Colour Theory – from the notebook – 7

By | February 2, 2014
Colour Theory is a way to learn a system to describe colours and handle shades.

Colour Theory is a way to learn a system to describe colours and handle shades.

Colour Theory

Goethe was the first person to systematically study the way colours worked when you saw them.
Goethe’s Colour Theory (1810) was for a long time dominant in how we perceived colour. Newton had previously developed a system which was based on the physical aspect rather than how man perceived colour.

Amongst others who spent their time developing colour theories you would find Johannes Itten. Itten’s colour theory was based solely on aesthetical principles, and his greatest work “Kunst der Farbe” came out in 1961.

Another colour systematician was Josef Albers who started off tutoring at Bauhaus in the 1920’s. Albers escaped to the USA 1933 and then started tutoring at Black Mountain College, and he published his theory in 1963 which described how colours affect each other.

It is said that humans can perceive 10 million different shades of colour, however we can only identify up to about 40,000 definite colours.


Value = the level of light/darkness of a colour, the level of white/black of a colour.(Brightness, Tinge, Shade, Intensity)

Greyscale = the neutral colours ranging from black to white.
(Uncoloured, Neutral, No Chroma)

Hue = shade and hue such as yellow, red, blue, purple etc

Chromaticity = the clarity and purity of a colour. There is no white, black or grey present in a colour that has a high chroma.

Elementary colour = a colour that has only one elementary characteristic yellow, red, blue, green and not something in common with the others.

Local colour = the actual colour of an object unaffected by the colour of the light or shadows.

Tints, Tones and Shades = If white is added to a colour, then the lighter version is called a tint. If a colour is made darker by adding black, then it is called a shade, and if grey is added then each gradation gives you a different tone.

Primary colours = the primary colours (paint/pigment) are cyan, magenta and yellow. Notice that “red, yellow and blue” should never be used to describe primaries!

Secondary colours = colours which can be achieved by mixing two primary colours such as red + yellow=orange.

The word colour is used to describe the pigment and experience of colour. It is two separate concepts and the appreciation of colour is something abstract and subjective to each individual.

Below you will find a useful crib sheet: