Key Discoveries - Three Components of Color

What are the Three Components of Color?


In order to be able to understand color harmony strategies, you need to understand the three key characteristics of color: hue, value, and saturation.


Hue is what most people think of when using the term ‘color.’ It corresponds to its position in the spectrum. Examples of hues are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet.


In scientific terms, hue is the spectral wavelength composition of a color that produces the perception of being red, yellow, blue, and so on.


Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. This is what you see when you take a black and white photograph. Each tube color has a different value as shown in this chart.


The saturation of a color is its degree of richness, intensity, purity, or grayness. Other commonly used terms for saturation are intensity or chroma.

For example, cadmium orange and burnt sienna are the same hue (orange), but cadmium orange has a high saturation whereas burnt sienna has a low saturation.

In Practice

This balanced color harmony used by Edgar Payne is a good example of an artist who has controlled all three components.


Payne uses four levels of values: dark, dark gray, light gray, and light.


He uses three levels of saturation: high in the foreground, middle saturation in the middle distance, and weak saturation in the distance.


And he uses predominantly three hues: orange, violet, and green, which form a secondary color harmony. By limiting the variations in this way he achieves a harmony in the painting that you would not get if there were too many changes in these three variables.


Note: To learn more about how you can use saturation, see the Color Theory lessons in Workshop B of the Virtual Art Academy Apprentice Program.

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