The Color Wheel

Except for political extremists, most of us don’t live in a black and white world.  But, given more than a rainbow of hues to choose from, how can we pick compatible colors for our home?  That’s what we’re talking about today.

Contemporary color theory was developed by the Swiss artist and designer Johannes Itten while he was teaching at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany.  In his seminal book, The Art of Color, he wrote, “Color is life, for a world without color seems dead. As a flame produces light, light produces color. As intonation lends color to the spoken word, color lends spiritually realized sound to form.”   Itten took the primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (green, yellow and orange) colors and laid them out by how we feel about the colors as a way to find harmony. The image included in this post is a great example.

Colors in harmony create a sense of balance and order.  The idea is to reject either an extreme where everything is so bland as to not even be noticed, or the extreme where everything is competing with each other so if feels like noise.

It’s really pretty simple to do.  There’s at least six ways to use the color wheel, but we’re only going to talk about five of them. Hey, this column has a 600 word limit.

The first is monochromatic.  These color schemes use variations in the hue and saturation of a single color (pale green, light green, green, dark green for example).  Usually, one of these will predominate. Think of the variegation in a plant leaf.  There may be cream colors, deep blue-greens and light greens, but the colors are all next to each other on the color wheel and usually there’s more of one than the others.  This scheme is easy to manage but it lacks the vibrancy of combining different colors.  If you like to keep it simple, a better choice is…

Analogous color schemes using several colors which are next to each other on the color wheel.  For instance, yellow, brown and orange are analogous colors.  Usually, one color will predominate in the scheme and the other used as accents.  It is as easy to manage as the monochromatic scheme but looks a little richer.  It still lacks some of the excitement of contrasting colors, so you may want…

Complementary colors, which are two colors that lie opposite each other on the wheel.  For instance, green and red.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how striking a red flower on a green plant can look.  Think of roses.  Basically, you’re contrasting cool and warm colors and you can desaturate, or lighten, your cool colors to make the warm colors stand out.  For instance, a bright red with a pale green will be more pleasing than a pale red with a bright green.  You can balance three different colors by laying a triangle over the color wheel.  Of course, there’s a name for this, it’s …

Triadic colors, which can bring lots of different color into a room.  Three colors won’t have the contrast of two and it’s usually a good idea to lighten one or more of these three to prevent the room from looking too gaudy.  My favorite, however is…

A split complementary color scheme that picks one color from one side of the wheel and two colors lying next to each other on the other side.  As an example, reds with blue and teal or orange and blue and violet.  It’s usually best to choose one warm color and two cooler colors.  The advantage to this type of scheme is that it combines the idea of contrast and analogous colors into a single set.

You can find more information online at http://www.colormatters.com or stop by my store and we’ll play around with different combinations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *