With colors you can set a mood, attract attention, or make a statement. There is psychology behind colors—they tell stories. By selecting the right color scheme, you can create an ambiance of elegance, warmth or tranquility, or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness.
As a make-up artist, you are working with products, tools, colors, textures, shapes, and human faces (bone structure) all the time. Because you are an artist, you must have a good sense in coloring, so you can color match correctly & create the best color selection/scheme for your clients.
In this beauty blog post, you will learn some basics in color theory through the study of color wheel, to understand how colors can work effectively on your application as a make-up artist, and my make-up artist pro tips on how you can make the theory work effectively into the application.
The topics includes:
- Color Theory
- The Color Wheel: Primary, Secondary (or Intermediate), Tertiary
- Warm & Cool Colors
- Skin Colors (with Face Shade Finding Guide)
- Skin Tones: Cool, Warm, Neutral
- Analogous (Adjacent) Colors
- Complimentary Colors (with How to Use Color Correctors Guide)
- Neutral Colors: Black, White, Brown, Beige, Ivory & Cream (with Eye Brow Color Matching Chart)
- Monochromatic Colors
- Other Colors Terminology: Hue, Tint, Shade, Tone, Value, Intensity (Saturation)
- Quick Color Reference Guide
Color is the perceptual characteristic of light described by a color name. Specifically, color is light, and light is composed of many colors—those we see are the colors of the visual spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Objects absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others back to the viewer. We perceive these reflected wavelengths as color.
Color theory: in the visual arts is practical guidance to color mixing and the visual impacts of color combinations. A make-up artist should understand the Basics of Color Theory in order to know how colors work with each other, and how one color will influence another by placing it next to, or on top of each other, or even how the color will result in when you mix them together.
As a make-up artist, you will always have clients ask you: “What colors look best on me?” or “How do I find the best foundation shade?” You know the answer will be different on each individual because each of us is unique in our own way, and we create the best color scheme to compliment, coordinate or match the desired look. Thus, you must have an understand about basic color theory in order to make a good judgement call on the colors for you & your clients.
Make-up Artist vs. Make-up Applicator
By understanding color theory and knowing how to apply the theory onto human facial canvas effectively, will set you apart from being just a make-up applicator!
The Color Wheel
To help us understand the basics of color theory, we need a color wheel. Color Wheel is a visual aid in helping us understand the principles of color and the color theory.
The color wheel is divided into three categories: Primary, Secondary (or Intermediate), and Tertiary.
- Primary: the three primary colors are: red, yellow and blue. These colors are considered to be foundation colors because they are used to create all other colors.
- Secondary (or Intermediate): by combining two of the primary colors, three secondary colors are formed. For example, when you mix red with yellow, you will get an orange color. The Secondary colors are: orange, green and violet.
- Tertiary: the six tertiary colors are made by combining a primary and an adjacent secondary color. These colors are: yellow – orange, orange – red, red – violet, violet – blue, blue – green, and green – yellow.
Warm & Cool Colors
The color wheel can be divided into warm and cool colors. By understanding the differences of warm & cool colors, it will help you better in foundation & concealer color matching on different color skin tones.
- Warm colors are bright, passionate and energetic, and tend to be eye-popping colors. Warm colors include: red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors.
- In make-up artistry, reds can be both cool and warm. If the red is blue based (a red with purple or blue undertone), it is cool. If the red is orange based, it is warm.
- Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. Cool colors include: violet, blue, and green.
- In make-up artistry, the same theory applies with the color green. If a green has more gold/yellow undertone, then it is warm. If a green contains more blue undertone, then it is cool. Whenever most colors have a blue undertone, they will always be a cool color.
- Fair Skin–Light Ivory, Porcelain, Sand, Pale Peach Pink or slightly reddish (rosy) undertones
- Medium Skin–Yellow, Gold, Beige, Natural, Red-Olive, Yellow-Green
- Medium-Dark Skin–Honey, Cameo, Copper, Olive, Tan, Golden-Olive, Caramel
- Dark Skin–Orange-Brown, Red-Brown, Walnut, Almond, Blue-Black, Ebony, Dark Chocolate
- Cool Skintone – the skin has a little pink (rosiness) in their skin. They tend to burn easily under the sun. People who look good in silver jewelry & accessories. When they wearing a cool undertone red lipstick, they look brightened up. Most of the time, their veins are in blue color (take a look at the wrist under natural light).
- Warm Skinton – the skin has a yellow undertone or golden-olive undertone. They tend to tan easily under the sun. People who look awesome in gold jewelry & accessories than silver. When they wearing a warm (orange) undertone red lipstick, they look brightened up. Most of the time, their veins are in green color (take a look at your wrist under natural light).
- Neutral Skintone–the skin has both pink and golden undertone. They look good in both gold or silver jewelry. Most of the time, their vain is in both blue-green color.
Analogous (or Adjacent) Colors are created by using three (or more) colors that are next to each (side-by-side colors) on the color wheel.
Tommy’s Make-up Artist Tips on Analogous Color:
By grouping analogous colors, it helps to create a better color blending effect, and it tends set a stronger mood. For example, to create that sexy & romantic feeling of eye make-up design (eg. boudoir eye palette as seen in the image above), by grouping the cool colors (plum, pink, mauve, plus some neutral colors) together, you can easily achieve that romantic bedroom color scheme for the desired boudoir eye makeup look.
Complementary color schemes are created by combining colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. They bring out each other, they make a visual contrast, thus both colors appear stronger against each other.
Tommy’s Make-up Artist Tips on Complementary Color:
If someone has blue eyes, by using gold/bright yellow eye shadow colors on that person, it will amplify the blueness of her eyes; in other words, the gold eye shadow colors will make her blue eyes stand out more than any other colors!
Make-up Artist Tips on Complementary Color:
This color theory also applies by wearing a mossy green color eye shadow, and a bright red lipstick. The result of that complimentary color scheme can look nothing but strikingly beautiful.
Tommy’s Make-up Artist Tips on Concealer & Color Correcting:
When you mix complimentary colors together (eg. mix red and green), they will combine to produce a neutral gray. It doesn’t mean you want to produce gray color on your face, it just means you will use other color(s) to get rid of (or cancel out) the color you do not like on your skin.
This theory is widely used for color correcting on the face and under eye concealing. For the face, many people like to use color correctors (similar to using shading & high lighting technique), CC Cream (color control cream) or with colored face primers to color correct.
Personally, I think it’s best applied for Under-Eye Concealer Application—if someone has a purple under-eye that you want to conceal, for the best result, use a concealer with yellow undertone, OR use a yellow color corrector to neutralize the purple under-eye first, then use a concealer on top to match the person’s natural skintone.
The same theory works for people who have lots of dark blue under-eye color (which is often found in darker, brownish skintone), it is best to use an orange color corrector (or a mix of orange & ocher colors) first to neutralize the dark blue under-eye, then use a concealer on top to match the person’s natural skintone.
Using color correcting in the under-eye area effectively with the proper method & color, it will bring a nice radiant & lifting effect on the make-up look!
In color theory, a neutral color that is neither warm nor cool. Neutral colors are classy, sophisticated, and extremely wearable. They’re commonly worn on its own, or combined with brighter accent colors–they can easily be matched with every color. The meanings and impressions of neutral colors are much more affected by the colors that surround them than are warm and cool colors.
- Black is the strongest of the neutral colors. On the positive side, it’s commonly associated with power, elegance, and formality. On the negative side, it can be associated with evil, death, and mystery.
- White is at the opposite end of the spectrum from black, but like black, it can work well with just about any other color. White is often associated with purity, cleanliness, and virtue. In the West, white is commonly worn by brides on their wedding day. White is associated with goodness, and angels are often depicted in white.
- Brown is associated with the earth, wood, and stone. It’s a completely natural color and a warm neutral. Brown can be associated with dependability and reliability, with steadfastness, and with earthiness. It can also be considered dull.
- Beige is somewhat unique in the color spectrum, as it can take on cool or warm tones depending on the colors surrounding it. It has the warmth of brown and the coolness of white, and, like brown, is sometimes seen as dull. It’s a conservative color in most instances, and is usually reserved for backgrounds. It can also symbolize piety.
- Ivory and Cream are sophisticated colors, with some of the warmth of brown and a lot of the coolness of white. They’re generally quiet, and can often evoke a sense of history. Ivory is a calm color, with some of the pureness associated with white, though it’s a bit warmer.
You will be surprised that the most universal colors that work for all skin tones are actually the taupe / earthy tone colors. Why? Because “the meanings and impressions of neutral colors are much more affected by the colors that surround them than are warm and cool colors”.
Thus, you will find almost every make-up artist has a neutral color eye shadow palette which contains multiple shades of white, taupe, beige, brown, grey and black colors all in one palette. They are the mostly used colors, and they tend to create the most wearable make-up that suits with all skin tone/colors.
Tommy’s Make-up Artist Tips on Neutral Colors:
Nude & Neutral colors are eternal fashion staples that simply never go out of trend.
By having a palette of neutral colors as show above, you can easily achieve many Prime Looks (beauty make-up looks that is for everyday wear), as well, you can use the eye shadow colors to create eye liners or fill-in the eye brows to achieve a natural look.
For your references, here is a guide in helping you on how to choose the right Eye Brow Colors that Match the Hair Color accordingly:
Monochromatic color schemes are made up of different tones, shades and tints within one hue. For example, a monochromatic scheme of the color blue would be the Blue Color Family ranging from the lightest sky blue, to a medium shade of ocean blue, to the darkest navy blue.
These are the simplest color schemes to create, as they’re all taken from the same hue.
Similar to the neutral colors we talked about earlier, we find in the cosmetics industry that the neural colors are the most universal colors make-up artists use for everyday on everyone; in addition, different shades of browns and grays in the monochromatic colors are often created in a variety of texture (matte, shimmer, velvet, cream) to produce a handy eye shadow palette for make-up artists to use.
A beautiful face make-up can be achieved by using the monochromatic shades in: foundation, eye brows, eye shadow, blush, contour & highlight, and lip colors! A nude make-up look is often a good example of a monochromatic scheme–easy to create in terms of choosing colors to blend, and the effect is very pretty & classy.
Monochromatic colors are also often found in bridal make-up because it blends beautifully on different shades of one color family. If you are interested in this particular topic, please visit my other beauty blog on Beautiful Wedding Make-up Looks & Colour Scheme, you will see beautiful five color schemes I created for the topic of bridal beauty make-up.
Other Colors Terminology
Hue: the true color of primary colors mixed together, as well as the secondary and tertiary colors mixed together. These colors are basic and intense. Once you have the basic colors, you can adjust them by adding white or black or gray, changing the brightness and density of the colors. This is how you get pastel and muted colors.
Tint: made by adding white to a pure hue. So if you have an intense purple and add white, you’ll get lavender. If you have a bright orange-red and add white, you’ll get a warm orangey-coral.
Shade: made by adding black to a pure hue. If you have a bright red, and add a touch of black to it, you’ll get a deeper, richer red.
Tone: made by adding gray to a pure hue. Gray is a result of mixing complimentary colors together.
Value: the lightness or darkness of a color, as if on a scale from black to white. For instance, navy is a dark value of blue.
Intensity: (or saturation) is the brightness of a color, or put another way, it’s the force of the color. For example, a full force red or a full intensity red is hard to live with.
Quick Color Reference Guide
A reference guide for the common meanings & psychological reactions to colors:
- Red: Passion, Love, Anger, Power, Sexy
- Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality, Halloween
- Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Bright, Summer
- Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature, Growing
- Blue: Calm, Responsible, Sadness/Depression, Winter
- Pink: Sweet, Lovely, First Love, Flowers
- Purple: Creativity, Royalty, Wealth, Romance
- Black: Mystery, Elegance, Evil
- Gray: Moody, Conservative, Formality, Dull
- White: Purity, Cleanliness, Virtue, Light, Snow
- Brown: Nature, Wholesomeness, Dependability, Autumn
- Tan or Beige: Conservative, Piety, Dull
- Cream or Ivory: Calm, Elegant, Purity
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