Tag Archives: color

Developing Your Palette Using the Munsell Color Wheel

Munsell color wheel

Munsell Color Wheel

When I was in elementary school, the color wheel had three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue. Mixing these three colors formed secondary colors — orange, green, and purple.  In the six-color arrangement, there were three pairs of complements, blue/orange, red/green, and yellow/purple.

The traditional form of the color wheel is still being taught today, but I prefer to use an alternative color system developed by Albert Munsell.  The primaries are red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Secondaries are combinations of these colors, red-yellow (also known as orange), yellow-green, etc.

The color wheel on the right is a simplified version of Munsell’s arrangement.  There is less space between red and yellow, so the complements are different from what we learned in school.  For example, the complement of red is blue-green instead of green. Complements are aligned so that they produce the greatest visual vibration when placed next to each other and produce a neutral gray when mixed.

Understanding a color wheel is the basis for designing any type of color scheme.  Complements will produce the most exciting color schemes. If you prefer less excitement, try combining analogous colors which are close together on the color wheel.  You can also develop interesting color combinations by combining triads of colors spaced one-third of the way around the color wheel from each other.

In part 1 of this series, I asked you to start collecting photos and objects with colors that appeal to you.  Have you started your collection?  Post some comments describing what you have found.   Keep adding to your collection, and next week we’ll talk about how to make sense of your personal colors.

Read the other parts of the series..

Part 1:  Developing Your Personal Color Palette

Part 3:  Analyzing Your Personal Color Palette

Part 4:  Using your Personal Color Palette

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Developing Your Personal Color Palette, Part 1

Blue and Orange Complementary Color Scheme

Have you noticed that you always gravitate toward certain colors in your home or wardrobe?

Do you wonder where to start when building a harmonious color scheme for an art project?

Would you like a more precise vocabulary for describing and mixing colors?

In this series of 4 posts, I will describe ways to identify and use your personal color palette.  These exercises are aimed at collecting or creating art, but can also be used to develop a color palette for your wardrobe or home décor.

Over the years, people have been challenged by how to describe color.  Clothing and paint manufacturers raid the thesaurus to come up with names like “live wire” and “confetti”.  I doubt even Merlin could imagine his namesake color.

In the early part of the 20th century, a painter and art teacher, Albert H. Munsell, developed a system for naming color.  He said that color has three characteristics; hue, value, and chroma.  Hue is the color name such as red or green.  Value is how light or dark it is.  Chroma (also called intensity) describes the purity of the color.  In general, paint straight out of the tube has the highest chroma.  However, there are exceptions.  For example, Hansa yellow has higher chroma than yellow ochre.  The intensity scale moves from pure color toward neutral gray.  All colors can be described using a combination of these terms.   For example, “live wire” is a light-medium value, high chroma, yellow-orange.  And Merlin, bless his heart, is a medium-dark value, medium intensity violet.  Are you getting a better picture?  Being able to describe colors in this way is a good starting point for mixing colors and talking about it with others.

In part 2, I’ll talk more about the Munsell color system and how to use it.

In the meantime, start collecting color samples that appeal to you from magazines, personal photos, favorite objects, and natural elements.  Don’t be concerned about the images; just concentrate on color and try to identify what you like. Later we’ll identify common themes in your collection and build a collage of your personal palette.  At the top of the post is an example of one of my favorites, a high intensity complementary palette of blue and orange, but yours will likely be very different.

Read the other parts of the series..

Part 2:  Developing Your Palette Using the Munsell Color Wheel

Part 3:  Analyzing Your Personal Color Palette

Part 4:  Using your Personal Color Palette

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Revival of Fauvism

In the Post Impressionist period of the early 20th century, a group of artists experimented with bold, expressive color and defined brushstrokes.   They were influenced by Vincent VanGogh and Paul Gaugin who had begun using more intense colors.  Where the Impressionists had concentrated on capturing the effects of light, these artists moved toward using color for its own sake.  The group because known as Les Fauves, French for “wild beasts” after a derisive remark from art critic Louis Vauxcelles. Leaders of the movement, Ande Derain and Herni Matisse, used brilliant reds and yellows to draw the eye and juxtaposition of complements (opposites on the color wheel) to create visual excitement. Other Fauves included Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Raoul Dufy. Although Fauvism was short-lived, it was an important step toward cubism and expressionism.

A Mighty Rock, 11x14", Acrylic

I believe that Les Fauves only scratched the surface of the possibilities of combining expressive color with shapes inspired by the natural and built world.  Today’s understanding of color theory and technical advances in art materials allow creative freedom beyond the reach of the early Fauves.

In future editions of the newsletter, we will explore works of both historical and contemporary Fauvist painters.  If you have questions about Fauvism or know of contemporary Fauves, please post comments.

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