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The Three Dimensions of Color

by | Feb 2, 2017 | Tips | 0 comments

If you asked someone with little or no instruction in color theory to describe the difference between three colors; an intense red, a dull red and a yellow, their first answer would probably be; “One color is Yellow and the other two are Reds.” They might also indicate that one of the two reds is more dull than the other, and they might even notice that the yellow color appears lighter than the Reds.

This rather simplified illustration describes the three different measurable characteristics of all colors, which are commonly known as the Three Dimensions of Color; HUE, VALUE and INTENSITY.

HUE is the characteristic of a color which visually identifies it by a name – Red, Blue, Green, etc.

VALUE is the relative lightness or darkness of a color; Low values are dark and high values are light.

INTENSITY represents the degree of intensity of a hue. As color is made more grey, or neutralized, its degree of intensity is decreased.


HUE is important to the artist. It has a psychological impact on the viewer. Moods may be emphasized by the selection of an appropriate range of hues. (Nowhere is this more utilized than in the advertising field, as impulse buying decisions can be influenced by the appropriate color decision for a product or company branding.) Reds and Yellows are “warm” and blues and greens are “cool.” Warm colors tend to encourage while cool colors appear to stabilize.

Red is associated with blood, and with feelings that are energetic, exciting, passionate or erotic. Most colors carry both positive and negative implications. The downside of red evokes aggressive feelings, suggesting anger or violence.

Orange is the color of flesh, or the friendly warmth of the hearth fire. The positive implications of this color suggest approachability, informality. The negative side might imply accessibility to the point of suggesting that anyone can approach– a lack of discrimination or quality.

Yellow is the color of sunshine. This color is optimistic, upbeat, modern. The energy of yellow can become overwhelming. Therefore yellow is not a color that tends to dominate fashion for long periods of time.

Green In its positive mode, green suggests nature (plant life, forests), life, stability, restfulness, naturalness. On the other hand, green in some tones or certain contexts (such as green skin) might instead suggest decay (fungus, mold), toxicity, artificiality.

Blue suggests coolness, distance, spirituality, or perhaps reserved elegance. Some shade of blue is flattering to almost anyone. In its negative mode, we can think of the “blues”-the implication being one of sadness, passivity, alienation, or depression.

Violet is the color of fantasy, playfulness, impulsiveness, and dream states. In its negative mode, it can suggest nightmares, or madness.

INTENSITY is important because within a hue the artist can emphasize contrasts. Separation of objects near and far distant or of “greater or lesser importance.”

VALUE is defined as the relative lightness or darkness of a color. It is an important tool for the designer/artist, in the way that it defines form and creates spatial illusions. Contrast of value separates objects in space, while gradation of value suggests mass and contour of a contiguous surface.

If values are close, shapes will seem to flatten out, and seem closely connected in space; none will stand out from the others. If values contrast, shapes will appear to separate in space and some will stand out from the others. This works whether the colors are just black, white and gray, or whether hues are involved.


To make colors lighter, add white or a lighter value of the same color. To make colors darker, add a deeper value of the basic color. Most colors may be made darker by mixing them with their complimentary color, or black.


PRIMARY COLORS: primary colors are Red, Blue and Yellow – three colors that are impossible to produce by mixing any other colors.

To create SECONDARY COLORS, mix two primaries – blue and yellow to make green, red and yellow to make orange and blue and red to make violet.

There are six TERTIARY COLORS. Blue-green, yellow-green, blue-purple, red-orange and yellow-orange. The tertiary colors are created by mixing a Primary and a Secondary – red and orange produces red-orange, yellow and orange produces yellow-orange, etc. You can also produce tertiary colors by mixing uneven amounts of two primaries; a lot of red and a little yellow will make red-orange, a lot of blue and a little yellow will make blue-green, etc.

COMPLEMENTARY COLORS: The colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel (see color wheel at the top of this article) are called Complementary Colors. Moving around the color wheel, you will see that blue and orange are complements, blue-purple and yellow-orange are complements, violet and yellow are complements, etc. Used next to each other or in close proximity to each other they “complement” each other. Used together or in close proximity, they can also reduce the intensity of one or the other, physically, if mixed together, or optically, if used in close proximity.

ANALOGOUS COLORS: When colors appear next to each other, or near each other (see color wheel), they’re called Analogous Colors. They’re considered analogous because they have something in common. For example, blue, blue-green, green and yellow-green are analogous because they all contain blue.

NEUTRAL COLORS: Brown and Gray are considered neutral colors. Combining the three primaries or any pair of complements in varying proportions will produce a variety of browns, which can be quite colorful in a subtle way. For example, various combinations of reds and greens make a diverse range of browns and grays, depending upon the amounts of reds and greens in a mixture.

Color Harmony: If color harmony is your goal, one of the simplest ways to design a harmonious color scheme is to choose three or four colors that appear side-by-side on the color wheel.

Black and White: As far as I, as an artist, am concerned, both Black and White ARE colors! We don’t need to get into the philosophical, psychological or scientific discussions about the inclusiveness or absence of light associated with both or either color. If you can see it and mix it with other actual colors to obtain deeper or lighter Hues, then it is color! Although it is possible to mix a color than simulates black, Black and White are not possible to mix using any combination from the color wheel.

One last piece of advice to note. If you work from images on a computer, be aware that color is produced by illuminating glass pixels from behind and is mixed/measured as RGB, or Red/Green/Blue and will appear quite differently than from utilizing solid pigments.

Some editorial material reprinted from Sculpt Nouveau Patinas and Metal Finishes product guide.

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