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This week on the Self Taught Artist podcast we are starting our Color Mixing and Color Theory Workshop. This is the beginning of a multi-week deep dive into all things color, color theory, and color mixing. First, let’s take a few minutes this week to talk about the three dimensions of color: hue, value, and chroma. What do these artist terms mean? How do they connect to your artwork? How can mastering these three dimensions of color help you to improve your art? Tune in to find out! Next week, we’re going to use these three dimensions of color to talk about how to mix any color of the rainbow with your paint (using three easy questions). 

Episode Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. Hello, my friends! and welcome to August and the beginning of our color series, I was thrilled to get a lot of positive feedback from all of you out there listening. Some listeners reached out and told me they love this plan to do a color deep dive during August. So we’re gonna kick that off today. This will be the first part of a multiple week series on color. However, I might intersperse other episodes in between, we’ll see how that plays out. Just know this is a series, there will be follow ups, and each episode will build on the last one.

Think of this as Self Taught Artist “art school.” The plan is that this week, we’re going to define some very important color terms. That’s going to set us up in the next episode to really dive into using those terms to talk about how to mix any color you want in the rainbow using just three questions. It’s a very straightforward approach that anyone can use and master. And we’ll even put it to the test with a little suggested color challenge exercise. But in order to learn this process and understand these three questions to color mixing, and that whole approach that I’ll teach you, it would first be very helpful for everyone to be on the same page and have a basic understanding of the three dimensions of color.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s go ahead and begin with the Review of the Week. This one comes to us from Florida, and it’s on Apple Podcasts. And the title is: “My new favorite listen.” “Thank you for creating this podcast and connecting with the Self Taught Artist in me. I’m Shacoya Harris, an acrylic artist from Florida (@captainofmycraft on Instagram) I’ve tried a few of your tips and best practices and notice immediate results. Thank you for the advice on using craft paint for the base layer and student grade on top. This one tip turned my painting around! From painting small, selling art on Instagram, mediums overview, acrylic paint deep dive, washing paint brushes, to sending art in the mail, I love how you uncover it all with us! Keep doing what you’re doing! I love your content. It’s just what I needed on my art journey.” Thank you so much Shacoya. This is such a kind review. We have covered a lot of different topics on this podcast. And I’m not stopping now. So we’re gonna keep uncovering all this great stuff for you out there. But for all the listeners, I want you to go check out @captainofmycraft on Instagram, because Shacoya has just completed a self portrait and I think it is so beautiful. It’s one of the recent posts on her Instagram. So you’ll see it there. All right. So thank you so much for that Review, Shacoya. To everybody else out there, if you would like a little shout out on the podcast, please leave me a Review on Apple Podcasts. And you can also leave me five stars on Spotify, which would be super duper appreciated. So thank you.

Diving right in. Let’s talk about color and color vocabulary over the color series and beyonds I will regularly mention the three dimensions of color. So let’s do a quick deep dive into each of them. These are super technical kind of terms. But don’t let that worry you because it’s actually a lot less complicated than it sounds. The thing is, even if you are not familiar with specific color terminology, you probably know intuitively what it means when you come to when it comes to color. You have years of color experience just living in the world. And that has given you a lot more knowledge than you probably think you have. The term chroma, which conveys the purity of a hue is an illustration of this. Although you might not realize it, you are already familiar with Chroma. It is that you convey the aspect of color through the use of other words. So don’t be intimidated by all these color terms. Your entire life has been filled with color, you’re just now learning the technically proper terminology.

So let’s dive in and learn these three important terms that really define these dimensions of color. You can do this, I already told you what one of them is. But number one is hue. Number two is value. And number three is Chroma.

So let’s start with Hue. That’s the most basic and I think a good place to start. When you think of colors, and the words that we use to describe them, you know, red, yellow, purple, green, those color terms are describing the hue. Hue is what we mean when we say color most of the time. And it’s how we tell colors apart. Hue is a common synonym for the words color, tint, tone and shade. Okay, so that is term number one. Whew, that spelled h-u-e. Not so bad, right? All right.

Number two, Value. Value can be equated to brightness, the relative brightness of colors is described by value, darker versus lighter. And the real question is how near is it to white or black? That determines its value. The closer a hue is to white, the lighter it is. The closer a hue is to black, the darker it is. For instance, dark blue has a lower value and emits less light than pastel blue. Black has the lowest value of all colors, whereas White has the highest value. And white and black represents the maximum on the scale. No color has a higher value than white nor a you know darker value than black. All colors have values that fall between those of black and white.

If you’ve ever seen a value scale on the edge of a color wheel, that’s where you see black on one end of the scale and white on the other, and a bunch of different greys in between. That’s what we call a value scale. That helps you compare colors and place them relative to white and black on the scale. If you’ve never seen a value scale before, I’d encourage you to quickly Google that and take a look. That will help you to understand value and all of the different step changes in between black and white. We’ll come back to this as we discuss color more and more.

Now the third term is Chroma. Chroma is the term that expresses the purity of a color. Mixing a pure hue with a white, a black or a gray or any other color will reduce its purity and it will reduce the original hues strength. So when we say the term Chroma that can be a synonym for brilliance or strength, Chroma can be used to quantitatively describe how brilliant or dim a color is. A brilliant color stands out, it catches our attention. And often it’s what strikes us as beautiful. A drab color on the other hand conveys a calm, muted sense which gives the perception we typically have of softer, more refined hues. This is the true splendor of color dimension. There’s so many colors from brilliant to drab and everything in between. And everything has a place when it comes to artwork or interior design or crafting and just the world around us.

Okay, so we got definitions out of the way of our three main terms hue, value and Chroma. So now let’s talk about a few special topics relating to these three dimensions of color. This is also going to help to really sink into your brain what these terms mean.

So let’s revisit hue. Remember, Hue is what we mean when we say color most of the time, red, orange, those are words describing hue. So what exactly is a pure hue? A pure hue, is a pure color that has not been blended with another color, a neutral, or any other hue.

One analogy I heard of is thinking about it like you might think of gold. So consider the purity of a color in the same way. If you have 100% pure gold, we call that 24 karat gold, and a combination of eight parts gold, no 18 parts gold, and six parts of another metal is called 18 karat gold. If you have 12 parts gold, and 12 parts and other metal that’s 12 karat gold. Some varieties of gold are more pure than others, yet, it’s still referred to as gold. So the same holds true for color. Pure yellow, is entirely yellow, pure blue is entirely blue, and so forth. Any pure color’s chroma will decrease when combined with any other hue or neutral. For example, if you mix pure blue with a tiny amount of gray, it would be pretty difficult to actually see the color change with your eye. But the blue, that hue would no longer be pure. It could be 93%, blue and 7%. Gray, for example, we’d still call it blue, but it’s not pure blue, and you continue adding gray and the amount of blueness will continue to diminish. As blue becomes a smaller percentage of the whole, the color is less blue, and is less saturated, meaning lower Chroma than pure blue.

So when considering pure colors, it is simple to assume that they are all of equal value. Remember how I mentioned the value scale, if you have one, or you can do go ahead, pull that up. It’s it’s easy to think, okay, when we have all of our pure colors, and we put them side by side, that they’re all the same value, since they’re the purest representation of each color after all. However, that is not true. Interestingly enough, they are not all the same. As you will notice, when you shift your attention from the hue to the value scale, if you have one, the value of pure hues varies. So all other hues are lighter than pure yellow, for example, yellow is the lightest. And one example of something on the other end of the spectrum, a very dark hue is purple. If you hold up pure yellow, and a purple on the value scale, or even pure yellow and pure blue, they do not match up with the same part of the value scale, they’re going to match up to different parts of the value scale, yellow will be on the lighter side and blue will be relatively darker.

Value is one of those secret keys to making well balanced work. And this is going to be something that we come back to, in that you really do want a variety of values in a painting. There’s something about it, it just adds visual interest. And it adds a painterly look. And a lot of times when people say a composition is well balanced, it actually includes them talking about the colors and having a variety of values in there. If you have all the same value in a painting, it’s going to look a little more flat, which normally is not what we’re going for as artists. But I digress. We’re going to talk about that more in the future because that’s something that I pay a lot of attention to when I paint.

All right, but back to our technical terms, and going a level deeper on them. So let’s talk about white, black and gray. The question is, are these hues while we may commonly refer to white, black or gray as colors when we talk about them in the world, like saying that the color of my shirt right now is black (which it is I’m wearing a black shirt.) But black, white and gray are technically not hues, because they are not actually a part of the visual spectrum. People may call them colors, but don’t let that lead you astray, they are not actually hues. This is just a fun fact for you to know. I feel like if you were in art school, it would probably be like a trick question on the test, you know, so I threw it in here just for fun.

Let’s go back to value. It’s really important, also to discuss value because it is what gives us the perception of space. And this is another one of those like secret tips or like secret things about composing a painting. Value is very important to take into consideration if you want your painting to look realistic at all, or not even just realistic, but just show the brain what you’re trying to paint and where it exists in space.

You can only see objects as three dimensional because of the shift in value. So a blue circle, and a circle with blue shading may differ greatly from one another. You’ll perceive that circle with various values as a sphere, if it’s shaded properly, you will also be able to determine where the light source is in relation to the sphere. And whether it appears to be floating in space or resting on a surface, depending on how it is shaded. Even if you are not consciously analyzing value, your mind is constantly comparing values in the world all around you, whenever your eyes are open.

That’s why it’s really important to add shadows to your work, if you want it to feel real to the viewer, especially if you’re a beginning artist. I know for me when I first started, I was not adding shadows to my work. That was not something I ever thought about. But I learned it and it was just like the secret unlock in my painting. Your brain detects these value patterns and applies knowledge of how light interacts with objects to produce areas of light and shadow, which helps the brain interpret what you see. You can tell whether the sphere is resting on a surface or floating in space by looking at the values not just of that object, that sphere, but also looking at the values of the colors around it. The human brain does a wonderful job of interpreting art. You’ll notice you as an artist don’t have to get an object 100% correct, or 100% realistic for the viewer to be able to tell what it is and what’s going on in your painting. The brain helps to connect the dots.

Actually, as we’ve discussed, it’s actually praised in art, when art a lot of times is loose or actually leaves more to the viewers imagination. However, there are some tricks that artists use to give the brain just enough information. And shadow, as I mentioned is a huge part of it. That’s why value is such an important dimension of color. If you take nothing else away from this episode, I just want you to remember that it’s important to add even just a little hint of a shadow if you want to make an object look realistic. I understand it doesn’t suit all art. But if you’re painting most things, you’ll want to add a little bit of shadow or a little bit of an area of darkness.

For me, you know I love painting flowers. And when I look at my early work, it’s just you know, a jar or a vase of flowers sitting on sitting in space. Even if I tried to put a table there. There’s no shadow, there’s no understanding of where that sits in space. It’s it sort of throws the brain off there is no shadow, where’s the light coming from? Those are important things to think about. Because the things like shadow tells the brain: Yes, it’s sitting on a table or a ledge, these are flowers in a vase! Value gives the brain so many clues. And it signals that an object is meant to be 3D. And it just gives the brain just enough information so that it can interpret it. And that’s what we’re aiming for.

Alright, we are nearing the end of our lesson today. Remember we are going to add on to these concepts next week on our next color episode. Get excited because you’ll see how you can use this understanding of the three dimensions of color to help you with color mixing, and color matching, especially.

These phrases, Hue, value, and Chroma simply are new words to describe how you experience and talk about colors in your daily life. If you’ve ever called a color, a “dark blue gray,” for instance, you’ve actually used all three of these qualities to describe a color that you see and you’re interpreting. It’s really not something that has to be intimidating. But I do want to just fill in the blanks for all of us self taught artists about these important color theory terms. No matter where you are in your artistic journey. I think it can be fun to take a step back and learn this theory. I painted a long time before I really started studying these things. Today, I’m really excited to bring you along on this exploration into color, learning all about it and how to use it to get your paints to do what you want them to do.

Alright, before you go, please double check wherever you’re listening to this podcast to make sure you hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss out on our next color series episode next week. All right. Until next time, my friends! Happy Creating!

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