Color 101

by Landis Carey on March 10, 2011

Yesterday a friend suggested I share the basics of color: why it works and why it sometimes doesn’t. There’s an endless number of books on the subject and I’ve only scratched the surface with my studies, but I can share what little I do know.

Color considerations are important no matter what your style or taste in décor. The way colors interact can make or break a space. I’ve painted every place I’ve lived; some were a success and one was an absolute nightmare. Add furnishings into the mix and that’s when it gets complicated.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Color: Remember in kindergarden when you were given red, yellow and blue paint? You then mixed them to get orange, green and violet? And you mixed them again, but this time all together, leaving you with a large brown blob? Well, that’s how I remember it going. It’s a good lesson, though. Still to this day, mix too many of the wrong colors together and you’ll wind up with messiness.

Primary colors are the ones that can’t be made from anything else: they are red, yellow and blue. Mixing primary colors together result in orange, green and violet, or secondary colors. Take a look at the color wheel and identify these relationships.

An example: mix green (a secondary color) and yellow (a primary color) together and you’ll wind up with some form of yellow-green, also known as a tertiary color. Tertiary colors are a primary and secondary mixed together.

Why is all of this important? I promise, it is. Next Thursday, Color 102 will discuss how colors successfully interact with each other. If you learn these basic theories, they’ll help you make informed design and décor decisions that you’ll love for the long-haul. In the meantime, read on for warm versus cool.

Warm versus Cool: Remember the color spectrum ? Well, here it is, and here we go! Colors on the red side of the spectrum are warm while green and blue are cool. Indigo and violet can either be warm or cool depending on how much red or blue are in them. Check out that violet all the way on the right. It’s cool while the indigo is warm. Can you tell? The violet lends itself to blue while indigo to red. Understanding which colors are warm and which are cool are another basis for identifying successful color schemes.

Just to confuse matters, violet is not the only color that can appear cool or warm depending on its undertone. All neutrals are the same way…tricky, huh?!? Grays, whites, blacks, and tans (and any other neutral you can think of) can be cool or warm. Again, this depends on their content of warm or cool undertones. That is why I was having such a tough time selecting a gray paint color for our living room. I knew for my color scheme to work, I needed a mid-toned cool gray. How did I know this, you ask…

…check back next Thursday for how this all relates to color schemes. It does, I promise.

Questions? Comments? Let me know below!

(Image: Michael Newman)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily March 10, 2011 at 10:56 am

Love it! I can’t wait for next Thursday!! I am about to buy my first home (possibly) and am now super nervous about picking colors. :)


Landis Carey March 10, 2011 at 11:17 am

Congratulations on the new home, Emily! It’s such a fun adventure and worth every minute you think (or slightly obsess) over it! Keep me posted on your home status — can’t wait to hear!


kamran July 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

great…its good info in detail, the way it was explained was superb
what is the color of infrared which camera see’s? please if you can explain it.


ReRe September 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Simply love the way you write and explain.
Plus, you keep the -auditorium- with interest in reading, for sure!
Keep it up. will you? Thanks for doing this wonderful activity and in sharing :)


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