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Color Theory



The Traditional (Pigment) Theory. This theory was presented before 1850 in publications by M. E. Chevreul, but it is based on a knowledge of color that dates back to antiquity. The same theory has appeared under many names and has been accepted without question until recently. This theory is based on the supposition that red, yellow, and blue are the fundamental colors, which can be mixed so as to form all the other colors, but can not themselves be made by mixing any other colors. The secondary colors are considered to be orange, green, and purple. This theory is especially useful in the elementary schools, where children are learning to mix pigments. Since it is a well-known theory it probably needs no further explanation here.

The Psychologist's Theory of Color. This theory is based on four fundamental colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. The secondary colors are orange, yellow-green, blue-green, and purple. The complementary colors are opposite each other on the diagram. When a pair of these complements are twirled on a top, the top appears to be pure gray. A simple way for determining what color is complementary to another color, according to this theory, is to look for half a minute at a colored disk against a white background. When the disk is removed, a round spot of the color that is complementary to the one removed will appear as an after-image. Psychologists base their theory on their experiments with normal and color-blind persons.

The Physicist's Theory of Color. The scientific light theory used by physicists is now also employed by modern artists. It was not originally designed to deal with the mixture of pigments, but Hatt explains its adaptation to that problem in his book "The Colorist." Since colored light is becoming steadily a more important factor in decoration it is wise for the decorator to understand the effect of combining colored lights as well as pigments. The physicist's theory maintains that the true primary colors, the sources of all other colors, are red (scarlet), green (emerald), and violet (blue-purple). The secondary colors, yellow (slightly orange), red-purple (magenta), and blue (cyan) are produced by combining two of the primary colors in light. The complementary colors, in light, are red and blue, green and magenta, violet and yellow. These complementaries will neutralize each other, when combined, and look like white light if thrown on a screen together.

Modern decorators use these same pairs of complements in pigments and find them delightful. The result of combining them can not be the same as with light, however, because, whereas combining paints grays the color, combining lights adds brilliancy to them. When all the spectrum colors of colored light are present the result is the most brilliant possible, namely white light.



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