Focus on Color in 2015 – 1st Quarter Studio Challenge

Focus on Color in 2015 – 1st Quarter Studio Challenge

The overall theme for the studio challenges in 2015 will be color. Who doesn’t love to play with color? I think though that sometimes you might shy away from learning about color theory. It just sounds too technical and too much work. Many artists have spent a lifetime learning about color theory but you don’t need to get overwhelmed. Just jump in and start learning more about color with our quarterly challenges this year. This first quarter, I will give some basic information about color theory and the challenge is to learn about color theory and apply it to how you create. That might include making a color wheel with fiber or it could be mixing dye colors methodically and making color scales on a piece of paper to document your results or it could be blending already dyed fibers together to see what colors you create. I will be doing several posts over this quarter about how to make a color wheel, how to mix color and make color scales and how to develop color schemes from a color wheel. You could do this with paints, colored pencils, papers, fabric, fiber or dyes. Choose which ever medium suits you best.

Color Wheel of Wool

Color occurs when light in different wavelengths strikes our eyes. Objects have no color of their own, only the ability to reflect a certain wavelength of light back to our eyes. As you know, color can vary in differing circumstances. For example, grass can appear gray in the morning or evening or bright green at noon. Colors appear different depending on whether you view them under incandescent, fluorescent or natural sunlight. Colors also change according to their surroundings.

thread color wheel

There are three properties of color which are hue, value and intensity. Hue refers to the color itself. Each different hue is a different reflected wavelength of light. White light broken in a prism has seven hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Remember Roy G. Biv? White light occurs when all the wavelengths are reflected back to your eye, and black light occurs when no light is reflected to your eye.

Color value refers to the lightness or darkness of the hue. Adding white to a hue produces a high-value color, often called a tint. Adding black to a hue produces a low-value color, often called a shade. Value can be used for emphasis. Variations in value are used to create a focal point for the design of a piece.


Intensity, also called chroma or saturation, refers to the brightness of a color. A color is at full intensity when not mixed with black or white – a pure hue. You can change the intensity of a color, making it duller or more neutral by adding gray to the color. You can also change the intensity of a color by adding its complement (this is the color found directly opposite on the traditional color wheel). When changing colors this way, the color produced is called a tone.

Earth and Moon

Certain colors have an advancing or receding quality, based on how our eye has to adjust to see them. Warm colors such as red, orange or yellow seem to come forward while cool colors such as blue and green seem to recede slightly. In the atmosphere, distant objects appear bluish and the further away an object appears, the less colorful and distinct it becomes. You can use this tendency to give an illusion of depth, by using more neutral and grayish colors in the background.

Various color schemes can be used in your work. A monochromatic color scheme involves the use of only one hue. The hue can vary in value, and black or white may be added to create various shades or tints.

Stewart Stephenson - Ruth

An analogous color scheme involves the use of colors that are located adjacent on the color wheel. The hues may vary in value. A complementary color scheme involves the use of colors that are located opposite on the color wheel such as red and green, yellow and purple, or orange and blue. Complementary colors produce a very exciting, dynamic pattern.


Or how about triadic? This color scheme involves the use of colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. The primary colors of yellow, red and blue could be used together in a color scheme to produce a lively result.

I am certainly not a color expert. (Most of this information came from this website.)  One of the things I try to do is when I get new painting/color supplies, is to make a color wheel and mix the different colors together. I am always surprised by what comes out. One yellow is not the same as another yellow. One yellow may tend more toward the orange/red side of the color wheel, while another may tend toward green/blue. These different yellows will yield absolutely different results when mixed with other colors.When I got some Golden heavy body acrylics, I mixed green and red and got purple. It was certainly not the color I was expecting. Try mixing your colors beforehand and making a sample of each mixture in a journal. If  you don’t keep a journal, just use a sheet of paper and keep it with your paints.

I found an excellent resource about color, books about color and just why it is important to learn more about color. Check out Roz Wound Up in this post. Here’s another one that has tons of information and links about color. There’s enough information there to keep you busy for a while.

Carded Batts

When you’re thinking about color this quarter, ask yourself a few of these questions:

• How can you use color to evoke different emotions? Do you connect certain emotions to certain colors?

• What does using a monochromatic color scheme do to your composition? Complementary? Analogous? Or Triadic?

• How do you choose your color scheme? Is it affected by the subject of your composition? The mood you want to achieve? What is the impact of choosing a color scheme that is the opposite of your normal choice?

• What would your composition look like with all the same values? How can you use value changes to improve your focal point?

• Have you tried mixing various paints to see what colors you can achieve? What colors do you achieve when you mix two colors together? What happens if you add black to your colors?

So the challenge for the first quarter is to learn a little bit about color theory and show us what you have learned. Create a color wheel, mix colors together, try a color scheme you wouldn’t normally use, get a color wheel and use it to choose your colors for your next project. Explore color in ways you haven’t in the past. Take one of the questions above and expand on it. PLAY WITH COLOR!!! 

Please join us on the forum to show everyone what you’ve done with color. Or you can contact us here on the website and we’d be glad to post about what you have learned. But please do share as we all can learn from each other’s experiments and knowledge.

If you are interested in a good online or in person course, check out Level One Color Studies at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts. I took the course last summer and I highly recommend it. It is either online beginning January 13 or at the center in May. No affiliation, just love all her courses. It is well worth the investment.





29 thoughts on “Focus on Color in 2015 – 1st Quarter Studio Challenge

  1. I’m particularly thrown by “Objects have no color of their own, only the ability to reflect a certain wavelength of light back to our eyes.” I’m looking at my laptop and thinking ‘’s not really red then?’

    This is going to be an interesting challenge. I know I shall struggle with the theory. Just when I think I understand something it melts away as I try to understand another bit. Like trying to nail water to the wall.

    I confess to having been cavalier in my attitude towards colour theory and just bunging colours together until I’m happy with the result.
    Perhaps this will be the year I finally manage to nail some water to the wall – I hope so – I’m looking forward to learning.

    1. It’s all in how everything is perceived. If your laptop is in the absolute, complete dark with no light at all, does it look red? No, because you can’t see any color at all with no light.

      Don’t think of it as color theory but just think of it as playing with different colors and seeing how the interact with each other. Judging from your work, you understand color intuitively and the theory will just be icing on the cake 🙂 I hope you’ll enjoy the challenge.

    2. Ahhh – I understand what you mean about the laptop colour in the dark Ruth.

      I’ve looked at daffodils at night (it never gets totally dark in a city suburb) and I’ve “seen” them as yellow – even though they appear to be a shade of grey – and I wondered about ‘colour perception’ at the time. This challenge is going to be rewarding because I think it will answer a lot of questions that have been rattling around in my head.

  2. I did the same as Lyn! I must admit, I’ve always thought colour theory was very confusing, but as I was reading your explanation about Hue, Intensity and Value, it suddenly dawned on me that it was the same as ‘Hue, Saturation and Lightness’ on Photoshop, then you said about intensity also being saturation and I realised I finally get it! Or that bit anyway 🙂
    I’m looking forward to learning more this year, or having fun trying, anyway!

    1. Zed, don’t let the words bother you in color theory. You too, know a lot about how to use colors together. Whether or not you use or know the words doesn’t really matter. What matters is having fun playing with color and seeing what variations you enjoy and trying out some color schemes you might not think you would enjoy. I have found that working with colors on a piece that I ordinarily wouldn’t use gives me a chance to appreciate them and I like them better when I’m done. (most of the time)

  3. Color theory….hmmmm
    As Lyn said, “like nailing water to the wall”
    I made the wheel in college, mixed acrylic paints, demonstrated my knowledge of hue, intensity and value, and passed the class. However, I must admit that when selecting colors for a felting project, I remember nothing from that course. I choose colors based on emotions of the moment, or I use the colors of nature in landscapes and seascapes.

    So, the quarterly challenges–if based on color theory–will be challenging indeed!

    1. Cathy the colors in nature are always a good choice for color schemes. Nature is a great place to find colors that go well together.

      It is interesting getting into the emotions of color – that is an entire subject all on its own. Maybe you’d like to research which emotions are related to which colors (this of course varies by culture).

  4. I love this – what a great idea!! As Lyn pointed out, colour theory has many different elements and it is really hard to try to keep it all straight. I love playing with colour so think I will enjoy this challenge 🙂

    1. Thanks Teri – glad you like the idea. Apparently based on the number of comments, you aren’t in the majority. Oh well – I hope people will give it a try. I look forward to seeing what everyone creates with color 🙂

  5. This indeed will be a challenge for many of us. I’m kind of by the seat of the pants creator if I’m not copying something like our previous challenges in art. It will be a good exercise for me. I need to learn to play more and experiment outside my comfort zone.

    1. I hope you’l enjoy the challenge Marilyn – even if it gets you to try some color combinations that you haven’t before, I think it will be enjoyable.

  6. What about primary secondary and tertiary colours. Colour in light is different from pigmented colour. In pigments black is a combination of colours and white is the base colour eg paper or undyed white wool.

    1. Tessa – I am trying to give the color theory bits in small amounts and not confuse people. I will be talking about primary, secondary and tertiary colors in my next post. And yes, light and pigments are definitely two different kinds of color but again, I am trying to give small bits of information at a time. I hope you’ll join in and share what you know about color theory on the forum.

  7. I have taken a colour class. When we talked about dye its not quite the same. You can’t mix in white dye to make pink from red. I think you are into chemistry with dye. this should be a fun challenge playing with colour.
    Lyn your laptop is every colour except red. Red is the one that bounced off for you to see. Did make that more confusing? 🙂

    1. Yes, color is different with paint, dye, light etc. But the general principles usually apply to most so we’ll take one step at a time 🙂

  8. What brilliant timing! I am usually quite careful with colours and I tend to stick with the natural colours in the wool I have access to. But yesterday I ventured into a green project, which involved blending wool I had dyed in different green colours with each other and with white, grey and black wool. Not unike a painter mixing paint to get a variety of shades to paint with. Good fun and lots to learn from experimenting. I may have to join in on this challenge. 😉

    1. Your color mixing for your green project sounds wonderful. I hope you’ll share it with us on the forum. We’d love to see how the mixing went!

  9. Can’t wait to see what everyone is going to come up with for this challenge… I’m rubbish at colour theory, I must admit, and I hope to learn from you all!

    1. I hope you’ll make a color wheel with us Leonor. It’s fun and it doesn’t really matter if you know that much about color theory. Just think of it as playing with color. 🙂

    2. I would love to, but one resolution for 2015 is to not take in more than I can handle, so this will have to be a “maybe” 😊 I’ll sure try to find the time, though!

  10. I like your concept of 2015 as The Year of Color. I always say that my greatest passions are color, texture and pattern. Having had Color Theory classes many years ago, you did a great job of explaining the main points. I encourage everyone who creates art to strive to achieve a basic grasp of these concepts. You’ll be surprised how your work will evolve and improve! Have fun!

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