Questions You Were Afraid to Ask About Color: Part 1

By Susan Ettl, NAN-Certified Teacher

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in spring 1999.

What is a Hue?

Hue is the name of a pure color (nothing has been added to alter its purity) which represents colors within a specific group, such as, reds, violets, or yellows. Thus, hue is a classification of colors which all can be described with the name of the hue. For example, scarlet, crimson, wine, pink, and mauve are specific names of colors which can all be characterized as “reds” and can all be described in terms of the hue, “red”. Thus, scarlet is a red that leans towards orange, crimson is a red that leans towards violet, wine is red mixed with black, pink is red mixed with white, and mauve is a grayed red.

Hues are divided into three categories. primary, secondary, and intermediate.

1. Primary hues are distinct hues, which cannot be mixed from other hues, and all other hues can be mixed from them. The three primaries for colorants (dyes, pigments/paints, or stains) are yellow, red, and blue.

2. Secondary hues are formed by mixing two primaries together. The secondary colorants are orange, violet, and green.

3. Intermediate hues are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary hue. Their names consist of the primary and secondary parent hues, separated by a hyphen. For example, the intermediate hue formed by mixing red and orange is named red-orange.

A color wheel is a device for organizing hues. The traditional color wheel for colorants is comprised of 12 hues. The three primaries divide the wheel into thirds with yellow placed on top. Secondary hues lie halfway between the two primaries used to create them and intermediate hues lie between their primary and secondary parent hues

Some artists call intermediate colors tertiary. However, a tertiary color is one that contains all three primary hues. They can be produced by mixing two secondary hues.

Exercise 1: Follow the steps listed below for creating a color wheel with floss.

1. Draw two circles with the same center and with diameters of 3.5″ and 4.75″.

2. Divide the circles into quarters and then divide each quarter into thirds to create 12 equal sections around the circles.

3. Glue the circles onto a piece of poster board, matte board, or cardboard. Then cut the board along the lines forming the two circles to create a wide ring.

4. Wrap each segment of the color wheel with the appropriate color of floss using double sided tape to secure the floss. Since everyone sees colors differently, it is recommended that you select floss colors for each of the hues on the color wheel. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, then use the Anchor (A) or DMC (D) floss colors listed below.

  • Yellow: A290, D444
  • Yellow-Orange: A298, D972
  • Orange: A316, D971
  • Red-Orange: A332, D946
  • Red: A9046, D321
  • Red-Violet: A89, D917
  • Violet: A112, D208
  • Blue-Violet: A119, D333
  • Blue: A132, D797
  • Blue-Green: A169, D806
  • Green: A230, D909
  • Yellow-Green: A256, D906

What is Temperature?

Temperature refers to whether a color is considered warm or cool. Typically, warm colors are yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, and red. They usually evoke sunny, happy, glowing feelings. Warm colors are used to create a sense of stimulation or excitement. Cool colors (violet, blue-violet, blue, blue-green, and green), however, suggest relaxed, mild, soothing feelings. They are used to project a reserved atmosphere or impression. A color’s temperature is always related to the colors placed next to it in an embroidery.

Exercise 2: Find warm and cool colored floss for each of the primary and secondary hues.

Next issue: What is Value? What is Intensity?