Color Theory by Morten Ulf Bøll

In Danish




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Red Green Blue
Additive colormixing - light
Cyan Magenta Yellow Black
Subtractive colormixing - paint-ink

The Twelve-Part Color Circle is the base of Johannes Itten´s constructive Color Theory.

The primary colors are yellow, red and blue.

The three seconary colors are orange, green and violet.

The tertiary colors are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet,
blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green.

Start by downloading Colorcircle without color.psd 156kb

Fill in the three primary colors. please note that fx a red must not have a tone of yellow or blue. Go on to the secondary and tertiary.

Use the book as a reference, and use color spectacles.

The best way to think about the color system is to place the colors in a transparent sphere where every point has a particular color.

The Central axis is a grey scale running from white at the top to black at the bottom. Around the equator are all pure hues placed.

If one moves from the equator towards the northpole is an expression of mixing with white color.

Similarly, one can demonstrate a blending with black moving down towards the southern hemisphere.

If one moves into the sphere the hue is mixed with both black and white.

These points in the sphere is a manifestation of Muted color saturation.
The same applies for any point
which is not on the equator.


The Four Levels of Saturatuon

Prismatic Colors
As pure in hue as possible with pigments

Muted Colors
Colors with a content of Black, White, Gray or the complement of the hue.

Chromatic Grays

Achromatic Grays


The Seven Color Contrasts

1.    Contrast of Hue

The strongest light dark contrast is black and white, the three primary colors yellow, red and blue reflects the strongest contrast of hue.
The effect decreases with the use of secondary and then tertiary colors.

2. Light-Dark Contrast

The strongest light dark contrast is black and white - day and night.

Of the colors are yellow - violet the strongest.

When you add black or white to a color changes are made to its value.

Try placing a pure blue in the middle of the square.
Then place your other colors mixed with black and white so that they achieve the same intensity as the blue.

Try also to make high contrast by working with the same hue,
but in different stages of value.

Create a continuous greyscale from white to black, the distance between each tone must be equal.

Continue with the twelve colors.

3.    Cold-Warm Contrast

Red-orange is the warmest color and blue-green the coldest color. When you need to work with cold - warm contrast it is important that the colors have the same value, otherwise the light dark contrast dominate.

The colors from yellow over orange to red purple, we usually describe as warm. Meanwhile, greenish yellow over green, blue to violet, are described as cold.
However, it is the colors relationships that determine whether they are cold or warm.

One color can be combined with another and feels warm. Put it together with a third and it seemes cold.

Try to make two stripes, where a certain color appears as first warm and then cold.

4.    Complementary Contrast

Tekstboks:  For a given color there is only one complementary color.

Two complementary colors consist of three basic colors:

Yellow - (Violet = Red + Blue)

Blue - (Orange = Yellow + Red)

Red - (Green = Yellow + Blue)

Complementary colors excites each other and increases the power of each other, while they constitute a harmonious whole as all primary colors are present.

If you mix two complementary colors pigments (subtractive color) they will give a neutral dark gray. With lights, they will provide white light (additive color).

Work with the square. Find two primary - secondary complementary colors. Fill the square with steps off value that are complementary to each other.


5.    Simultaneous Contrast

The simultaneous contrast is defined as the phenomenon that our eye and brain will find complementary colors to a color we see. Simultaneous contrast is therefore not in the actual physical world, but is formed by our brain to form a harmonious whole.

One can easily test this by making a large colored squares and on this a little neutral gray square in the same value as the color.

Simultaneous contrast can also be observed when colors are not precisely complementary. They try to force each other to become Complementary.

Try this in practice.

Add a gray square that is tinted with complementary colors and contains little of the background color. See the difference.


6.   Contrast of Saturation

Color can be broken with white or black or both.
A color can also be broken with its Complementary color.
By Contrast of Saturation it is the colors purity compared to another that matters.
A yellow may seem divine in his glory force, but mix it with black and it feels lunatic, toxic and treacherous. View apsint drunks paintings of all times ;-|

Use the square to form different stages of Saturation of the same hue.


7.    Contrast of Extension

Contrast of Extension is a reflection of area relative to Brightness.

Goethe has established Brightness as follows:

Yellow = 9   Orange= 8   Red= 6   Violet = 3   Blue = 4   Green= 6

You could say that the very brightest yellow needs an area that is three times as small as the violet.

Yellow = 9 = Violet = 3x3.

Try to form a large square which is filled with color, then added small squares of a different color to form a harmony after the above values.

Color Harmony

Ved farveakkordik forstås sammenstilling af farver efter deres lovmæssige forhold.

This can form the basis of color compositions forming a given palette of colors.


Dyads are complementary colors.


If threes hues are selected from the color circle so that their positions form and equilateral triangle, those hues form a harmonius triangle. Yellow/blue/red is the clearest and most powerful of such triads.

If one color in the complementary dyad yellow/violet is replaced by its two neighbors, thus associating yellow with blue-violet and red-violet, or violet with yellow-orange, the resulting triads are likewise harmonius in character.


Tetrads are obtained with a rectangle containing two complementary pairs.


Hexads may be derived in two different ways. A hexagon, rather than a square or triangle, may be inscribed in the color circle. Three pairs of complementary colors are then obtained as a harmonius hexad.

© Morten Ulf Bøll opdatet 2009