or black.

For the second part of this post we're preparing a delicious treat for all of you makeup lovers.

Here's a little hint: color schemes + Illamasqua = ... You do the math! ;)


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