Color Theory: Sir Isaac Newton

Let's bring color to life

At EmeraldPro painting, helping you bring color to life is our goal. In a world where our own preferred paint vendors offer a combined selection of over 10-thousand colors—10,144 to be exact—we know you won’t have time or desire to look at each one. Much less, if you are one of 67.5-million people working from home in the last year, seeing that many shades of what your neighbors may have painted their walls might be a little off-putting.  But also, if you are one of those 67.5-million people, then have you thought about bringing the outdoors, indoors?

The world around us is the best inspiration for painting the interior of your home. Nature is filled with earth tones, green hues, and a variety floral colors you are not likely to see in a paint store. Much less, the desert sands and red rock formations between Utah, Idaho, and Colorado are not the same. With quarantine coming to an end, it’s time for a return to nature that includes bringing the color of nature to you.

Last week we talked about the home office works best when it is less home than office. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to talk about redefining your space with color. But first, we need to talk about what color is and how you can use it to create space.

Color Theory

Color theory is not new. It has been more refined over the last three-hundred-fifty years than it was in the previous two-thousand. Where red, yellow, and blue dominated print and paint for centuries, the Eagle Printing Ink Company heralded a new era with the first cyan, yellow, and magenta printing in 1908. Prior to that, the work of Sir Isaac Newton provided the greatest step since Renaissance painters experimented with bright colors on otherwise colorless subjects.

Between 1672—1676, Sir Isaac Newton published his experiments on color. He studied the behavior of light projecting sunlight through a prism to form a rainbow on his wall. To confirm his findings, he focused the projection into another prism where the colors combined to form a white light. Newton cracking the rainbow was revolutionary science in his day. He continued this work and published his findings with a rudimentary color wheel in 1704. A very much watered down version of this Newton’s is what we learn in kindergarten.

More than two-centuries later, noted painter and educator, Professor Albert H. Munsell gave dimension to Newton’s wheel. Frustrated by names he found foolish and misleading, Munsell merged the fields of art and science to form the color theory we know today. He redefined the observable spectrum by their primary color hues, color values, and chroma. This work by Munsell is considered so accurate, the Munsell Color System was adopted by and is still used by the US Department of Agriculture in determining appropriate color of soil. The US Food and Drug Administration also uses it as an indicator of quality in all parts of the American food and pharmaceutical supply. Munsell’s work plays a large role in how we see the world around us.

Hue defines the primary color present in a tertiary color.

Hue is how we describe colors based on their dominant, primary color, such as blue-green or red-orange. The color possibilities between those, however, can appear infinite. So we give them names like baby blue and sky blue to describe what is almost the same color. Regardless, colors sharing a name between manufacturers may still be different. This was the very source of Munsell’s frustration.

Color Value
Color value is determined by shade, tone, hue, and tint.

Color value is the description of a color on scale of lightest to darkest and express as shade, tone, and tint. Appropriately named, shade is the amount of black used to darken a color. However, tint is the level of white used to lighten a hue and Tone is the amount of gray included. Using a single hue contrasted by these values is monochrome.

Not to be confused with saturation, chroma is a color's strength.

Chroma is the color’s strength. Often it is referred to as its saturation, which is misleading. The International Commission on Illumination offers definitions that can be confusing. However, it might be best to think of it as looking at two similar colors of paint. Benjamin-Moore’s Bright Yellow and Bold Yellow are very good examples for this. Between the Primary yellow and tertiary yellow-orange the colors are close enough to be separated by just two-degrees of angle. Saturation is their similarity. Chroma is their difference.