Color Theory Basics- 2

Here's the second feature of Goethe's color theory basics: Green and magenta don't appear in prismatic blue and red edges, unless the blue and red edge touch each other. Click here for part 1 on how the colored edges appear in the first place.

The left image, is what you see when you look at a thin treebranch through a prisma. Both color-edges touch and reach over the darkness - a magenta lights up.

For green to appear, a very small light spot is needed, closed in by to bigger dark spots.

prisma with magenta

When the dark red and dark violet touch each other, the darker colors are eaten up by the light and magenta appears.

Magenta is the image of: the light of color, overcoming darkness.

prisma-green

Green emerges, when the lightest colors (yellow and turquoise) touch each other: the darkness of color, overcoming light.

The edge-colors in the prisma, the reds and blues, are the colors that picture a 'movement'. And this is also the effect they have on your mood. Reds give you a 'push', blues tend to 'pull back'.

Reds and blues communicate an active process, and that activity is something you can sense when you look at a color. That's why balancing colors is so important in your interior painting design.

Green and magenta both only come when the red and the blue edge touch. Green and magenta appears, where light and darkness regain their balance.

the color circle

Resting colors

Green and magenta make the impression of: stillness, balance. They're not moving, and they don't push and pull at you. They have the same objective quality as black and white. Green and magenta give a solid, calming, light and quiet impression. Combining pinks and greens are great for rooms, especially in places where you need some calmness and serenity.

green-and-magenta

Goethes color theory basics in short:

  • Color is a sensory perception. It's not subjective: it's physical. It can be material (flowers, paint) and immaterial (prismatic colors, sunsets).
  • Colors manifest by the interaction between light and darkness.
  • When the light is active, you see blues.
  • When the darkness is active, you see reds.
  • Where the darkness closes up and prismatic colored edges touch, green becomes manifest.
  • When the darkness is thin, and prismatic colored edges reach over it, magenta becomes manifest.

Contrast and interval

Color theory basics are: understanding how colors manifest through light and darkness. But once colors appear, they start to interact. The color world is a differentiated whole, which is trying to complete itself all the time. When one color appears, it will summon up its opposite by contrast. When two colors are present, they either mix, or create a third color by the law of interval. These are optical phenomena, but they're physical and not subjective. An LCD-screen creates contrasts and intervals, just like our perception does. These phenomena always behave according to physical laws.

Other still colors

Apart from black, white, green and magenta, also 'material' colors (like the colors of wood and metal) give a 'solid' and 'resting' impression. Material colors hardly ever are purely prismatic (except chemically manifactured pigments). Natural colors are blended and mixed and by that, stilled within themselves. Apart from that, material colors communicate to us the idea of solidity and stillness because we know matter is a passive thing.

Pure prismatic colors often are too strong to use in interior painting techniques - that is, in big surfaces. Prismatic colors are immaterial, and your home should be your material basis on earth. But only matter is maybe not enough - it's nice to have some immaterial quality too.

Paint colors

Paint colors usually have a prismatic 'parent' color (called the "hue" of a color). They also contain other colors (black, white, browns), added to make them more material.


In older days, earth pigments were the only cheap pigments around, and they were used a lot in interior painting. That was good for natural harmony too. Nowadays, there are lots of bright, cheap colors too, but they are harder to handle, as they are very 'onesided' in their colors. They're like machines that can make only one poignant sound. Natural colors are different: they have blends, and other colors as upper- and undertones - just like a perfume. Natural pigments are like that.

Cheap house paints have bright, but onesided colors. The danger is, you'll be fed up with them soon. The best thing is, to have blended, toned colors, and use these color theory basics to let their prismatic qualities come out (by contrast and interval. You can make your paint colors more natural by mixing them with earth colors (browns, greys). That goes for oil painting techniques as well.

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