Monday, June 23, 2008

Color Theory: Q & A Part 5 - Color Wheel

This is a continuation of the Color Theory: Q & A generated by my first Color Theory post.
Q: Does Munsell's hue circle differ from the standard artist's color wheel we all grew up with?
A: Yes, because Albert Munsell chose ten basic hue families instead of the twelve often used on artist's color wheels.

A standard artist's color wheel, like the one shown in the first picture, has twelve colors around the outside. The twelve colors are the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow (which colors are primary colors is a whole different question), the secondary colors created by mixing the primary colors, orange, green, and violet, and the tertiary colors created by mixing adjacent primary and secondary colors, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

Munsell based his color system on ten basic hue families, rather than twelve, so that the hues could be further separated into decimals. This system can thereby account for small variations in hue. Also, this allows the system to be extendable to accommodate newly discovered pigments. Each hue family is subdivided into ten more hue families, with the number 5 designating the central hue, or most "true" representation of that hue family, and the number 10 designating the hue family halfway between two adjacent "true" hues. So 5BG is "true" blue-green and 10BG is halfway between "true" blue-green and "true" blue. A hue might even have a designation of 7.3BG
This division into ten rather than twelve basic hue families has some repercussions. First, the ten basic hue families are different from the hues represented on the traditional artist's color wheel. There are five major hue families, red, yellow, green, blue, and purple, and five minor hue families, yellow-red (a.k.a. orange), green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue, and red-purple. Additionally, Munsell's 5R is more blue than the red on most color wheels. Munsell's 5B is more green than the blue on most color wheels. Perhaps the most radical notion for people raised on the artist's color wheel is that on Munsell's hue circle, 5R is opposite 5BG, which sets different compliments than most color wheels, where red is opposite green.

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