Chroma is one of the most important vocabulary words and concepts to understand when studying color theory. Sometimes the word chroma can be confusing because there are several terms that are used in the art world that have the same meaning. They are: saturation, intensity and bright.
What do we mean by chroma? This characteristic or description of a color refers to how bright or dull your colors are. For example, the blue sky in the southwest is fairly intense or has a high chroma, whereas the jeans you wear are a low chroma and carry a de-saturated or dull blue. The same comparison can be made between the yellow petals of a blooming sunflower versus the yellow in baled hay.
As you go through your day, try to be conscious of the colors around you. Usually it is fairly easy to identify the hue of something, now make a mental note of how bright or dull the colors are.
We need low chroma or de-saturated colors in our world. Just imagine if everything in nature or every thing in your home was a highly intense color? Could you work in it or live with it comfortably? Hence, it is important that artists know how to mix these colors and design them into their paintings. Our eyes need dull or low chroma colors in order to rest.
Below is an example of highly chromatic oranges (left) versus dull oranges (right). Notice that the value – the lightness and darkness – of the color does not change but that the chroma/intensity/saturation does. You can see this in the example I have with blues as well.
Albert Munsell (American 1858-1918) is responsible for creating the three dimensional color system to assist artists and non-artists in understanding color. I will discuss him and his system further in another blog.
Do you know how to mix dull versus bright colors? If not, you may be interested in my book “I Just Want to Paint: Mixing the Colors You Want!” The color principles taught in this class is applicable to all media. It is also interactive which allows you to ask me questions along the way.
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