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Colour Theory Basics

We have had a lot of requests and questions about colour so we thought that we would post some information that will help those who are still learning adn even if you know this is is always good to refresh.

I got all this infomation from this website

Have you ever wondered how some artists are able to find perfect colour combinations that just seem to work, every time?

It’s not just art – it’s science.

And in this video and blog post, I’m going to show you how to use the colour wheel and some basic formulas known as “Colour Harmonies” to choose colour combinations that are appealing, cohesive and just look GOOD.

Why are colour harmonies important?

Using colour harmonies, you can evoke certain emotions, create a mood, or add context to an image.

When you don’t use colour harmony, your art can appear bland and boring, or so chaotic that your brain can’t process it properly.

The picture on the left is bland because there isn’t enough variety of colours in the image.

And the picture on the right appears too chaotic because there are too many colours in the image.

Primary, secondary and tertiary colours

So let’s start at the beginning.

You may remember back to school where you learned about primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

We are taught that the primary colours are red, blue and yellow.

When mixed together, these make the secondary colours – green, orange, and purple.

Take it a step further, and you’ll get the tertiary colours – yellow-green, red-orange, and so on.

The primary colours – red, blue and yellow.

The secondary colours – green, orange and purple

The tertiary colours – yellow-green, red-orange and blue-purple.

These make up the traditional colour wheel, that was created by Sir Isaac Newton and helps us to understand how different colours work together.

The traditional colour wheel.

The traditional wheel is no longer the only colour wheel that exists – there are other colour wheels and methods that are used by artists and designers to create a bigger range of colours when mixed together.

These colour wheels are important, and I’ve gone into depth in each of them in my post here, but when it comes to choosing colour combinations, the traditional colour wheel is still our best resource for understanding colour harmony and how colours work together to create beautiful art.

What is the colour wheel made up of?

There are 4 main “qualities” of each colour on our wheel.

The first is the HUE. This is simply the colour position around the wheel – and the brightest, purest version of each colour. Our wheel uses 12 main colours, but we can also work with all of the hues in between.

Second, we have SATURATION. This can also be known as INTENSITY or CHROMA. This tells us how vibrant a colour is. A desaturated colour is greyed out and dull, while a SATURATED colour is vibrant and strong.

Then, we have VALUE. This tells us how dark or light a colour is. We can create SHADES of our colour by adding black, or TINTS of our colour by adding white. We can also add TONE by adding grey.

And finally, we have TEMPERATURE.

The colour wheel can be split into 2 main groups – warm colours and cool colours.

But individual colours can also change in temperature as we move around our wheel. A warm red includes more yellow, and a cool red includes more blue.

The colours on the left-hand side of the wheel are described as ‘warm’ colours, and the colours on the right-hand side as ‘cool’.

A ‘warm’ red includes more yellow, whereas a ‘cool’ red includes more blue.

When we combine HUE, SATURATION, VALUE and TEMPERATURE, we find ourselves with a myriad of variations of each of our 12 main colours.

How do we use colour harmonies?

So how do we use all these colours together?

We can use our 12 basic hues on the colour wheel along with some easy-to-use formulas to create an endless collection of colour combinations that look balanced, appealing, and just ‘work’.

These formulas are known as ‘colour harmonies’.

Monochromatic Colour Scheme

The first and easiest is a MONOCHROMATIC colour harmony. This takes just one base colour (or hue) from our wheel and uses different shades, tones or tints to create a group of colours. It’s one of the easiest colour harmonies to create and looks simple, cohesive and organized.

Complementary Colour Scheme

A COMPLEMENTARY colour scheme takes 2 colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel, such as red and green or blue and orange. This type of colour scheme is great for creating strong contrast in your image.

Split Complementary Colour Scheme

A SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY colour scheme is similar to a complementary colour scheme, except one of the colours is split into two nearby colours.

This keeps the high contrast of the complementary colour scheme, but also adds more variety.

Triadic Colour Scheme

A TRIADIC colour scheme uses 3 colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel like a triangle. These colour combinations are often bold and vibrant.

Tetradic Colour Scheme

TETRADIC colours are 4 colours in a rectangle shape- made up of 2 sets of complementary colours together as one palette. These palettes work best when you focus on one main colour and use the other colours as contrasting accents.

Analogous Colour Scheme

An ANALOGOUS colour scheme uses 2-4 colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. This is one of the simplest and most appealing colour harmonies, and works best if you choose one dominant colour and use the other colours as accents.

Tips for using colour harmonies effectively

These different colour harmonies are a great guide to create colours that work well together. You can create more variety by changing the shades, tones and tints within each colour palette, giving you endless ways to mix and match colours that look great.

This can all be a bit overwhelming – but don’t worry, after you’ve started applying these methods, you’ll start to pick up an intuition and confidence for which colours work well together, and which colours don’t.

Here are some general tips to help you:

Tip 1: Pick one dominant colour

Whichever colour harmony you choose, using ONE dominant colour will create a sense of balance in your design. You can choose one main colour and use the rules of colour harmonies to find other colours that work as accents or smaller details in your design.

Tip 2: Use just a few colours

Simple is best. Adding too many colours in your design can quickly become overwhelming or chaotic to the viewer. Choosing just a few colours and applying these colour rules can create art that is bold, simple, and yet still interesting.

Tip 3: Use colour palettes for inspiration

Learning the rules of colour theory can help you know what works well together, but it doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch every time.

You can find colour palettes like those I’ve included in the Colour Catalog, that are inspired by nature or existing designs and naturally incorporate colours that look good together.

I hope this will help all you colour mixer out there with your soaps and bath bombs.


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