• Deborah "Debbie" Marsh

Color is the Essence of Art

The Painted Ladies Collection would not have the same impact if my color choices had been different.


The use of color influences what the artist wants to express. Color is the essence of art. How the light strikes an object and reflects provides character to a painting, sculpture, or even our surroundings. Color is used to evoke a certain mood or response. There are three properties to color: hue, intensity, and value.

  1. Hue is simply what we call a color, such as red, yellow, blue, green, and so forth.

  2. Intensity, also called saturation, or vividness of color, refers to the purity of the color.

  3. Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color.

When using color to express or describe a feeling or mood of a painting or art piece, the artist can be bold, subtle, or even confused just by the selection and combination of color used. Color has a language all its own. For instance, red is often used to express strength, seduction, and even anger. Blue is often used to express wisdom, steadiness, and calmness.


Color can influence the way we feel or react. That’s why color can be the most exciting aspect about a work of art, or the most disappointing.


Color is described as either being cool, warm, or neutral. Cool colors are based on blue and green colors. Warm colors are based on yellows and oranges. A good way to remember is, those colors closest to how we describe the sun are warm. Colors closest to how we describe water and ice are cool colors.


Advertisers use colors to enhance mood all the time. When thinking about color and products, green is identified with products that are earth friendly, safe, and natural.

  • Red and yellow are usually colors identified with urgency and overpowering emotion. Red is also used to entice or seduce, such as with red lipstick.

  • Green and white are common color identifiers for grocery stores that are targeting natural products consumers.

  • Blue is a color most associated with water and air, like the ocean and the sky.


Color is truly important for communicating a message, whatever that message may be.

Part of understanding color is knowing the differences among primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors, which all make up the standard color wheel.


  • Primary colors – colors that cannot be created by mixing other colors together. Primary colors are the three base colors: red, yellow, blue.

Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue
  • Secondary colors – colors that are created from immediately mixing two of the primary colors together. There are three combinations: purple (red and blue), orange (red and yellow), green (yellow and blue).

Secondary Colors: Green, Orange, and Purple
  • Tertiary colors – colors made from mixing one primary with one secondary color. There are six combinations: purple + red, red + orange, orange + yellow, yellow + green, green + blue, blue + purple.

Primary Colors + Secondary Colors = Tertiary colors

There needs to be an understanding of how colors are intensified, and how we go about giving color value.


For instance, tints and shades of color are how we lighten or darken a color. White mixed with any color will lighten that color to create the tint, while black mixed with any color will darken it to create the shade.


How we compliment colors and create color harmony is based on what colors we use next to one another. Complimentary colors are those colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. This includes red + green, blue + orange, yellow + purple. Creating color harmony is when we use colors that rest alongside each other on the color wheel, such as yellow + orange, blue + purple, purple + red, red + orange, and so forth.

Painted Ladies Collection, Salsa: Example of Complimentary Colors at work.

Colors that aren’t included in the standard color wheel are considered neutral colors. They include white, black, gray, brown, and beige. Technically, black and white are not colors. Basically, black is formed by absorbing all the colors, whereas white reflects all the colors. Gray is basically a color without color since it’s created from mixing black and white. Brown is considered a neutral color as brown is created from mixing a primary with its complementary color. Beige is basically the same thing as brown, but adding white helps create more light to the color. It’s quite scientific in its explanation, so I recommend studying more on this topic if you are interested. (Suggested readings are listed at the end of this article.)


Now that we have a clear understanding of color and color theory, it’s easy to understand how the language of color can work for a painting, or even work against it.

When I analyze my Painted Ladies Collection, what I see most of is: excitement, passion, beauty, somewhat seductive, elegant, and fun. Color is one of the top selling points of the Painted Ladies. Without the use of color in the way that I chose, these colored sketches would not have had the same impact on the viewing audience.

Painted Ladies Collection, Trio: Passion, Embrace, and Shadow

The role of color in art is as significant as the role of color in our everyday lives. We associate color with the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the places we live, and so forth. Since normally what we see is the first thing we are confronted with when making decisions, then of course, color greatly influences our immediate decisions.


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Suggested Reading:


Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors, by Betty Edwards


Color Choices: Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory, by Stephen Quiller


Joann Eckstut: The Secret Language of Color : Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, & Violet (Hardcover); 2013 Edition, by Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut



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Gilbert, Arizona USA

debbieslivingcanvas@gmail.com

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© 2018 by Deborah Marsh