5 Fun Exercises to Learn About Color

January 17, 2023

When it comes to color, terms like color theory and color science can sound scary to the DIY designer. But fear not! Over on the Design Pool blog, Kristin Crane outlined five fun ways to play with color. According to Kristin, the only way to learn more about color is through experiencing it and the more you train your eyes, the more effectively you can use and understand color in your day to day life. Check out her article below and then get experimenting!

5 Exercises to Learn About Color 

Original Article By: Kristin Crane on Design Pool 

Make a Color Collection 

This is a fun exercise and requires no tools at all. Pick a color and gather as many examples of that color as you can find. Flip through magazines, walk around your house or go for a walk in your neighborhood with your eyes peeled for that particular color. When you’re done, look at all the different examples of that color you have. Think about how the color you chose interacts with the colors that surround it. If it is used on a product, what kind? In an ad, what is it selling? In a room, how? 

Organize by Color

This is another fun and tool-free exercise. Choose something in your life that needs organizing and organize it by color. If you’re a knitter or a sewer, use your yarn stash or thread spools. Other fun stuff to organize are books on a shelf, spices in your kitchen, or ties in the closet. Start by putting the items in basic groups by color. Then within each color try to break them down even further. For example, with greens, put all the lime greens together and forest greens together. Can you then arrange these items in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple? This will force you to look at the greens and wonder if they’re a little more yellow or a little more blue. Bonus: you just tricked yourself into organizing something!

Make a Color Wheel 

Ok, time to break out the tools. Using whatever medium you are comfortable with, make yourself a color wheel. To make a color wheel, draw a circle and divide that circle into 6 pieces, like a pie. Color each piece one of the colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. Look at your color wheel and label the primary colors: Red, Yellow, Blue. Next label the secondary colors: Orange, Green, Purple. Each color has its complementary color opposite it on the color wheel. Red and green are complements, orange and blue, and yellow and purple. Colors that are next to each other are known as analogous, such as yellow and green. When you’re ready to play with mixing paints, make another color wheel with an extra wedge between each of these colors. Mix your colors to add in red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, green-blue, blue-purple, and purple-red. Now you’re really getting going and already have paint mixed. After your color wheel is made, spend time painting little swatches next to each other. See what the yellow looks like next to the purple, next to the orange. What does the red look like with the blue or with the purple?

Create a Palette Based on Nature 

There is a reason artists and designers are constantly drawn to nature. Nature truly is one of the best places to find gorgeous color combinations. Head out on a walk and start looking for a color combination that speaks to you. Start with something easy like a flower for the first time. If the weather cooperates, bring along a sketchbook and make notes or mix colors right there in nature. If not, take a photo of this piece of inspiration and bring it home with you. Next, try to match the colors in this item. Make a little swatch for the red of the petals, the green of the stem, the yellow of the stamen. Name these colors. These little palettes will yield beautiful little combinations and can be used later in other projects.

Try to Match a Color

This may be the most challenging exercise, but if you’ve done the others, you’ll be ready for it. Get something for a reference that you like and see if you can match that color by mixing your paints. Back in college, we had to do this with a swatch of printed fabric. I’ve heard of other teachers using Starburst candies. Whatever you use, choose something flat, with minimal texture. So, avoid something like a skein of yarn but instead choose a piece of vinyl. Look at that color and think about what other colors went into it to make it. Look at your color wheel and ask yourself: what would be a good starting point? You will learn a lot about color, and your paints, doing this exercise. 

When you take the time to learn about color, you get more comfortable working with it. Like any skill set, the more you learn, practice and train yourself, the more effectively you can use that knowledge in your work.