How quickly can you state the three characteristics of every color? Perhaps you have known what they are and have forgotten or this is new to you. In any case, it is good to know these characteristics when mixing and applying color. I like to think of each and every color as a tool in my paint box and I need to know each one well.
One way to get to know or to revisit these ‘tools’ is by creating a Color Chart that contains a swatch of every color you own noting the three characteristics. The directions to such a chart can be found in my post, How to be Intimate with Your Colors.
What Are the Three Characteristics of Every Color?
They are: hue, value and chroma.
Before I define them, I wanted to ask if you knew who founded this color-order system? It was Albert H. Munsell (American 1858-1918). We have him to thank for providing some order to the world of color. The fundamentals of color we use today are based on his theory of color. The article I read goes on to state, “For years, scientists had studied the mechanics of color going as far back as Newton’s early color wheel. But not until A.H. Munsell had anyone combined the art and science of color into a single color theory. His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for today’s computerized color matching systems and enabled a greater understanding of color principles for generations to come. An artist and an educator, Munsell developed his color theory to bring clarity to color communication by establishing an orderly system for accurately identifying every color that exists. Munsell based his system on what he defined as “perceived equidistance” — the human visual system’s perception of color.
His book “A Color Notation,” published in 1905 is still in print today. I find this fascinating and hope you do as well.
The Definitions of the Three Characteristics of Every Color are:
HUE: this distinguishes one color family from another. It can also be called the parent or source color, and is interchangeably used with the word ‘color.’
VALUE: the lightness or darkness of a color. All colors can be described as being light, medium or dark in tone, such as a pale blue sky or a dark blue sea.
CHROMA: refers to a color’s purity or its brightness or dullness of a color. For example, the stronger or brighter a color is, the higher its chroma. Every color can be identified by how bright/intense/saturated it is or how dull/de-saturated/less intense it is. You can alter the chroma of a color by adding white, grey, another color, its color complement or black. Chroma is also called saturation and intensity.
These are also referred to as the HVC system.
The contemporary graphic Munsell developed is represented here. Study it for a moment to notice how the values change from top to bottom and the chroma/saturation changes from left to right.
His original graphic has been modified many times over the years, including ones that are 3-dimensional. When I was first introduced to his system, it took some time and study for me to fully understand the relationship between value and chroma. The tree, as it is sometimes called, helped me to better understand it. Here is a 3-D graphic.
Why is it important to know the three characteristics of every color?
Let’s take a look at two blues, both of which are a green-blue, which is the hue. How would you describe the value of each? And the chroma? If you wanted to mix a dark green, which would you choose? If each is mixed with a green-yellow they result in a bright green, but which will be lighter in value? This is only one example of how these characteristics impact color mixing.
The hue, value and chroma impact the mood of a painting as demonstrated by two of my landscapes. Take a moment to compare them by hue, then by value and finally by chroma. Do this with your paintings. What might you learn about your visual messaging?
As you assess the hue, values and chroma that surround you or that you implement, what might you change or keep the same?
If you found this post helpful, please share it with others.
Gratefully and colorfully yours,
Liz Coyle says
Great post! I especially thought the “tree” of 3-D color graphic helpful!
Carol McIntyre says
Hi Liz! Glad the graphic is helpful. 🙂