The primary reason I love painting over other mediums is my love of color. Color theory and how our eyes perceive color is endlessly fascinating to me: the color directly impacts the emotional charge of each work. As so many fans have requested, I will be sharing some of my own art education with all of you, with the hope that it inspires you to embrace your own creativity!

So, let’s talk the basics of color theory before I share a few advanced elements I use all the time. In its simplest form, color theory is the study of how colors interact with each other. It’s the backbone of successful paintings, and mastering it can take your art to new heights. The easiest way to visualize this is by looking at a color wheel - a representation of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, and how they relate to each other.

There are different levels of the color wheel, though, and I want to share a resource I use and love that captures all the the dimensions a painter is thinking about while making color ( PS: Florent Farges has amazing classes on his site and YouTube that walk through the basics of painting!

I like this because it captures three key elements in color theory: hue, chroma, and value. Hue is the color family, chroma is the purity of a color, and value is the lightness or darkness of that color. I like to focus on the values within a painting, frequently doing a brown or greyscale underpainting just to capture the value alone. By focusing first on the value, I can explore more advanced components of color theory.

Let’s talk through a couple of these advanced components I use frequently:

1. If everything starts as a value, I can play with color choices according to science.

**Since every color can have the same value (a pale yellow and a pale blue can be identical in a greyscale, for example), that means I can place colors that are not represented in “life” in different parts of the painting to get the effect I want.**

When our eyes look at color, they react differently on a molecular level. Cool colors give a receding affect, and warm colors appear to advance. This means as I’m building a painting, I will intentionally choose warmer colors to make objects “come forward” and cooler tones to make objects move farther away, creating depth in my painting.

I also play with this idea in another way as well: since every color can have a warm or a cool tone, I can place a warmer tone where my light source hits my object, and a cooler tone where the object is in shadow. You can see this in the grass on my “Spring Court” painting:

2. As a student of Impressionism, I love love love how Impressionist artists used complimentary colors. Monet was a master of this: even the smallest dots of complementary colors add movement and vibrancy to paintings that gives it incredible depth. In this painting below, you can see specks of pink mixed into the green of the shadows, dots of pastel blue in the areas of orange sunlight, and purple shadows of hills edged right next to the yellow of the sun. By pairing complimentary colors next to each other, the piece just holds endless fascination for me I love and use in my own work.

Claude Monet, Wheatstacks (End of Summer) (

In a close up shot of my Nesta painting, I used orange and yellows to capture the glow of the fire, and purples and blues to show the shadow areas, including in her skin tone.

There’s a lot more to unpack when it comes to color theory, but these are a couple principles I use all the time when I’m building a painting. I hope you enjoyed this little lesson! If you have a topic you’d like me to talk about, please let me know!

May 09, 2023 — Carrington Moore