Coming to Terms: Color & Hue

Coming to Terms: Color & Hue


Many of us love to “geek out’ on color…whether it be with tools, materials or terms.  There isn’t always agreement about what each term actually means, and some of them seem to overlap.  Maybe some color terms cannot be neatly tied up in one definition…


Let’s perceive this post as an exploration, an investigation, and a drilling down into some of the color terms we use every day..or, well…often…without perhaps knowing exactly what they mean.  That concept of “exactitude”…might be a little hard to come by, when attempting to define these terms. Perception…that’s the ticket!  We’re going to take this slowly, step-by-step, working (and playing) through the terms, like Noah’s Ark, two by two, starting at the beginning, with Color &  Hue.

What is color? This is one of the best definitions I found:

  1. That aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them, definable in terms of the observer or of the light, as:
    1. The appearance of objects or light sources described in terms of the individual’s perception of them, involving hue, lightness, and saturation for objects and hue, brightness, and saturation for light sources.
    2. The characteristics of light by which the individual is made aware of objects or light sources through the receptors of the eye, described in terms of dominant wavelength, luminance, and purity. (


    In other words: the composition of the light itself, the way the object receiving the light reflects it, and the way our eyes perceive that reflected light.  In other words, in terms of material objects, color isn’t really there…it is an effect of light…how we perceive it.  There is science, physics and optics behind this…but in essence, you might say that color is in the eye of the beholder…


Sometimes color and hue are used interchangeably, but they are not the same.  Hue is an aspect, attribute, or property of color, along with colorfulness, chroma, saturation, lightness, and brightness, (to be explored in  subsequent posts.)


I have often defined hue as “the color of a color”.  hue refers to the variety of colors, or, effects of light, that we see, caused by different wavelengths of light. As regards to paint color, the term “hue” refers to a “pure” colors, colors without black or white pigment added, which comprise the color wheel.

WEBcThe color of a color.

The term Hue then, is what allows us to perceive different colors. If color is the overall phenomenon, then hue is its  particulars and specifics. Hue is how color plays out in our brains, through our seeing mechanisms, and thus gives us the richness and range of the color pantheon. It is “the attribute of colors that permits them to be classed as red, yellow, green, blue, or an intermediate between any contiguous pair of these colors….”.  A classification system, allowing colors to be identified and named.

Delving into these terms…becomes more complex then you might think…er then “hue” might think? (!).

Here’s to You…and to Hue, and to coming to terms with Color!

Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm  Comments (6)  
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Channeling Faber Birren

Channeling Faber Birren

Color expert Faber Birren was “a color consultant who read and analyzed tastes in the hues deemed most suitable for one’s surroundings”, as stated by his 1988 New York Times obituary. “Mr. Birren firmly believed in the therapeutic effects of bright colors on the mentally troubled. He also stressed that taste in colors, although occurring in fashionable cycles, was highly personal, with no two people responding the same way.”

Stumbling upon a nifty little book of Mr. Birren’s titled aptly, “Principals of Color“, I delved into the intricacies of tint, tone and shade.

Thinking I already knew quite a bit about what these terms meant, I was  intrigued to find that according to Birren, I still had  a way to go.

Birren divides up “color” into  three “forms”:  Hue (pure color), White, and Black.  True, I thought.  The combinations of these (and there are only four) create four secondary “forms”.  White +  Black = Gray.  Hue +  White = Tint.  Hue + Black =  Shade.  Hue + Black +White = Tone.

Wow, thought I…so true.  I had never considered it that way before. So caught up in the doing, the creating, mixing, playing with and achieving of colors…I had not deeply, deeply yet considered, the seven forms: Hue, White,  Black, Tint, Tone, Shade, Gray.

Apparently, as well, our eyes and brains will sort out, or simplify the huge range of existing color, IE, color wavelengths, (color is an effect of light wavelengths ) into a relative few.

In the words of Faber Birren, “It is thus philosophic, if not scientific, to conclude that the human sense of color doesn’t want to be bothered with the details.”    How human indeed!

It seems that we are actually, “dumbing down” the spectrum of colors that actually exist!

My colleague and associate, Rebecca E. Parsons of Cre8tive Compass Magazine, and Artistically Speaking Talk Show fame, shared a most fascinating story the last time we spoke on her blog talk radio show when I visited as the “Color Muze”.

She recounted that during a summer storm, an electrical storm, I believe, she looked up in the sky, and saw a color that she had never seen before.  No, not a permutation of red, blue, yellow, green, purple or orange. Not a black, or a white.

A TOTALLY DIFFERENT color that she had ever perceived, or laid eyes upon before…the closest she could get to describing it was that it might be said to be a “cooler” color.


I have tried to research such a phenomenon,  but so far, have not come up with any information on spectral colors that most or all of us normally cannot see, but, that some can, or colors that can be seen only at certain times, and under certain conditions.

It just blows the mind!

I wonder what Faber Birren would have to say about such an experience?

Maybe, as I plough through research or stumble again upon information that might illuminate this mystery, I may find out!

Until then, I will have to live with its shadow of the mystery…or possibly, its light!

Have any of YOU ever heard about, or experienced such a thing?   Seeing “beyond”  the  color spectrum that most of us normally see within?

If so, please share about it with us here.

We Love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all coloring our way through this thing called Life, together.