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The Language of Color

The Language of Color
Swiss painter and teacher Johannes Itten didn't create the science of color, but his thinking on the topic has played an important role in helping us understand how color affects our emotions ? and how they play into our wardrobe choices.

Itten observed that each individual has his or her "own private conception of color harmony." He also found that our preferences for certain colors are mirrored in our own physical and psychological characteristics.

To understand Itten's studies of color and the role it plays in shaping our perceptions and those of others, it's important to first understand the "language" of color.

The Color Wheel Basic color theory involves naming three primary and three secondary colors and identifying them on a color wheel. However, the wheel that Itten developed contains 12 colors: three primary colors, three secondary and six tertiary colors.

  • Primary colors are the building blocks for all other hues, and cannot be created by mixing any other pigments. They are blue, yellow and red.

  • Secondary colors are each created from two of the primaries. They are orange, green and violet. Like primary colors, they are equidistant from one another on the color wheel.

  • Tertiary colors are formed by mixing a primary and secondary color. They are yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, and blue-green.

Itten also believed that there were four "qualities" of a color: hue, intensity, value and temperature.

  • Hue is generally defined as one of the basic colors on the color wheel. Knowing the root hue allows a person to mix the color that he or she sees using a basic palette. Saturation is the intensity level of the color, so a very pronounced color is said to have high saturation; a dull or muted color has low saturation.

  • Value is the lightness or darkness of the color relative to white, black, and gray. It is measured on a scale from one to ten, with one being the blackest.

  • Intensity is the brightness or dullness of a color, often determined by the amount of white that has been mixed with it. It is measured relative to the brightest color wheel hue that is closest to it. The words chroma and saturation are sometimes used interchangeably with intensity.

  • Temperature refers to the idea of a color being "warm" or "cool."

Color Combinations Colors can be combined in various ways, but the three most common ways are monochromatic, complementary and analogous. By knowing the various color schemes, you can select the colors that are harmonious to each other and to your personal coloring.

  • Monochromatic color combinations are developed around a single color. This could mean variations in value or intensity of one hue, such as light, medium and dark blue. Monochromatic color schemes are easy and restful, but can become monotonous.

  • Complementary color combinations are colors that are directly opposite of each other on the color wheel. They intensify each other and tend to be bold and attention-getting. However, if these colors are grayed they become more wearable.

  • Analogous color combinations refer to colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. An example is yellow, yellow-green and green. This produces a restful effect and is less dramatic than the complementary color scheme.

Itten was one of the first people to define and identify strategies for successful color combinations. Through his research he devised seven methodologies for coordinating colors utilizing the hue's contrasting properties. These contrasts add other variations with respect to the intensity of the respective hues; i.e. contrasts may be obtained due to light, moderate or dark value.

  • The contrast of saturation is formed by juxtaposing light and dark values and their relative saturation.

  • The contrast of light and dark is formed by juxtaposing light and dark values.

  • The contrast of extension is formed by assigning proportional field sizes in relation to the visual weight of a color.

  • The contrast of complements is formed by juxtaposing colors on the color wheel or what is called "perceptual opposites".

  • Simultaneous contrast is formed when the boundaries between colors seem to vibrate, creating interesting illusions.

  • The contrast of hue is formed by juxtaposing different hues. The greater the distance between hues on a color wheel, the greater the contrast.

  • The contrast of warm and cool is formed juxtaposing hues that considered warm or cool.

Color Yourself Beautiful Armed with these basic concepts of color, you'll now be better prepared to work with a personal stylist to determine the colors that work best for you.