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Know The Color Theory And Do Magic With It

Color theory is a whole science branch on its own since we are blessed with color vision. And colors play a huge impact on us.

We see colors all around us. We have our favorites and dislikes. We pretty much take color for granted, and use it actively or unconsciously to express feelings and emotions. If you want to be seen or noticed, you use strong, radiant colors. If you don't you use muted, dark and even black ones.

Color theory play a huge part in jewelry making. We all know what we like to wear and not, pretty much related to the color combination of the jewelry. You may like silver colored or gold colored jewelry, red glass beads or pastel pearls, big bold colorful earrings or discrete steel on black cord. The shape does of course also play a role in what we desire or dislike, but what first trigger our reaction, are the colors. Therefor color theory may be of great value, so you can create jewelry in beautiful color combinations.

Color is magic, but what on earth is it? What do we actually see?

What is color?
The colors we see are light waves, so color is actually light. It is made up from 7 wavelength groups: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. We call this a color spectrum, and each color have a different wavelength.

Reddish colors are long wavelengths
greenish colors are mid-size wavelengths
and bluish are short wavelengths

When light waves hits an object some waves are absorbed in the object and some are reflected. The reflected light is what we see as a color. So, if you look at an orange, all colors but orange are absorbed by surface of the fruit, and only the orange light reflects back to you. What is reflected from an object depends on its surface and how the light is broken when it hits it.

In the color theory, white contains all the colors of the spectrum and reflect them all back at us, blending them so that we see them as white. Black absorb all the colors and non are reflected.

The way we see color is also dependent on our eyes perception and how our brain interprets the signals it gets from the eyes. Some people cannot see certain colors like green or blue, and are defined as color blind. This can be caused by defects to the eye itself, the visual nerve or a mild defect in the brains sight center, often genetic. The genetic disorder is on the X-chromosome and that is the reason why there are more color blind men than women.

The color wheel:
Nobody discovered colors. Colors have always been in our world and possible for us to see. The color theory and understanding of what it actually IS on the other hand was made by Isaac Newton in the late 1600's.

He discovered that when light hit a prism it reflected light in many colors, exactly as we can see them in the rainbow. He named the colors Yellow, orange, red, violet, blue and green, called them a spectrum and placed them on a wheel.

Since then there have been many versions of color wheels and color theory. Some based on further developing of Newtons model and some on slightly different aspects based on the development of technology. Today, we operate with three color theory models, each named after their primary colors.

Newtons color wheel

This is Newtons traditional color wheel and is based on the primary colors Red, Yellow and Blue. The RYB is used by artists around the world, and forms the base of the color theory described on this page. This is a subtractive color system. made by subtracting some wavelengths of light, and reflecting others. It is based on how light reflects from an object/surface and is used when mixing paints, dyes or inks to make a full range of colors. Each color reflects different wave lengths, allowing us to see different colors.

The second color wheel was invented by physicist James C. Maxwell in the 19th century. He was very interested in color theory and how it could be used in photography. He found that color photographs could be made by using red, green and blue filters. His red, green, blue color wheel is based on how light from these tree colors produces a range of colors when mixed to varying degrees, and produces white light when mixed with equal parts. This is called an additive color model. It starts out with no light, and light sources are added and mixed to create colors. Additive color is about the way the eye detects the color and not a properties of light.

The third wheel is based on an other color theory and contains Magenta, Yellow and Cyan. It is developed for use in computers and TV. In this color theory the colors don't mix or overlap, but are placed next to each other. When yellow is seen the the yellow pixels lightens up, when green is seen, blue and yellow pixels lighten up. The pixels are so small that the eye blends them together when several colors are lightened next to each other.

In color theory there are several terms describing colors, how they are made, where they are placed in the color wheel and how you can alter a color.

Primary colors

Primary colors:
Primary colors cannot be made by other colors, but can mix into other colors. Red, Yellow and Blue are the basics of Newtons color theory. Without them, you cannot make other colors in the subtractive system. When all the primaries are mixed, you will get black. This is what separates the three color theory models, as in RBG and MYC where a mix produces white.

Secondary colors

Secondary colors:
These are made by equal parts of two primaries.
Green: yellow and blue
Orange: yellow and red
Violet: red and blue

Tertiary colors

Tertiary colors:
Made by primary and secondary colors.
Yellow green: yellow and green
Blue green: blue and green
Blue violet: blue and violet
Red violet: red and violet
Red orange: red and orange
Yellow orange: yellow and orange

complementary colors Complimentary colors:
These are hues that are opposite each other in the color wheel. When you put complementary colors together, they are strongly contrasting and each color become strong and vibrant. If you want one color to stand out, use it with its complementary color.

Complementary colors can be used to mute each other into less bright tones. If you mix half and half, they turn into lovely brownish to greyish tones. With polymer clay they are called mud colors or neutrals. You can create a whole specter of new colors by adding various amounts of complementary colors together.

The mixing of complementary colors in painting and polymer clay, turn dark and when mixed with more colors it can even be almost black.

Pure complementary mixes can be divided into three groups:
- Ochers are yellow mud mixes
- Browns are the red mud mixes
- Grey are the blue mud mixes.
complementary colors If you wonder what a colors complementary color is, you can look at it for about 30 seconds and then look at a white surface. The color you see then is the complementary color. You can try it by looking at the illustration to the left.

See complementary colors used in this tutorial

Analogous colors

Analogous colors:
These are colors that are located close together on the wheel. They blend naturally from one color to the next, like yellow, yellow-orange and orange.

Analogous colors are not the best to use if you are making polymer clay canes or patterns where you need contrasts. They work wonderful with beading though, where beads blend from one color to the next in full harmony. They can be given different values to increase contrast, or be kept within the same value. You can also use the complementary colors to change their saturation to make the color scheme more interesting.

Analogous color schemes can be made from all the colors within one particular triangle from center to outer surface of the color wheel, giving you more colors within the same analogous range.

Value Value:
Is the relative lightness or darkness of a color or how much light is reflected by a color. It flows from light to dark. High to middle value are called Tints.
Low to middle value are called Shades.

Hue or Saturation:
This describes how pure a color is and is the color itself. It is not tinted or shaded. It can be altered by mixing it with white to lighten it/tint it, and black to darken it/Shade it. This actually means that you change the colors value and the saturation.

If you don't want to change the value of the color, but just mute it/make it less bright, you can mix it with a natural that is similar in value, for example gray.

Hue families

If you mix contrasting hues in the same value, it will flatten the contrast of the two colors and non of them will stand out. This part of the color theory is of particular importance when you are making polymer clay kaleidoscope canes, mokume gane or other patterns where you want contrast. The ultimate value contrast is black and white.

There are 6 hue families.

Monochromatic colors Chromatic colors or Hue contrasts:

Achromatic colors:
Describes color combinations that are made by neutrals, the ochers, grays and browns. They have a low saturation/value and therefor also have a low degree of hue.

Describes one hue that is tinted with white and shaded with black, which means it has different values that ranges from light to dark. It can also be muted to neutral by its complementary color.

These are color schemes that include many colors from the color wheel. They are rich in color and can be pretty complex depending on which hues are involved. These are highly saturated color schemes.

Color temperature

Color temperature:
This part of the color theory is a relative property, unless you want to measure the absolute temperature defined by wave length. Color can be sorted in warm and cold colors. This probably comes from what we associate when we see colors. Yellow makes us think of the sun, and is therefor considered a warm color, while blue represent the cold sea and so on. Each color have a cold version and a warm version, depending on towards which primary color it blends/moves.
color temperature Warm colors advance and cool colors recede. This can actively be used to create illusions of depth. In general you can divide the color wheel in two halves, from yellow green to red violet. The colors ranging from yellow to red to violet are considered warm colors. The colors on the other halves are considered cool colors.

A way to name the temperature of a color is to name it after the nearest primary color, like blue+red = cool and blue+yellow = warm, orange+yellow = warm and orange+red = cool, and so on. The temperature of a color is also called a hue's bias.

Rainbow colors:
These colors are the outer colors of the color wheel. They are the primary, secondary and tertiary colors, and are not tinted or shaded, but pure and radiant.

Pastel colors:
Pastel colors are rainbow colors tinted with white. This alter the saturation of the hue towards lighter values.

Earth tone colors:
These are rainbow colors mixed with their complementary colors, and are inside the color wheel.(The rainbows are the outside of the wheel). Earth tones can be mixed with white into earth pastels.

Neutrals or Mud colors:
When rainbow colors are mixed so much with its complementary color that you no longer can see which hue family they belong to, we call them neutrals or mud colors. These are the center of the color wheel. Neutrals can also be mixed with white into mud pastels.
You can see how mud can be used to create some intersting effects in this tutorial: Have Fun Caning With A Clay Gun

Mixing Colors With Polymer Clay

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