What colors should I use in my project?
As crafters, we surround ourselves with colorful papers, inks and embellishments. Familiarizing yourself with basic color theory principles will boost your confidence as you learn and create new projects. The more you learn, the more it can amplify what you already know and take your work to that next level. Crafters utilize color to create visual harmonies, narrative and to elicit a mood or emotion and color theory is the foundation of that creative process. We will focus on the basic color wheel definitions: hues, tones, and color harmony.
Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors
Primary colors are defined as the base from which all other colors are created. Primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colors are the set of colors created when primary colors or pigments are blended. Secondary colors are the set of colors created when primary colors or pigments are blended. They are orange, green, purple.
Tertiary colors are the blending of the primary and secondary colors, and round out our basic color wheel.
Hue and Value
Have you ever looked at a color and felt a little confused on what to call it? Is it an orange-red or a burnt orange? Is that lavender or purple? Understanding hue and value is the next important step to uncover in our color journey. Hue refers to pure color base such as red or blue and value refers to the addition of black or white to the hue. While two different colors might be similar looking, the hue can be used to tell them apart. Let’s look at two gray colors for example.
Both are gray but there is a difference. One is more of a cool gray (with the blue hue) and the other is more of a warm gray (with a red hue). They are still gray but the hue is shifted from a blue to a red. The addition of white (tint) and black (shade) changes the value of the color.
Dark Oranges appear to be brown. One orange is a red-orange shaded with black and the other is a plain orange shaded with black. The two colors are very close to each other yet the hue sets them apart.
On the tinted side here are two pastels. One is a yellow-green tinted with white and the other is a plain green tinted with white. Again the hue changes, but the value is the same.
Now that we can distinguish between fine variants of color, let’s talk harmonies! What color harmony does for the eyes is similar to what a music chord does for the ears. There are so many chords and variations in music, yet good music generally follows some simple guidelines. Visual color harmonies work in a similar way. Crafters pair together different colors of ink, paper, fabric and other mixed media materials, yet a good project will often keep to some simple guidelines:
Using monochromatic colors, or colors with all the same hue but with a combination of tints and shades, is pleasing to the eye.
Complementary colors are two points on opposite ends of the color wheel and create visual harmony. Think of the classic Christmas colors red and green. Red and green are perfect complements on the wheel. Take one step over and it gets interesting with a yellow-green and a red-purple—that creates a nice combination as well.
Triadic colors are three colors with even spacing between them on the color wheel. Green, purple, and orange are a classic triad. You may recognize these colors in Halloween costumes and comic book characters such as Batman’s Joker.
There are endless color harmonies to study and to use in your projects. Let these basic structures simmer a bit. You can check out this great resource and play with moving the color wheel around and visually see how harmonies change. And this site has some other combinations to think about. We hope these basic definitions have helped spark curiosity, because color theory is a deep subject!