banner with oil paints and on foreground saying elements of art color

Elements of Art Color: Basic Theory Every Artist Should Know

We all know that colors play a significant role in our lives. They can affect our moods, emotions, and even our thoughts. Color also has a profound effect on art. It is one of the essential elements an artist can use to create masterpieces.

This article will discuss the basics of color theory and how artists can use it to create amazing art pieces. We will also explore some common mistakes artists make when working with colors and provide tips for avoiding them. So whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, read on to learn more about several aspects of color and how to use it to your advantage.

What is Color in an Art?

In its simplest form, color is just light. When we see an object, the light reflects off it and into our eyes. Objects appear in different colors depending on which wavelengths of light they reflect. For example, a red apple reflects red light and absorbs all the other colors in the visible spectrum. Hence we see the apple as red.

On the other hand, a white piece of paper equally reflects all the colors in the visible spectrum, and that’s why we see it as white. When an object is black, it means it has absorbed all colors in the visible spectrum. That’s why our eyes perceive it as black.

In art, colors are used in a variety of ways. They are used to create mood, contrast, and unity, or they can be completely random. In a work of art, color is often used to represent an emotion or feeling.

For example, red can represent anger or love, while blue can represent sadness or peace. Black and white are often used to create a sense of balance, while bright colors can create a sense of energy or excitement.

However, a few general guidelines are followed to ensure that the colors are effective:

  1. Creating a good balance between light and dark colors is required.
  2. Contrasting colors are used to create interest and variety.
  3. Harmonious colors are used to develop a sense of unity.

By following these guidelines, artists can ensure that their colors are working effectively within their artwork.

What is Color Theory in Art?

Color theory is a set of rules and guidelines framed logically for the use and benefits for artists and designers. It can help an artist decide how, why, and which color to use under different circumstances for an artwork.

We can divide the theory into the following items

  • The Color Wheel
  • The Color Properties
  • The Color Scheme

Understanding the above three parts can help an artist better understand the color of his painting.


Color Wheel and How to Create Harmonious Color Schemes 

Image of a Color Wheel showing 12 colors categorized as Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors

A color wheel is a visual representation of colors arranged according to their chromatic relationship. Primary colors (red, yellow, blue) are located at equal intervals around the circle and cannot be created by mixing other colors. Secondary colors (green, orange, purple) are located between the primary colors on the color wheel and are made by mixing two primaries.

Tertiary colors (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, yellow-green) are located between the primary and secondary colors on the color wheel. They are made by mixing a primary and a secondary color.

Color has long been used in art to create harmonious compositions. The goal of color harmony is to create a sense of visual interest while maintaining a cohesive design. There are several ways to create harmonious color schemes. One way is to use analogous colors next to each other on the color wheel. Another way is to use complementary colors, which are colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Finally, you can use triadic colors, which are three colors equally spaced around the color wheel.

Remember, there is no perfect formula for creating harmonious color schemes. It’s all about experimentation by you as an artist. Once you have selected your colors, you can experiment with several other combinations to see what works best for your design.

What are the properties of color?

Color has three properties and are

  • Hue
  • Value
  • Saturation

What is Hue in Color?

Artists and painters have long used hue to refer to the various colors mixed to create new shades. In its simplest form, a hue is just a pure color without adding pigments or other colors. Combining two or more hues can create a wide range of new colors.

Adding white or black to a hue makes changing the color’s overall appearance possible. For example, adding white will create a lighter shade, while adding black will result in a darker shade. For example, an artist can create green by mixing yellow and blue.

In addition to pigments, other factors, such as light waves and color temperature, can also affect how a color appears. As such, understanding the properties of color is essential for anyone who wants to create art or make their home look more vibrant and inviting.

Color Value Lightness or Darkness of a Color 

The value of a color is how light or dark it appears. A color’s intensity is affected by adding white or black. If white is added, the color becomes lighter; if black is added, the color becomes darker.

Value is one of the visual elements artists use to create a drawing or painting. It also affects how we see colors. Colors like yellow and orange appear lighter than colors like purple and blue. In addition, colors with a high-value contrast (light values next to dark values) are more visible than colors with a low-value contrast.

Values can also be used to create the illusion of depth and distance. For example, objects far away appear lighter than objects close by because they receive less direct light. Another way values can be used to create the illusion of movement.

Dynamic paintings often have areas of high contrast that appear to move as you look at them. Artists who want to create a warm feeling use colors with a high-value contrast. When they want to create a cool feeling, they use colors with a low-value contrast. Warm colors have more red and orange, while cool colors have more blue and green. However, it is not just the amount of red, orange, blue, or green in a color that determines its Temperature but also the overall mixture of hues.

Some greens appear cool because they contain more blue, while others appear warm because they contain more yellow. The same is true for oranges; some contain redder and appear warmer, while others contain more yellow and appear cooler.

The value scale is a range of gray tones from white to black, with equally spaced steps. When it appears on an object, the lightness or darkness of color depends on how much light strikes the object and is reflected in the viewer’s eye. 

All these differences show that Temperature cannot be made by simply adding or subtracting particular amounts of red, blue, orange, yellow, green, or violet from another color; it is created through careful mixing of hues.

Saturation in the Color Properties

Saturation is the intensity of the color, otherwise called the brilliance of a color. Other color saturation terms are Chroma, luminance, value, and intensity.

To understand saturation, is it a range between 100, which is pure color, and 0, which is a pure grey color? A fully saturated color is called a pure color, which refers to the dominance of the hue in color.

How to Apply Color Theory in Your Artwork

As an artist, understanding color is essential to success. Using color can make work more visually appealing and even change the work’s meaning. Fortunately, some basic rules can help you apply color to your artwork more effectively.

The first step is to understand the difference between positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the areas occupied by objects, while negative space is the space around those objects. Creating a balance between positive and negative space in your work is essential. Too much of either can make the work feel cramped or unfinished.

We have already seen that value refers to a color’s lightness or darkness. To create value, artists typically use a technique called shading. Shading is used to create depth and dimension in your painting. Adding black or white to the color can make it appear lighter or darker.

The theory also takes into account the fact that colors are created by mixing different shades. When two colors are placed next, they will affect each other’s appearance. For example, blue and yellow next to each other will create green. Blue and red will create purple, and yellow and red will create orange. These relationships between colors are complementary colors.

Some colors are more intense than others, known as primary colors. Primary colors cannot be created by mixing other shades; they are used independently. The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Combining these three colors in different proportions will create all other colors.

Color theory can initially seem complicated, but with some practice, it will become second nature. By understanding how colors interact, you’ll be able to create stunning works of art full of life and vibrancy.

What are the Basic Elements of Art and their Relationship with Color?

Elements of Art Color is one of the building blocks artists use to create a painting. In the visual arts, the term “element” refers to the parts that make up the work. The seven elements of art are color, form, line, shape, space, and texture. All drawings of paintings contain at least one or more of these elements.

Color is one of the most important elements in art. It is used to create an overall tone or mood for work. It is used to emphasize a particular element in creation. For example, if an artist wants to make a specific object stand out, they may use a color different from the other colors in the work.

The relationship between color and the other elements of art is essential for creating successful paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Color can make a work of art more dynamic and exciting when used effectively. It can also help to create a certain mood or feeling. It creates a visual path to guide the viewer’s eye through art.

Avoiding Common Mistakes Made by Artists When Using Colors

Working with color can be tricky, and artists often make a few common mistakes. Here are five mistakes to avoid when using color in your artwork:

Not understanding the color spectrum

The visible spectrum is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Mixing other colors cannot make these colors; light waves of different lengths can only create them. When choosing colors for your artwork, it’s necessary to understand where they fall on the spectrum.

Thinking of color as an afterthought

Color should not be added to artwork at the end; it should be considered from the beginning. When planning your painting or sculpture, consider which colors you want to use and how they will work together.

Using equal parts of each primary color

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Mixing these three colors in different proportions can make all other colors. Many artists think they must use an equal amount of each primary color when mixing paint. However, this is not the case; the proportions will depend on the effect you’re trying to achieve.

Putting colors on the color wheel side-by-side

A color wheel is a tool that artists use to help them understand how colors relate to each other. It’s important to remember that just because two colors are side-by-side on the wheel doesn’t mean they will look good together in your artwork. For example, purple and yellow are directly opposite on the wheel, but they can look quite nice when used together in small amounts.

Not considering value when working with color

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It’s important to consider value when selecting colors for your artwork because it can significantly impact the overall look. Colors can appear different when placed next to each other.

Please pay attention to value when choosing colors, and experiment with different combinations to see their effect on your work.


Color is a fundamental aspect of art that can deeply influence the mood and meaning conveyed in your creative pieces. We hope this article has helped you better understand color theory and how you can apply it to create stunning works of art.

Now that you know some important principles experiment with color in your paintings or drawings. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; that’s how we learn.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do artists use Color in their Artwork?

    Color can set the tone or mood for work. Artists can also use it to emphasize a particular element in their artwork. It can also create a visual path that can guide the viewer’s eye through a work of Art. The relationship between color and the other elements of Art is sometimes referred to as a color theory.

  2. What is the use of Color in Art?

    Color is often one of the first things we notice in a piece of Art. It can attract the viewer’s attention, set the mood or atmosphere of the work, and convey certain feelings. Color can also be used symbolically, as in red to represent danger or white to represent purity. The effects of color are often physical and psychological. As an artist, you must be aware of how color can affect viewers and use it deliberately in your work.

  3. How does color express emotion?

    Color is a powerful tool that artists use to create mood, invoke a feeling, and add depth and dimension to their work. By understanding the basics of color theory, artists can control how viewers see colors and create Art that evokes the desired response.

  4. Is color important in Art?

    Color is one of the essential elements of Art. It can affect our emotions and moods. It can make us happy, sad, angry, excited, etc. Colors can also create an atmosphere or feel in a piece of Art. For example, warm colors can make a painting feel happy or exciting, while cool colors can make a painting feel calm or serene.

  5. Do colors make paintings more attractive?

    Different colors affect people differently, depending on what you’re going for. Bright colors are more eye-catching, while subdued colors can be calming or make a painting look more sophisticated. It also depends on the colors you use together. A well-thought-out color scheme can make a painting look professional and polished, while a mismatched or chaotic color palette looks amateurish.

Scroll to Top
Inspiring Art Quotes from Famous Artists Art Animation: Breathing Life and Movement into Artworks How to Get Motivation to Draw