The Most Important Color Tip for Beginner Artists

“Color itself is a degree of darkness.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Color is an essential part of how we experience the world, both biologically and culturally. One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from an unlikely source — the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1810 published Theory of Colors, his treatise on the nature, function, and psychology of colors. One of his most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.

But this is getting a little too philosophical for what we’re aiming for today, so let’s get to the point.


Color theory is not that complicated

You can and probably should study color. There are a ton of articles and information available for free on this subject and, on top of that, your artistic eye will probably guide you on your own color path, no matter the rules and guides made by specialists or trends visible today.

All color theories start with the color wheel. A color wheel is basically a wheel divided into the primary colors, red, yellow and blue, and their secondary and tertiary colors. It is used to show the relationship between colors. Studying the color wheel and understanding how different colors mix is a must for an artist.

There are three basic colors, called primary colors …red, blue and yellow. They cannot be made by mixing other colors, hence the term primary.  From these three colors all other colors are made.

Mixing any two of the primary colors together will give you a secondary color.  Mixing all three primary colors together will give you a muddy, murky grey. The chart below explains the primary color mixes.

red + blue = violet
red + yellow = orange
blue + yellow = green

So now you have six colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange and violet.

If you mix a primary color with an equal amount of a  secondary color , you get a tertiary color. There are six tertiary colors.

For example:

red + violet =red violet
yellow + green = yellow green
blue + green =  blue green
red + orange =  red orange

The best way to be certain is to make yourself a color mixing sheet and experiment with the colors you have. Make note of the colors you used and the ratio of paint. Keep the sheet for reference and add to it as you learn more about color.

Making color swatches of the paint you have is a good idea. Acrylic paint usually dries slightly darker and does not always match the color on the tube.

Having a sheet that shows what the color looks like when dry can help you when deciding what colors to use. You can add to the sheet whenever you buy a new tube of paint.

Easy enough? Not quite, but we’re getting there.



How to create contrast

Yes, color is important. Very important, actually. But not as important as contrast, some might argue. And that is because contrast helps us see colors better.

The way we combine colors creates more or less contrast in an image. Similarly with creating contrast in typography using font weight and size or contrast in graphic design using different shapes, blocks and sizes, chromatic contrast can and should be used in your art.

You can create color contrast going from warm to cool colors and from light to dark tones and shades.

Another effective way to create color contrast is to use neutral colors like grays, browns and black and white. Use these neutral colors to create chromatic negative space in your art. Your dominant colors will then pop and shine through.

Remember: use warm and cool colors, light and dark tones and, most important, create negative space using neutral colors.



Most important tip: keep the balance

And now we get to the most awaited part of our blog:

The most important color tip for beginner artists is to keep the color balance. This is it. Couldn’t get simpler than that.

Understanding color could be frustrating, which is why basic color theory and concepts like contrast are very important. But the concept of color balance is the binding of it all.

Striking a good balance between contrast, quantity and usage of colors will make all the difference in your art.

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