Color Theory In Experimental Art is the theory and application of color in art to arrive at a new style or visual language that is a fundamental aspect of Modern Art, such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Expressionism.

The BasicsEdit

Colors can be used directly from pure sources or mixed to create a different color that is the average of the two or more mixed colors. Pigment (found in acrylic or oil paint) can be mixed via subtractive color mixing, while light (seen on computer screen or in nature) consists of additive color mixing. Subtractive color means that the particular color of a material is observed because the material absorbs all colors and emits only the color being observed when hit with light. Additive color means that the particular color of light is observed because the light has pure or mixed frequencies that directly translate to that particular color.

Colors such as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, and Violet correlate to a certain wavelength in the visible spectrum: Red has the longest wavelength and the lowest frequency (700–635 nm) and Violet has the shortest wavelength and highest frequency (450–400nm). Color Magenta is not observed as part of the visible spectrum but can be observed naturally or artificially as a mixture of Red and Blue.

Color wheel

Ideally (but not in reality), colors form a perfect circular relationship known as the color wheel. Color wheel consists of primary colors, which are RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) in additive color mixing, and secondary colors, which are CMY (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow) in additive color mixing, positioned in triangular relationships in the color wheel. Red is the opposite of Cyan; Green is the opposite of Magenta; and Blue is the opposite of Yellow in additive color mixing. In subtractive color mixing, the primary colors are RYB (Red, Yellow, and Blue), and secondary colors are OGV (Orange, Green, and Violet), and Red is the opposite of Green; Yellow is the opposite of Violet (also known as Purple), and Blue is the opposite of Orange.

In subtractive color mixing, pigments decrease exponentially in brightness and saturation when mixed together. Pigments that are closer to each other in hue, brightness and saturation suffer the least loss as the exponential curve is smaller between the two colors in the color wheel. Pigments that are farther apart suffer the most loss as the exponential curve is bigger between the two colors in the color wheel. Mixing three or four colors will amplify the loss in brightness and saturation even more dramatically, resulting in "muddy" colors that may not be desirable in a painting. In subtractive color mixing, CMY combined produce a dark color close to black.

In additive color mixing, colors may increase or decrease in brightness when mixed together. Mixing two of colors RGB result in one of colors CMY, and CMY are naturally brighter colors than RGB. Mixing two of colors CMY result in one of colors RGB, and RGB are naturally darker colors than CMY. Mixing all of RGB results in white.

Luminosity graph

Different colors have different levels of brightness and temperature. In brightness (Luminosity), Yellow is the brightest; next is Cyan; next is Green; next is Magenta; next is Red; and the last is Blue. In temperature, Red is the warmest and Cyan is the coolest color.

Warm cool graph warm

Additive Color Mixing EquationsEdit

R + B = M

R + G = Y

B + G = C

M = -G

Y = -B

C = -R

Relativity of Colors Edit

Colors are perceived as a particular color only in relationship to and context of other colors around it. Colors can also supplement and reinforce or negate other colors nearby, depending on its context and usage.

Color yellow on greenish yellow

Example 1

Color yellow on orangish yellow

Example 2


Color greenish yellow on yellow

Example 3

Color warm yellow on yellow

Example 4

Colors can appear to shift hue and temperature based on the context of the surrounding colors. In Example 1, focusing one's eyes on Lime Yellow that surrounds the Yellow at the center makes the Yellow appear warmer and closer to Red because the adjacent Lime Yellow pushes the Yellow towards Orange. In Example 2, focusing one's eyes on Warm Yellow that surrounds the Yellow at the center makes the Yellow appear cooler and closer to Green because the adjacent Warm Yellow pushes the Yellow towards Green. In Example 3, focusing one's eyes on Yellow that surrounds the Lime Yellow at the center makes the Lime Yellow appear closer to Cyan because the adjacent Yellow pushes the Lime Yellow towards Blue. In Example 4, focusing one's eyes on Yellow that surrounds Warm Yellow at the center makes the Warm Yellow appear more muted and closer to Blue or Purple on the other end of the color wheel because Warm Yellow is closer to Orange and is similar to a darker version of Yellow, meaning that it is associated with Blue that can be used to darken Yellow.

When discussing the relativity of colors, it is important to note where and which color the human eye and perception focus on because the point of focus can result in opposite effects or results despite having the same context or arrangement of colors.

Color cyan adjacent to light teal

Example 5

Color cyan adjacent to teal

Example 6

Relativity of colors also applies to sets or pairs of colors, in which a same color will look different depending on the context or the adjacent color, as seen in Examples 5 and 6. In Example 5, the pair of Cyan and light teal appears brighter than the pair of Cyan and teal in Example 6 because the light teal creates "acceleration" or increase of luminosity (which is akin to "velocity" in this analogy) from Cyan in Example 5, while teal creates "deceleration" or decrease of luminosity from Cyan in Example 6 (Teal is closer to Green, and Green is a naturally darker color than Cyan).

Native Luminosity of ColorsEdit

Colors have different native brightness (i.e. luminosity), and this dictates how color behaves in certain situations and contexts. Cyan is naturally a brighter color than Green or Blue; Magenta is naturally a brighter color than Red or Blue; and Yellow is naturally a brighter color than Red or Green - partially due to the fact that CMY result from two cones responsible for RGB being triggered in the human eye, and they are closer to white as a result. CMY also have less natural intensity than RGB because CMY are mixed, secondary colors, while RGB are pure, primary colors in additive color mixing.

Shifting hue or temperature of colors from one area to another also results in change of luminosity. Change in luminosity can be seen in objects as light and shadow, and it is possible to accentuate or mute the change in light and shadow by shifting hue or temperature of the color in that object.

Light and shadow orange to yellow

Example 7

Light and shadow yellow to orange

Example 8

In Example 7, Orange is in the light and Yellow is in the shadow, while, in Example 8, Yellow is in the light and Orange is in the shadow; consequentially, the cylinder in Example 8 appears to have a greater contrast in light and shadow than the cylinder in Example 7.

Shifting hue or temperature, which also results in change of luminosity, also affects the clarity and separation of colors.

Color cyan adjacent to tealish cyan

Example 9

Color cyan adjacent to bluish cyan

Example 10

In Example 7, Cyan is adjacent to a Teal-like Cyan (meaning that Cyan has been shifted towards Teal), while in Example 8, Cyan is adjacent to a Blue-like Cyan (or Sky Blue). Teal (and Green) being naturally brighter than Blue, the colors in Example 7 have less clarity or separation than the colors in Example 8, which have greater clarity or separation.

Color Brightness and Energy Edit

In additive color mixing with RGB, Black is the absence of all colors (Red: 0, Green: 0, and Blue: 0). Pure bright colors include Red (Red: 255), Green (Green: 255), Blue (Blue: 255), Yellow (Red: 255 and Green: 255), Cyan (Green: 255 and Blue: 255), and Magenta (Red: 255 and Blue: 255). White is the maximum inclusion of all colors (Red: 255, Green: 255, and Blue: 255).

Transition from yellow to white

Example 11

Transition from yellow to black

Example 12

In Examples 11 and 12, from Yellow to White, there needs to be an addition of Blue; from Yellow to Black, there needs to be a subtraction of Yellow. Addition of Blue and subtraction of Yellow are essentially the same phenomenon. The only difference between Examples 11 and 12 is that the Yellow accelerates into White, a state of higher energy ("velocity" in the earlier analogy), in the former, while the Yellow decelerates into Black, a lower state of energy, in the ladder.

Energy of color means how bright and saturated the color is, and the hue of the color itself can be a part of the equation for energy as well. Change of brightness, saturation, and hue, which affect contrast, can mean a change of energy, or "acceleration/deceleration". Energy and change of energy are essential part of how a visual image reads. Without change of energy, a visual image would be uniform and indiscernible in detail or content.

Just because a visual image consists mostly of bright colors doesn't necessarily mean it reads brightly in a powerful manner. Contrast and change of energy are important part of making the highlights pop and shadows go around the highlights to define the image and make it readable. Even an image which, by area, consists of mostly dark colors, can read as a very bright and luminous image if it has effective changes of energy and drastic contrast.

Bright yellow colors with little change of energy

Example 13

Yellow transitioning to black with great change of energy

Example 14

In Examples 13 and 14, it is apparent that the light Yellow in the ladder appears brighter and more accentuated than the light Yellow in the former because the image in Example 13 is mostly uniform while there is a great contrast in Example 14 to a color close to Black.

Directionality and Constituency of Colors Edit

Color spectrum

Studying the color's makeup and the direction to which the color deviates in either direction of the color wheel can reveal more about the color's role in relationship to other colors.

For example, Color Yellow, which consists of Red and Green, deviates towards Red in the direction of Magenta and Green in the direction of Cyan. This shifting of hue from Yellow to Magenta and Cyan in either direction of the color wheel makes sense because Yellow is the opposite of Blue, which consists of Magenta and Cyan. Deviations from Yellow go in the direction of Magenta and Cyan, which are the ingredients for Blue.

Any colors can be represented as RGB or CMY. Color Yellow will either have (X + 1) Y + (X) M + (X) C in CMY or (X) R + (X) G + (X - 1) B in RGB. Color Blue will either have (X + 1) B + (X) R + (X) G in RGB or (X) C + (X) M + (X - 1) Y in CMY.

Y = R + G = (M + Y) = (Y + C) = 2Y + M + C

Y = R + G = (M + Y) + (Y + C) = ([R + B] + [R + G]) + ([R + G] + [B + G]) = 3R + 3G + 2B

B = C + M = (B + G) + (R + B) = 2B + G + R

B = C + M = (B + G) + (R + B) = ([C + M] + [Y + C]) + ([M + Y] + [C + M]) = 3C + 3 M + 2Y

When applying colors, there are always two choices of direction from which the color can deviate. Going Red or Magenta from Yellow is one way, and going Green or Cyan is another. These choices are not equal but bring about different results due to the colors' temperature, luminosity, and, consequently, harmony.