Color and Value

Introduction to  Color and Value

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.’

–Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Color is my favorite element. For me, as an artist, color  is art. For some people drawing and perspective is at the heart of their work, for others it might be light and shadow. You will have to determine what the most important element is for you, but for me it’s most certainly color.

Learning Objectives

  1. Familiarize yourself with the concepts of color  in art and to what ends artists use it.  
  2. Show that you can  identify works with color, vlaue, hue, etc.  as predominant themes or techniques in the work.
  3. Create your own work that demonstrates an understanding of color.

Concepts in Color

There has been so much written about color that it’s difficult for me to pick the concepts to be covered in this week’s lesson. I’m going to outline a few key  concepts and link to well-written and clear explanations of the concepts. Please read what’s written in each of the links.

Understanding Color in the Digital Format

Leigh Cotnoir’s section on Hue, Value, and Saturation in one of her online courses

The Color Guru’s lesson on Digital Color

How to Color Calibrate Your Monitor  (this is highly important for digital artists!)

Color in Art History

A Brief History of Color in Art

Goethe on the Psychology of Color and Emotion

Color, Value, Hue

The difference between the terms “hue” and “color” often give people the most trouble. It’s fair to say that they are, for the most part, the same thing. When we say hue, however, we’re usually talking about the brightest, most saturated colors on the outside of the wheel.

Value refers to how light or dark a color is.

Saturation refers to the intensity of the color.


Choosing a Color Mode

The poster on the far right explains the difference between the various color modes that are available in most digital design software.

*TIP: If you’re having trouble with filters, brushes, or other things in Photoshop, you might think about taking a look at your color mode. Some things won’t work if you’re in CMYK mode.


Hex Codes for Digital Art and Design

A Visual Understanding of Hue, Saturation, and Value

Standard Color Codes for the Geological Time Scale

This is just for general interest:

Choosing a Color Mode

Understanding Color

Saturation, value, and color harmonies.

Art History through the Lens of Color

The BBC created a series called “A History of Art in 4 Colors.” This video is from the “Blue” episode. I highly recommend this series.

Color Theory

An hour-long lecture by Gran Adams.  Also includes creating swatches from and and using them in Photoshop and Illustrator.

Color Chart Exercise

Seriously considering life as an artist? At some point, you’ll have to make one of these.

Technical Know How

You’ll need to watch the following videos to understand how to use Photoshop to complete your assignments this week. I’ve started a few YouTube playlists where you can find these videos and more.

Channels and Masks to Change Color in Photoshop

We’ve seen a few things on using masks and channels, but pay special attention on using this technique to change the color of single items.

Color Balance

This is skipping ahead a little, but balancing  color is as important as balancing  shape.  You’ve seen this video before, but it may bear watching again.

Basic Color Modification

I use some of these techniques all the time. Useful stuff.

Blending Colors  in Illustrator

A small, simple skill.



This week, find images that  contain color palettes that resonate with you. This means that you might have some monotone pieces or even black and white. This is a good way to keep track of color palettes that you know you like.

An art teacher once asked me why I was using a color. I told him that I thought it would work even though I sort of despised the color. He told me to never use a color unless I was in love with it.  I’m not sure if that’s good advice  all   the time, but it works for me most of the time.

⊕ For this week, create a Pinterest  Board called “Color” and add 20 images to that board using the guidelines above. Submit your link in the form below.

Share and Discuss

It’s not too late to start talking to your fellow students in Slack. Even if you haven’t been around much, get in there and start talking. It doesn’t have to be about big ideas and you don’t have to use a bunch of art vocabulary. I just want to see you all talking about either your own work or someone else’s. Or talk about how frustrating Photoshop is. Or talk about the weather. Honestly, I don’t care…just get in there! Bonus points if you can really get a good conversation going with more than one other person!

Emulate and Create


Choose an image from Unsplash  with an interesting object. Use the channel and masking techniques in the first video of the Technical Know How section to change the color of the object only. Don’t change the color of the entire image! Upload both the original and the changed image.


Let’s do another portrait this week. Create a self-portrait where color reveals something about you. Explain your choices in the notes when you upload your photo. Bonus points for modifying the image in an unconventional way.