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Colour theory

Colour theory

Colour is one of the basic elements of visual languages. It is used by artist to make their work, such as paintings, sculptures or performances, richer and more expressive. However, how do we perceive colour?


The nature of colour

The human eye sees colour through the sensors in the retina called rods and cones. Waves of light are absorbed or reflected in a different way depending on the surface. If this surface reflects all the rays that arrive there, our eyes perceive it as black, because it is the sum of all the colours; nevertheless, if the material absorbs all the rays, we perceive the surface as white. Moreover, our sight can perceive the same colour differently depending on lighting, the colours that surround it or the space it fills.

The electromagnetic spectrum

Characteristics of Colour

Apart from that, colours are defined according to three characteristics: hue, value and saturation. The first one, hue, is the quality referred to the tone or the specific name of each colour. The second one, the value or the brightness, represents its amount of clarity or darkness. Finally, saturation corresponds with the degree of purity or intensity of a colour.


The colour wheel

The colour wheel, which is a colour circle used for organizing primary and secondary colours, was designed for facilitating the way we classify them. In this sense, primary colours, which are yellow, blue and red, are situated in a triangular position, and their complementary colours, that are purple, orange and green, respectively, are located at the other end of a line that passes through the middle of this circle. Consequently, a colour is complementary to another when it does not contain any amount of its opposite colour. For instance, blue is complementary to orange because it does not contain neither red nor yellow, which are the colours that make up orange.

Artist and colour

As a result of the colour theory, artists and publicists dedicate time and effort to think about the choice of colour in their art, due to the fact that every colour has different positive and negative attributes which provoke dissimilar emotions on us. In that way, for example, red is the colour of energy, passion and determination, and blue suggest us loyalty and peace.

Moreover, artists are constantly thinking about the choice of colour in their art, because them can produce different visual effects and cause different emotions on the observers. For that reason, when creating art, it is necessary to know about how humans perceive colours and the way it affect to our mood or behaviour, previously.


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