_Characteristics Of Colors

Color characteristics allow us to distinguish define and describe colors. The more we know about color characteristics the better we can adjust the colors to our needs. Lets take a look at the different characteristics and then we will get the paints out and have some fun.
  1. Hue: Represents the base color itself. The“pure” colors within the color wheel.
  2. Tint: The act of lighting a color by adding white to it. so, if you tinted a color, you’ve been adding white to the original color.
  3. Shade: The act of darkening a color by adding black. If you shaded a color, you’ve been adding black to the original color.
  4. Tone: Slightly darkening a color by adding gray. Tone is softer than the original color.
  5. Saturation: How bright a color is, how saturated (or rich) a color is, from 0 and 100%. Saturation is a term often used by digital / analog work.
  6. Intensity: For painters the meaning of intensity is equivalent to the meaning of saturation.


The most important colors for Your pallet of colors

 Primary mixing colors

Almost all colors can be made by blending varying proportions of the  three primary colors and these three primaries cannot be created by mixing other colors. So you will need these as the starting point for your pallet.

 TIP When buying paint for mixing you can ask the shop assistant for the “primary mixing colors”,   Primary mixing colors give a better result when mixed with the other pigments. Different brands can recommend slightly different pigments   for example,  many recommend magenta instead of primary red.

You want to get the 3 primary mixing colors which are magenta, cyan blue, and yellow.  Do NOT use Cadmium red / Ultramarine blue/ Cadmium Yellow Deep or something like that to mix your color wheel. Why is that? They simply don’t make the clear secondary colors, instead you will blend some dirty or muddy colors and you end up thinking you can’t paint.

Earth colors and skin tone colors.

Next I recommend that you add some colors that will save you time (and may be difficult to blend consistently. These are the skin tones and landscape or earth colors. Earth colors are the  rusty, dirty brown colors of soil.  Examples include burnt sienna, brick red, olive green.  Chose one or two of landscape and skin tone.  And then:  If you do a lot of landscapes choose one or more earth colors: If you do a lot of portraits choose 1or 2 additional skin tones skin tones.  Remember you can always blend an earth color or a skin tone with a tiny bit of a primary or secondary color to make a dozen new variations.

Neutral colors.

If you notice that are no black and white in the color wheel. Usually everyone calls them colors. But when it comes to color theory, if there are no hue there is no color.

Black and white aren’t really colors!. What????

Above we saw that a color can be described in terms of hue, tint, shade, and saturation. They needs a hue to be a color. So if there is no hue, we are left with the neutral colors black and white and grey.


Although a very close approximation to black can be made by blending the darker primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, many people find this difficult. Sometimes I see my students shaking the head for they just don’t believe it is possible. But it is possible, you will just have to practice.

Black and white are important for mixing tints and shades, so I recommend that you add white and optionally add black to your pallet.

 TIP Although black can be made from the primary colors by combining the darker primaries secondaries and tertiaries, many artists prefer to make their own black . Why is that? Black from the paint tube can be hard to the eye, and it makes it a little “dead”  and it can also kill the other colors.   (BUT it depends on what you want to express and say in your painting!!!)

Most painters prefer to add Paynes grey rather than black as it is neutral, but verv useful to mix your own black.

 TIP Greys can be made warmer or cooler by adding up to 5% of red or blue.

grayIf you want to try mixing your own earth colors ,  try the following.

  • Yellow + violet / purple = warm gray
  • Red + green = warm brown
  • Blue + orange = cool brown
  • Add a smidgen of a neutral color to see the effect it gives.

If you want to try mixing your own skin tone colors, try the following.

  • Red + Green = warm brown
  • Blue + Orange = cool brown
  • Red +white = pink
  • Add a touch of yellow or green to see what affect you get – and don’t forget to experiment with tiny amounts of the neutral colors change the tone shade and tint.

So you should now have a pallet of 8 to 12 colors and you are ready for the next section of my course. Resist the temptation to add more. Pre-mixed colors are difficult to merge into a painting unless you are very experienced.

And this is where the fun begins – get your paints and brushes out, get a bottle of water or make some herbal tea or whatever your favorite tipple is and lets make some fun.