Color Terms

Without definitions or means for intelligently naming any color, it is not strange that the terms used in speaking of colors and color effects are so contradictory as to lose much of their force, if perchance they retain anything of their original meaning. For example, probably most people apply the term SHADE to any modification of a color, either a hue, tint or shade.

It is true that a concise and reasonably full dictionary of color terms must be the outcome of long experience in the logical study of the science of color and its use in our every-day lives, and at the best only suggestions can be made at present. But as there must be a beginning and some terms seem to be fairly well established, the following incomplete list of definitions is offered, always subject to amendment by the majority vote, for whenever such changes indicate advance they should be welcomed.

Ray of Light.—The finest supposable element of light impression in the eye.

Beam of Light.—A number of rays.

Standard Colors.—As used in this system of color nomenclature, the best pigmentary imitation of each of the six spectrum colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet and black and white. These are more specifically called Pigmentary Standards in distinction from spectrum standards.

Spectrum Standards.—The six colors found in the solar spectrum and definitely located by their wave lengths, as follows in the ten millionths of a millimeter. Red, 6571; Orange, 6085; Yellow, 5793; Green, 5164; Blue, 4695; Violet, 4210.

Pigmentary Colors.—All colors used and produced in the arts and sciences. This is in distinction from colors seen in nature, as in flowers and the solar spectrum. The term refers not only to pigments in the strictest sense but to all surfaces coated, painted or dyed artificially.

Pure Colors.—A pure or full color, also called a saturated color, is the most intense expression of that color without the admixture of white or black or gray. All spectrum colors are pure, while no pigmentary color is absolutely pure, but the pigmentary color which approaches most nearly to the corresponding color in the spectrum must be selected as the pigmentary type of purity of that color. For example, the standard for green must be the best possible pigmentary imitation of the spot in the spectrum which by general consent is called green, and so not only for the six standards but for all their combinations which produce the other colors in nature.

In pigmentary colors the term pure is entirely one of relative degree. As processes of manufacture are improved and new chemical discoveries made, there is good reason to believe that we shall have much more intense colors and hence much better imitations of spectrum colors than are at present possible. Therefore as our pigments become purer those now accepted as full colors will in time become tints or broken colors and new standards will be adopted.

Hue.—The hue of a given color is that color with the admixture of a smaller quantity of another color. An orange hue of [Pg 25] red is the standard red mixed with a smaller quantity of orange. With the disks, pure hues are secured only by mixing two standards adjacent in the spectrum circuit.

For convenience in speaking and writing about colors in this system of color instruction, all the spectrum colors other than the six standard spectrum colors are designated as intermediate spectrum hues, and often for convenience in speaking of them they are called simply spectrum hues. To these are also added the colors between red and violet which are not in the spectrum. When so used the term must be considered as purely technical in this particular relation, because a color between the standard blue and the standard green is in the abstract no more a hue than either of these colors. If two standards not adjacent in the spectrum circuit are combined the result is not a pure spectrum hue but always some broken spectrum color.

Local Color.—A term applied to the natural color of an object when seen in ordinarily good daylight and at a convenient distance, as a sheet of paper at arms length, a tree at twice its height, etc.

Tint.—Any pure or full color mixed with white, or reduced by strong sunlight. In the disk combinations a spectrum color combined with white.

Shade.—A full color in shadow, i.e., with a low degree of illumination. In disk combinations a spectrum color combined with a black disk produces by rotation a shade of that color. In pigments the admixture of black does not usually produce as satisfactory shades of a color as may be secured with some other pigments, and each artist has his own preferences in making shades of the various colors on his palette.

Scale.—A scale of color is a series of colors consisting of a pure or full color at the center and graduated by a succession of steps to a light tint on one side and a deep shade on the other.

Tone.—Each step in a color scale is a tone of that color, and the full color may be called the normal tone in that scale. In art this word has had such a variety of meaning as to render it very convenient for Amateur Art Critics, together with such terms as breadth, atmosphere, quality, values, etc., but in the consideration of color it should have this one definite meaning.

Warm Colors.—Red, orange and yellow, and combinations in which they predominate.

Cool Colors.—Usually considered to be green, blue and violet, and the combinations in which they predominate. But it is, perhaps, questionable whether green and violet may properly be termed either warm or cool. The term cool as applied to colors is quite indefinite, except in a general way, but red, orange and yellow are universally considered as warm, and blue and green-blue as cool.

Neutral Gray.—White in shade or shadow. Pure black and white mixed by disk rotation. Black and white pigments mixed do not usually produce a neutral gray, but rather a blue gray.

Warm Gray.—A neutral gray with the admixture of a small quantity of red, orange or yellow.

Cool Gray.—A neutral gray with a small quantity of blue or green-blue.

Green Gray.—A neutral gray having combined with it a small quantity of green. As this color could hardly be classed with either warm or cool grays this fourth class of grays is suggested as helpful in giving definiteness to the more general color expressions.

Broken Colors.—Gray colors, often improperly called broken tints. For simplicity, a tint of a color is described as the pure color mixed with white and a shade as the color mixed with black, and the corresponding broken color is the same color mixed with both white and black or with neutral gray. A tint of a color thrown into a shadow or a shade of a color in bright sunlight gives a broken color. For various reasons a very large proportion of the colors in nature are broken. Broken colors are much easier to combine harmoniously than full colors, or even tints and shades.

In disk combinations when a pure color is combined with both a white and black disk the result will be a broken color. When a color is mixed with both black and white, i.e., with gray, and becomes thereby a broken color, it then belongs to a broken scale and educationally has no place in any pure scale, i.e., a scale in which the key tone is a pure color. Neither has a broken scale of a color any place in a chart of pure scales or spectrum scales.

Neutral Colors.—A term often improperly applied to grays, white, black, silver and gold. See passive colors.

Passive Colors.—A term suggested as covering black, white, silver, gold and very gray colors. The term "neutral colors" is often used in this sense but this is evidently improper if we are to confine the term "neutral gray" to the representation of white in shadow because as soon as a gray has any color in it, it is no longer neutral.

Active Colors.—Those colors neither passive or neutral. Necessarily both the terms "active" and "passive" used in relation to colors must be quite indefinite.

Complementary Colors.—As white light is the sum of all color if we take from white light a given color the remaining color is the complement of the given color. When the eye has been fatigued by looking intently for a few seconds at a red spot on a white wall and is then slightly turned to the wall, a faint tint of a bluish green is seen, and this is called the accidental color of the red, and is supposed to be identical with its complementary color. If with the disks we determine a color which with a given color will produce by rotation a neutral gray, we have the complementary color more accurately than by any other means at present known in the use of pigmentary colors.

Harmony.—Two colors are said to be in harmony or to combine harmoniously if the effect is pleasing when they are in juxtaposition or are used in a composition.

Spectrum Circuit.—If a pigmentary imitation of the solar spectrum with the addition of violet red at the red end and red violet at the violet end be made, and the two ends joined, we shall have a spectrum circuit. This may be in the form of a circle, an ellipse or an oval.

Primary Colors.—In the Brewster theory red, yellow and blue. In the Young-Helmholtz theory red, green and violet are termed primary colors because it is supposed that from these three sensations all color perceptions are experienced. In purely scientific investigations of color perceptions these last three or others which are supposed to serve the same purpose are also called fundamental colors. Practically every spectrum color is a primary, because each has its own wave length.

Secondary Colors.—In the Brewster theory orange, green and purple have been called secondary because it is claimed that they are produced by the combination of primary colors in pairs.

Tertiary Colors.—A term used in the Brewster theory to denote three classes of colors called russet, citrine and olive, made by mixing the secondaries in pairs. These are all broken spectrum colors. The orange and purple produce russet; the orange and green form citrine; the green and purple, olive. There seems to be no good reason for perpetuating the indefinite terms secondaries and tertiaries as applied to color.

Values.—This word is very freely used in discussing effects in works of art, both in color and in black and white. At present it seems to be a very difficult term to define, and yet each artist is quite sure that he can "feel" it, although few will attempt to put into words a definition satisfactory even to themselves. When an engraver, who is also an artist, attempts to interpret nature in black and white on the metal plate or wooden block, he endeavors to reproduce the "values" of the various parts of the subject before him. In doing this he, for one thing, attempts to produce a variety of neutral grays which will express to the eye by means of black and white lines the same tones of color effect as are seen in the several parts of the subject under investigation. If this were the whole problem [Pg 29] the matter would be easily expressed by the disk nomenclature. For instance, if we are to consider a certain red object which may be represented by the standard red disk, we place a medium sized disk of that color on the spindle, and in front of it, smaller disks of white and black united. By rotation the white and black disks become a neutral gray at the center of the red disk. If this gray is made nearly white all observers will agree that the gray is lighter than the red, and if it is nearly black the opinion will be equally unanimous that it is darker than the red. Consequently there evidently must be a gray somewhere between these two extremes which a large majority of experts may agree to be equal in depth or tone to the red, i.e., neither lighter nor darker. But the artist-engraver will insist that to him the term "value" expresses much more than this and that he must use different lines in the sky or distance from those which he uses in the foreground; and some engravers will also insist that two different colors in the foreground must receive different treatment with the graver in order to express their true values. We know that true values of colors are not expressed in a photograph, as the warm colors are too dark and the blue far too light. If the term "value of a color" is to be used as expressing something more than a neutral gray of such a tone as to seem equal to it, then possibly this latter quality must be expressed by the word tone, and yet this use of that word will seem to enlarge its scope beyond its present limits as it now is used to express the relations between the different localities in one scale of color, while this new use will extend to the comparison of tones in various color scales, including neutral grays.

Luminosity.—The luminosity of a color is determined by comparing it with a neutral gray. When a color seems to be of the same brightness as a given neutral gray, i.e., not lighter nor darker, then that gray is its measure of luminosity.

A noted authority says: "No colored object can have the luminosity of a white object reflecting practically the whole of [Pg 30] the light impinging upon it. Therefore if we take absolute reflection as 100 a fraction of 100 will give the relative luminosity of any body." Luminosity is another expression of the quality above described as forming a prominent feature in the term values.

Potentiality.—The ability or strength of a color to affect other colors by combinations with them. For example, white has a greater potentiality than black, yellow greater than red, and violet the least of all the spectrum colors.

It is a pertinent question whether any quality is involved in this term which is not found in value, tone and luminosity, but it expresses a somewhat different phase of a line of color effects.

Quality.—This term seems to be used rather indefinitely when applied to color, but perhaps it is not far removed from the term hue or kind of color.

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