10 Things You Should Know About Color

Donna Zagotta, Almost Home

“To control color is to understand it. An enriching, creative experience in which the intellect merges with the intuition can only happen when a solid base of knowledge already exists.”  Patricia Lambert

Over the last five or so years, I’ve focused more and more on color in my work. I’ve done a lot of research and scholarship on color, but when all is said and done, putting together colors in a painting is an extremely complex activity that can’t be boiled down to systems, recipes, formulas, or rules. As David Friend points out in his book, Composition, “Finding colors and color relationships is a challenging habit of search and joyous discovery, one of the deepest satisfactions in the life of an artist.”

However, I’ve come to realize that there are certain “facts of life” concerning color that artists must be aware of. Here are ten of those “facts”:

  1. Everyone perceives color differently.
  2. A color’s identity can only be determined by comparing it with another color.
  3. It’s easier to reduce a color’s intensity than it is to brighten up a dull color.
  4. Whenever we work with color we are also working with color’s four properties of hue, value, intensity, and temperature – whether we’re of it or not.
  5. The color wheel represents the sequence of spectrum colors that are found in the rainbow.
  6. The closer hues are to each other on the color wheel, the closer their relationship. The farther apart hues are to each other on the color wheel, the stronger they contrast with each other.
  7. Color wheels are important studio tools for artists because they organize information for how to mix colors, for understanding how colors relate to each other, and for creating color schemes.
  8. The Munsell color wheel is important to the artist because it contains true visual complements – complementary pairings that are based on actual afterimage effects. However, the Munsell color wheel is not meant to be use as a guide for mixing colors.
  9. To paint an accurate version of a color wheel’s spectral hues requires the artist to have the right colors on his palette.
  10. The less factual an image becomes, the more options increase for personalized and creative color.

Happy Painting!


12 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know About Color

  1. Veronica Johnson

    Would it be possible for you to list the colors on your water color palette and your favorite oil colors?

  2. Barb Bausch

    The colors in painting is an EXTREMELY COMPLEX ACTIVITY! I’m not sure I will ever understand the mixing of colors or their relationship because when I think I have it about right – another paint color appears on the scene. I LOVE your paintings Donna. I will never tire of looking at them.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Barb – Actually “an extremely complex activity” might be an understatement! I am continually amazed at how much there is to know about color.

  3. Harold Walkup

    I also have been working hard on color this past year. Just when I think I have some relationships between colors working well it all goes to heck.
    I learn from every mistake and more from my students and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Harold,
      Thanks for commenting! I have the same experience. Just when I think I’ve got it, it turns out that I don’t.

  4. Susan kiedio

    Thank you! It is amazing the learning that continues no matter how long you have painted.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Susan,
      You are so right. There is no end to learning in art – another “fact of life”! And that fact is both frustrating and challenging.

  5. Handmade Mirrors

    Nice article. Colours can show peoples thoughts. Some paintings with one colour can give a strong message than a colourful image. There so many think to learn about colours. Good article and loved reading it.

  6. Terrie Hollis

    Donna I want to thank-you for the wonderful workshop in Wash. It was nice to learn about a new way to look at watercolor, to use watercolor. Your art is beautiful.

  7. Anne Miller Strandoo

    This is great information that reinforces what you taught in your incredible workshop last month in Seattle. I’m still processing it, and likely will be for quite some time. Your blog will be a great tool as I continue to find the “me” in my paintings!

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