Artwork by Monica Gunderson

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Using Color Harmony in Artwork

October 21, 2015 at 10:26 PM

Using Color Harmony in Artwork

Color harmony is the theory of combining colors that complement each other in such a way that is aesthetically pleasing or when the colors visually work well with each other. When used correctly, certain color combinations can create a sense of mood, behavior, or outlook which can enrich an artistic creation. Most importantly, color harmony brings the artwork together as a whole being pleasing to the eye and grasping attention.  


Color Wheel


Before we begin, let's recap the color wheel. There are the primary colors of blue, red, and yellow, which are colors that cannot be made from any other color. The primary colors are the building blocks for creating secondary colors of green, purple, and orange. From there, primary and secondary colors can be mixed together to make tertiary colors of amber (yellow-orange), chartreuse (yellow-green), magenta (red-purple), teal (blue-green), vermilion (red-orange),  and violet (blue purple).  Now that we have the basics of the color wheel, let's move forward on how to effectively combine these colors to create an artwork that "pops" or stands out. If used correctly, the use of proper color harmony can create a magnificent piece of art, making it stand out and a sense of balance. If used incorrectly, it can cause an artwork to seem chaotic, bland, and unengaging. Art is all about engaging the audience, one does not want a viewer of the arts to become board or confused. As an artist, using the right balance or harmony of color is very important to keep people interested and wanting more.


Complementary Color Scheme


Complementary Color Scheme

When looking at the color wheel, two colors that are shown directly opposite of each other are "complementary colors".  An example of complementary colors is blue and orange.  Complementary colors make the subject vibrant and bright or stand out in an artwork, but must be used carefully to not over stimulate.  Complementary color combinations can be seen in a lot of impressionists' artwork, especially the use of the complementary colors of blue and orange. Impressionists would see that light played a big part in color. For example, a shadow was not just a neutral tone of gray, but a mix of complementary color which light projects. Therefore yellow sunlight would project a violet shadow. Artists such as Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Paul Renoir, and Vincent van Gogh.


Split Complementary Color Scheme


Split Complementary Color Scheme

Instead of looking at the two colors directly across from each other, split complementary is the combination of the two colors that are beside the complementary color of the base color. Looking at the color wheel, split complimentary colors could be the use of yellow (base color), magenta and violet. The use of split complementary color scheme still have a strong contrast similar to complementary colors, but is less extreme resulting in a more harmonious use of color in an artwork.


Triadic Complementary Color Scheme


Triadic Complementary Color Scheme

Triadic complementary colors are the use of colors that are evenly spaced apart from each other on the color wheel.  When the three colors are chosen, a triangle of equal sides can be visualized on the color wheel. An example of a triadic color scheme is yellow, blue, and red.  This color scheme provides a strong visual contrast but retains balance and harmony. The best way to use triadic complementary colors is to have one of the three colors to dominate the other two, and use the other two colors sparingly throughout the artwork.


Analogous Complementary Color Scheme


Analogous Complementary Color Scheme

Analogous or related complementary colors are the two to four colors that line up against each other such as yellow, amber, and orange.  The use of analogous color scheme can create a sense of temperature and is most often seen in nature. For example, a painting of a cold winter day is going to use the analogous colors of blue, violet, and purple, while a warm summer day painting will be based off the analogous colors of yellow, yellow-orange, and orange. While the blues, purples and violets create a sense of a cold crisp environment, the colors of yellow, yellow-orange, and orange depicts a warming effect. If used correctly, analogous complementary color scheme can create a feeling of warmth or cold, cool and crisp providing a viewer of not only a harmonically colorful artwork, but a sense of feeling and mood.


Rectangle Tetradic Complementary Color Scheme


Rectangle Tetradic Complementary Color Scheme

The rectangle tetradic complementary colors are a group of four colors that form a rectangle on a color wheel.  For example, these complementary colors could be red, purple, green, and yellow.  When looking at the color wheel, these colors would visually create a rectangle. To use this color combination effectively, use one of the colors as a dominate hue while the other colors sparingly throughout the artwork. When using the tetradic color scheme, it can balance warm and cool colors, but can also be one of the most difficult color schemes to incorporate in an artwork.


Double Complementary Color Scheme


Double Complementary Color Scheme

Very similar to the rectangle tetradic complementary color scheme is the double color complementary scheme or square tetradic complementary. The square tetrad is the use of four colors that are equally spaced on a color wheel and visually forms a square. An example of a double complementary color scheme would be purple, teal (blue-green), vermilion (red-orange) and yellow. As with the rectangle triadic complementary color scheme, when using the double complementary color scheme a dominant color should be used while the other three colors should be used moderately.



Tags: acrylic painting Art art techniques How To Musings of an Artist
Category: How To

Using Color Harmony in Artwork

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