Color Theory Review: Concepts and Terminology

The Three Attributes of a Color

To accurately describe a color and differentiate it from another there are 3 attributes to measure.



When the average person says “color” they are actually mean hue. The hue of a color is its particular light wave energy frequency. Remember, light is waves of energy, and white light is contains all possible colors! Violet is the highest visible light frequency and red is the lowest, which we humans have receptors to see.

In this diagram, note how the blue becomes pink, but all of the colors in between are of equal intensity, as it as it moves from right to left.


Saturation (or chroma as it is sometimes called) means a color’s purity. When people are talking about a color’s intensity they mean its saturation or chroma.

In the diagram, note how the blue becomes less saturated as it as it moves from right to left.


As we discussed earlier in the course, colors have values just as shades of gray do. A color’s brightness or darkness, and its nearness to white or black respectively, is the color’s value. Value is independent of hue or saturation and can be seen even in a black-and-white photo.


Tints, Shades, and Tones

Value聽has is has its own color terminology.

Remember that the value of a color is how light or dark a color is, or how close it is to black.

Tints聽are when we add white to a pure hue:


Shades聽are when we add black to a pure hue:


Saturation聽also has its own color terminology.

We get different tones when we add gray to a pure hue:


Another way to envision this is as the hue itself becomes less saturated, it appears more and more gray.


Munsell’s Color Tree

Talking about color can be very misleading! For example, when you go to a paint store, you can buy a can of Honorable Blue, Flyway, or Wondrous Blue! When we say Flesh Tone, what exactly does that mean? Whose Flesh Tone are we talking about? 聽It can be very confusing!


Albert Munsell, an artist and professor the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, felt the same way. In 1905 he developed a “rational way to describe color” using numeric notation instead of names to describe color. To assign these numbers he used the three attributes we discussed above: hue,聽value, and chroma (saturation).


In the diagram above, you can see the traditional color wheel as the center ring, and Munsell’s Color Tree, as it came to be known, growing from the center. The trunk of the tree represents zero to ten in value. The farther we move from its “trunk” represents an increase in chroma, until the hue鈥攔epresented by the separate “branches”鈥攊s at full saturation, farthest away from the center.


Munsell’s Color Tree

Now聽Lets Learn to work in a LIMITED PALATE.





YES, you painted one of these in Kindergarden. I know. However the usefulness and knowledge that can come from this tool is limitless. So please let go your preconceptions toward color, and using a color wheel and come into this with an open mind.

The color wheel is one of the most powerful tools artists and designers have to help us understand and use color effectively. 聽It is strongly recommended that as you examine the different color schemes thought this post and the following, you look at a color wheel and plot them out.




FUN FACT! The first circular color wheel was created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. As if the laws of planetary motion and gravity weren鈥檛 enough!


Foto: picture-alliance



We begin with a three-part color wheel that shows only pure colors, meaning colors which no amount of mixing will result in. These three colors are of course our primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. All other colors are derived from these three hues.






Next we move on to our secondary colors.These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors with each other: green, orange, and purple.




You can further break down the color wheel into tertiary colors.These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and secondary color:聽yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.



And of course we divide that wheel based on Color Temperature, with warm color opposite cold.


To create a successful illustration, your color palette or scheme needs to support your big idea. It must work to further your narrative and or concept. 聽If you have already taken Color and Design, you will have worked with various color schemes.聽聽 In the next few posts, and in the remaining weeks of class, you’ll look review color theory in detail, and see how those color schemes can influence narrative. We will also look at how they are applied in both fine art and in contemporary illustration

Drawing by Philippe Buchet, Color by Matt Hollingsworth


NOW lets get deeper into some real COLOR THEORY!


Hey Class! 聽You have the opportunity to see some pretty incredible art- go check it out! …

K盲the Kollwitz and Sue Coe
October 26, 2017, through February 10, 2018

24 West 57th Street, New York

Join artist Sue Coe in celebrating the
150th anniversary of the birth of K盲the Kollwitz
Exhibition preview October 26, 6 to 8 PM

The Society of Illustrators

The field trip to the society of illustrators was fun and inspiring. When I first walked in to the exhibition, what catch my eyes first were the retro dresses in the middle of the room. So I took a close look to the dresses at first. I could see that they are all for rich people or “high society” people. By seeing the patterns and the crafts of those dresses, I could see people’s strong pursuing of fashion at that time. Then I started looking at the paintings on the wall. The first thing I noticed was how the artist inspired by those dresses. The dresses helped bring the illustrations to life.

Then I started to take a close look at the painting. The one inspired me the most is the “STUDENTS MUST FIND IT MIGHTY DIFFICULT TO TAKE SOME OF THESE COLLEGE PROFESSORS SERIOUSLY AFTER SEEING THEM ON THE BATHING BEACH” by Orson B. Lowell. The painting has young college women fraternized on the beach with their professors. The expression of the professors are fun and vibrant. It also makes the painting 聽full of irony. I love how he shaded the painting with just cross hatching lines. The skill is just awesome. And the way he drew the water inspired me a lot. Because I really want to learn how to draw water. From the painting I also saw how he was inspired by the swimsuit at that time.

Society of Illustrators

The trip to the Society of Illustrators was exciting to me, I got to see what illustrations from professionals looked like in person rather than on the internet. I learned a lot more by looking at the work in person, like how if someone wanted to fix a portion of their illustration they had to cut out pieces of the paper it was drawn upon. This makes sense as they would not want to redraw the entire illustration. Nowadays we might use computers for some or all of the work so correcting parts is taken for granted. I also noticed that they used pretty large pieces of paper to draw, another thing people don’t think about today since we can blow an image up digitally; this means they had to draw a lot more and in some ways this is harder.

The illustration that instantly caught my attention was by Orson B. Lowell. It is titled “Birthdays For Everybody, Young And Old. No Mortal Complete WIthout Them.” Orson was a social critic with his illustrations. He liked showing people in awkward situations not in a mean way. In the image we see a man handing out paper with numbers on them which are ages. The young girls are happily taking them while the adult women are running away. This is Orson’s style where he makes commentary on what he sees around him through his illustration. I like the lighthearted message that younger people look forward to birthdays while older people try and fight ageing. I also like how he uses many simple lines to convey shading. The lines on the old man look simple enough yet they give the impression of him wearing some kind of rag like shirt. The use of different lines on the women make it seem like there is a lot of variation in their types of dress. I personally have a hard time inking in such a way but now I want to learn to do it better.

Field Trip to The Society of Illustrators

This piece interested me cause it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, but with less wonder and more elegance. I think that the use of black, red, white and the shade of grey brings out the silhouette of the woman.聽The illustrators used Gouache, and some digital media. This is one installment in a four part series in which the illustrators created four high hairstyles with Queen cards symbols: hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades. The illustrators聽were inspired by Women’s Hairstyles of the 18th Century. This was considered as a Personal project for them.

I鈥檝e learned that the illustrators are known as聽Balbusso Twins are internationally recognized award winning italian illustrators team. They have聽a unique signature ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO TWINS. Their work聽has been published by major international publishers and companies through out the world on various media types such as book jackets, magazines, newspapers. They have illustrated over 40 books and have received more than 60 international Awards. I saw this piece at the Society of Illustrators in New York where they have been members聽since 2009. they have also been recognized by Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and have been members since 2015.

I have also learned they have a three step process when making illustrations after they gather information. theses steps differ on what medium they are doing the art for conceptual illustration or book projects. My opinion on this piece is that when I looked at it my eye wasn’t captivated in one spot but it was a whole piece. I thought the art flowed instead of having one singular object stand out.




Society of Illustrators The Field Trip

When I got up the stairs, I glanced at the picture on the wall. I wonder why there was a photo here. so, I stop going and looked carefully at this picture.

Benjamin Albert Stahl, “Aloha Means Good-by” Illustration for the story by Robert Carson, post at Jun 9, 1941.

It really look liked very old and yellowing phonographic . Let me marveled at the furniture and character on the value, they have a strong sense of hierarchy, especially that lampshade, its texture in the light of the irradiation had a lot of different changes. The details of all the character and the background were realistic. Such as the protagonist’s hand on the back of the prominent blood vessels, and every little things could be distinguished, like glass, purses, photos and stationery. I believed that the author’s character is very serious.

The use of value to show the reflection and shadow, making the characters more vivid. Let me feel the character was deeply thinking that the owner of the scarf. Although I do not know the story, but the room meticulous description of the characters and clothes, you can determined the characters came from outside.

鈥淏enjamin Albert Stahl (September 7, 1910 鈥 October 19, 1987) was an American artist, illustrator and author. He showed precocious talent, winning a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago at age twelve. His artwork appeared in the International Watercolor Show at the Art Institute when he was sixteen. He later taught at the Art Institute, as well as at the American Academy of Art, the Art Students League of New York, Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and at various universities鈥

When he died, the news was on the New York Times, One of his colleagues, the artist Norman Rockwell, once said, ”We are but illustrators, but Ben Stahl is among the masters.”