Color theory

Sometimes a comment on a blog stays with me. That happened recently when I read Black in more than 140 characters on Sandra Heska King’s blog. She had this great quote from Amy Grant about how when you mix black into something it creates fullness. It was a great quote, and it got me thinking about painting and shading. So I left this comment:

That is a wonderful analogy. I like it very much. I would agree that a little black gives much depth.

However…do you know how you shade and give depth when you’re painting a picture? You mix the color opposite to your color on the color wheel. The opposite color also makes the other “pop”. Red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple, etc. (Think about football jersey colors. Many have opposite colors on them.)

I don’t really have an analogy for that one. Just wanted to share a painting tip. I know–you’re welcome.

But my brain couldn’t leave it at that. It had to come up with an analogy. So here it is (again, you’re welcome):

While complimentary colors create a feeling of calm and harmony,

Colors which are opposite on the color wheel

make the other stand out,

making each other seem that much brighter and intense.


When two opposite colors are blended carefully, they can result in the subtle shading of the other, giving more depth and dimension to the overall picture.

But too much of one into the other makes for a drab, muddy picture, and the original intensity of each begins to fade into the background.

Mix the two equally, and the results are a uniform drabness. Both colors void of their original brilliance.

It’s all about balance. Knowing how much is enough through trial and error.

Or recognizing that in order to compliment the other, sometimes the right decision is not to blend at all, but simply let one color draw attention to the other.

Remembering that often in the big picture,

all these tips may come in handy.

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18 Responses to “Color theory”

  1. A Simple Country Girl August 17, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Wow, you are talented with the paintbrush! Wonder what the most interesting (translation: weird) scene is that you have painted for someone?

    Now I understand why I created so much disharmony as a teenager when I dyed parts of my hair tweety bird yellow…Thanks for the color & contrast & blending lessons.

    .-= A Simple Country Girl´s last blog ..On Being Me =-.

  2. Cassandra Frear August 17, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    Great post!

    I use color theory when gardening. I’m very sensitive to color. My grandmother was an artist. Maybe that’s where it comes from. But color is extremely meaningful to me. (You can probably tell from my posts) Anyway, I started a series a while back “Colors of My World” and your post here has me thinking I should finish it, do more with it.
    .-= Cassandra Frear´s last blog ..A Dream of a Day =-.

  3. Robin M Arnold August 17, 2010 at 8:22 am #

    One of my favorite poems about color by Mary O’Neill:

    The Colors live between black and white
    in a land that we know best by sight.
    But knowing best isn’t everything,
    for colors dance and colors sing,
    and colors laugh and colors cry…
    Turn off the light and colors die,
    and they make you feel every feeling there is
    from the grumpiest grump to the fizziest fizz.
    And you and you and I know well
    each has a taste and each has a smell
    and each has a wonderful story to tell.

    I love color theory. I am cheered up considerable by your post today, and your work!
    .-= Robin M Arnold´s last blog ..Get a lot done dayhopefully =-.

  4. michael August 17, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    It’s all about balance. Knowing how much is enough through trial and error.

    I know it’s not necessarily what you are writing about, but that quote applies to so much.
    .-= michael´s last blog ..I Will Give Up For You =-.

    • katdish August 17, 2010 at 8:50 am #

      The subject is color, but that’s not all I’m writing about.

  5. Candy August 17, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    I still wait your arrival at my house of tall walls.

    Funny thing, this color theory. I didn’t realize it until I read this post, but I do the exact same thing with preparing and plating food. As much as our eyes love color, so do our bodies, and thus our whole beings. Colors that complement each other really do strike a marvelous balance. All one needs to do is study a sunrise or sunset to appreciate the depth and dimension is inherent in who we are, whether it be paint on our walls or food on our plates or even people in our lives.

    Now, about those walls….

  6. Kelly Langner Sauer August 17, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    I think there’s a deeper meaning to this one that is escaping me this morning… I will be thinking about it today.
    .-= Kelly Langner Sauer´s last blog ..and sometimes- a sunrise =-.

  7. Sandra Heska King August 17, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” Matthew 5:14a (Message)

    I think that describes you pretty well.

    So now I’m thinking about 3 primary colors, 7 rainbow colors . . . Must be something spiritual in that.
    .-= Sandra Heska King´s last blog ..In the Yard =-.

  8. Tammy August 17, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Kelly ~ you are right, she’s talking about more than color. Hope you figure it out!

    Kat ~ great post. You are indeed talented with the brush!
    .-= Tammy´s last blog ..Follow Friday =-.

  9. Michelle DeRusha August 17, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    I love your artwork — you can head to NE to paint my kids’ rooms anytime.

    I like your complementary color analogy. I think that’s why my husband and I get along so well — our different personalities (extrovert/introvert) blend well (although occasionally we spiral into the dark zone!).

  10. Kathleen August 17, 2010 at 9:40 am #

    I’d love to sleep at that ocean beach. 🙂

    One time I heard that while you’re decorating your house, no matter what color scheme you use, a touch of white must be used to reflect light, and a touch of black must be used to outline and create crisp edge. Every room should have white and black. Now I notice it, and appreciate what it does. It seems true.

    I like the analogy of opposite ‘colors’ for spouses. POP!
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Homeless Thief =-.

  11. okiewife August 17, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Well…as an amatuer artist the color wheel resonates. More than once I have muddied the colors and had to discard and start over, both in art and life. It’s a learning process that has lasted a lifetime.
    Hugs from okiewife

  12. Billy Coffey August 17, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Loved this post, Kat. Even if I’m colorblind and all those colors look a little gray-ish to me. Those shots are awesome.
    .-= Billy Coffey´s last blog ..Staples and the human condition =-.

  13. jasonS August 17, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    Great lesson all the way around, Kat. There are many lessons there actually. Those pictures of what I assume you painted are outstanding too. Thanks!
    .-= jasonS´s last blog ..The Secret Extraordinary =-.

  14. Jennifer August 17, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Great post! You are very talented, not only with your use of color, but using color to hit on a deeper theme, as well.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Don’t Blink =-.

  15. Maureen August 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Great post, Kathy. Thank you for showing us more of your work.
    .-= Maureen´s last blog ..Thought for the Day =-.

  16. Helen August 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    You do know what is missing from your color wheel, don’t you? PINK! I’m assuming from the wheel that I should pair it with lime green. Thank you for your help… :-p
    .-= Helen´s last blog ..No Coffee =-.

  17. Jake August 20, 2010 at 12:56 am #

    I think my girlfriend and I work for this. . . .we have a lot of similarities in thought, but our means of expression don’t coincide at all and we really do bring attention to each other!

    Wonderful post!
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..Watch out! =-.

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