Good afternoon, Niki, let’s talk colour. I have broken the 4th lesson into 2 parts: the theory [ Lesson 4 ] and the real use of colour [Lesson 5].
There is a helpful tool called a Colour Wheel. I did not include it in the list of tools in Lesson 2 because it is not necessary to have one to understand colour theory. It is very useful when designing something and colour seems to be an obstacle: kind of like writer’s block but with colours. If you go further in design, you may want to purchase one.
Pure colour is called a Hue. When a prism is held up to the light it refracts a ray of sunshine into the colours of the spectrum: the Hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, dark blue, violet. Colour comes from sunshine. A single white ray of light is broken into many different colours so it would make sense that when you add all those colours together you should get the original white. Instead, you get the colour of mud.
The 3 primary Hues are red, yellow, and blue. Some artists add green as a primary colour. They are primary because they turn into other Hues when added together – for example, red and yellow make orange, red and blue make violet, and blue and yellow make green.
The Secondary Hues are those that occur when 2 primaries are mixed together. All the variety of colour depends on how much of one Hue is used to make another colour. If yellow and red make orange, then more yellow and less red will make the Hue yellow-orange. If blue and red combine, the colour is violet: when more red than blue is mixed together the resulting Hue is maroon.
A Tertiary colour is that which is made when 2 Hues next to each other are added together: a Primary Hue and a Secondary Hue. An example of this would be mixing primary red and primary yellow to get a Secondary Hue orange which, when mixed with Primary red makes the Tertiary red-orange. Another example might be mixing Primary Yellow with Primary Blue to get Secondary green. Secondary green and Primary blue join to make Tertiary blue-green.
So far we have been mixing Hues. Let’s talk about putting 2 Hues side by side without mixing them together.; now we are talking about Complementary Colour Harmony. If you choose the Hue ‘red’ and want to pair it with another Hue, choose ‘green’ which is directly across the colour wheel from red. That is a Direct Harmony. Each Hue will intensify the impact of its Direct Harmony: green will look greener and red will look redder when paired together.
A Split Harmony occurs when choosing, for example, ‘red’ as the start point, and adding yellow-green and blue-green. The yellow-green and blue-green are on either side of the Hue ‘green’. A Split Harmony is made.
A Triad Harmony occurs when ‘red’ is joined by ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’; the other primary colours.
There are cool colours: violet, blue, blue-green and green. And there are warm colours: red, orange, yellow and yellow-green. As well, each Hue can be both cool and warm. For example, blue on the Colour Wheel is cool but that side of the blue which is closer to the red on the Wheel is considered a warm blue while the side of the blue closest to green is considered a cool blue. Using red as the main colour, the red closest to blue is a cool red and the red closest to yellow is a warm red.
Harmony means agreement; a happy balance. If you choose only cool colours the work can appear cold and out of balance. But if you choose a balance of cool and warm colours, then the work ‘works’. Choose a warm red and a cool green and the piece will be a Direct Harmony that is in balance.
Analogous Harmony is any series of Hues that are beside one another: putting red-violet, violet , blue-violet, blue into your work would be one Analogous Colour Scheme. Red, red-orange, orange, and yellow organge is another Analogous Colour Scheme.
Finally, for this chapter on colour, we add black and white to any Hue. If white is added to a Hue, the new colour is called a Tint. Adding black to the same pure red Hue results in a Tone. For example, pink is adding white to red and is a red Tint. Maroon is made by adding black to red and is a red Tone.
When you can’t figure out what colour to use, retreat to your colour wheel and start with the basics of colour theory to jumpstart your design.
Copyright ©2008 Helene Turnbull. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without written permission of the author.
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