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Color Theory 101:

• Color is Light 

Without light, we cannot see color. When we see color, it is light reflected back to us. The local color is what we call a color’s appearance in natural day or white light. As light conditions change, so does the appearance of the color. 

Knowing this, you always want to look at color on the same plane it will be applied. Light reflects very differently off of a horizontal vs. a vertical surface. The only time to look at a color flat on a tabletop is if you are painting that tabletop...or perhaps the floor. It will look quite different if you hold the color vertically, as it will be on your wall.



• Color is Energy 

Since color is light, and light is a form of energy with its own frequency and wavelength, thinking of color through a scientific or physics lens is often more helpful. This energy (color) is not static. It fluctuates and changes, reflecting the light conditions at the time and responding to the other colors (energies) surrounding it.

• Dimensions of Color

Every color can be looked at in three ways: colorsystem.jpg

1. hue: the only dimension that most people think of as color, which is why “color” has become synonymous with “hue”; the primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (orange, green, purple) colors 

2. saturation: the intensity of a color affected by adding gray or the color’s complement. Tertiary colors are typically low in saturation. Does it feel soft and muted or vibrant and intense?
3. value: the lightness or darkness of a color. A tint can be made by adding a hue to white. A shade can be made by adding black to a hue.

• Complementary Colors (warm & cool)

Every color only has one complement. The complementary pairs are red & green, blue & orange, yellow & purple. Each of the primary colors’ complements is a combination of the other two primary colors. Complementary colors make a complete whole, and what they complete is the spectrum of light: between the two colors in the complementary pair, all hues are present.

cooler.pngIn each complementary pair, one of the colors is classified as a warm color and the other a cool color. When complementary colors are seen together, they actually enhance each other’s energy and appear brighter and cleaner. We often say that they appear to sing together. The colors energetically lift each other and are more luminous. (This is the same science behind full spectrum paints and what accounts for its depth and beauty!)

We can create this same energetic enhancement by using a balance of warm and cool colors. Emily believes that this basic principle is what makes her color work unique and operating in a different dimension than just how her color designs look. Using a balance of warm and cool colors makes her color designs feel incredible because of the energy they produce together.

• Color is About Relationship

With the knowledge that color is light and energy, it is then so obvious how it is impacted by all of the other colors around it. They do work together...either to their benefit or detriment! All of the colors in a space need to be considered when making a color decision. Not just the paint! Cabinetry, flooring, decor, and other architectural finishes all impact how a paint’s color will appear. Even the most skilled color consultants need to actually see those relationships and if they work together or not. When we are able to isolate only the colors that will be present and see their relationship as a whole, we can then be assured that when it is painted on a larger scale, it will look and feel the same.

Knowing this, the last thing you want to do is make a judgment about a color when it is in the process of being painted! While paint companies encourage you to buy samples of their paint to test it (this sells lots of paint for them!), we know that this is the worst advice for getting an accurate idea of how a color will truly read once it is the only existing color. The color(s) you are painting over, even the blue painter’s tape, drastically affects your new color choice’s appearance. 

Make your choice and stick with it! Without a doubt, from the moment you choose a color (isolating a swatch in relationship to the other finishes in your space) until the paint job is done and everything put back in order, you will not be able to accurately tell how your new color choice will look and feel. It is a leap of faith! 

Using our process for building a palette is all that we depend upon for selecting a color. Even Emily tries not to look when it’s in process. Emotionally she still reacts to how it looks and feels when it’s in process, even though she KNOWS it won’t be that way when it’s done. In fact, looking at it while it is in process of being painted sets one up for a crazy-making emotional experience. We don’t know what we are choosing because it’s being impacted by what won’t exist when the paint job is done. Trust the Color in Space process...

• Color is About Feeling

When we approach color as a phenomenon of science and physics, it is so easy to accept it as much more than how it looks. We definitely feel the energy color emits, and we can manipulate that with its relationship to other colors. 


• The Continuum of your Palette

When creating a palette, think of the distance between the lightest and the darkest color if you were to organize the colors by this quality. Having a great distance will create a highly contrasted palette, while a shorter distance usually results in a more natural feeling. The darkest colors are best used for the floor and other horizontal planes. This creates a grounding effect. The contrast of this with lighter colors on the walls and ceiling will then actually make the space feel lighter.


• Dark Colors Recede, Light Colors Come Forward


Think of a painting...the darkest colors push back, and the lightest come forward. While we always hear that dark colors make a space smaller, and this may be true visually, energetically we experience the exact opposite. Since white and light colors approach, energetically we experience those colors making a space feel smaller. Light colors are more reflective, but they feel as if they are advancing. Dark colors in a space energetically push the walls back and can create a feeling of being held in a larger space.

• White is Not Color’s Friend 

In working with relationships of colors, using a balance of warm and cool colors to enhance the complementary nature and energy, we notice that white is not on the color wheel. White is devoid of color. Therefore, there is nothing in it to increase the vibration and energy of any other color. White only provides contrast. And often that contrast actually fights the “color” we are choosing. The picture below is an example of what you DO want. This trim and ceiling appear white, but are a soft grey neutral.


Q: Does this mean that you can’t have white trim?

A: You can definitely have trim that feels white in contrast to your other colors, but what often feels best is a soft, light, warm gray. 

Q: Doesn’t my ceiling have to be white?

A: Only if you want it to energetically feel like it’s coming down on top of you.  Ceilings will ALWAYS feel best when they are a color that is part of your palette.  The ceiling color has a HUGE impact on how all of the colors and energies come together in your space.


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