Tag Archives: Munsell

What Is Chroma?


Pear with Turquoise and Rose
Acrylic on paper
©2013 Lucinda Howe

Blue Green Dominant, Red complement
Discords purple and yellow
©2013 Lucinda Howe


Would you like to know more about how colors interact with each other?   Do you want to know how to avoid making “mud” when you mix colors?   Do you want to refine your own sense of color and be able to describe it to other people?  Do you have a favorite color that appears in much of your work?

In the next few weeks, I will be starting a new series on color theory based on the Munsell color system.  Click here to see the Munsell color wheel and learn how it is organized.

Because the terms used to describe color are often confusing and imprecise, the Munsell system focuses on three characteristics to describe color… hue, value, and chroma.

  • Hue is the name name we usually associate with colors such as red or blue-green.
  • Value is how light or dark the color is.
  • Chroma is the purity or intensity of color.  In general, paints right out of the tube have the highest chroma, and mixed colors have lower the chroma.

My favorite way to use color is high intensity complements (opposites on the color wheel) with bits of other colors as accents .  My blue-green color chart above is based on colors directly from the tube.   However, you can also develop a less intense color scheme using the same colors.  The pear is an example of using the blue-green and red color scheme as a lower intensity.  Although I’ve labeled it turquoise and rose, a more accurate description would be

  • Turquoise = light value, medium intensity blue-green
  • Rose = light value, medium intensity red

What do you think about describing color in terms of value, chroma, and hue?   Does that make sense to you?  Try it out by describing your favorite color in the comments below.



Posted in Color Theory

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

Posted in Color Theory Also tagged , , |