Do you know what colour relationships are? What about colour temperature? Do you know how they make colour harmony? What are cool colours, and what are warm colours?
We hope this post can help.
Needing help with colour relationships and colour harmony
Sometimes you feel like you need to do a degree in colour to learn how to apply it. In my art and craft journey my biggest problem was the application of colour. I was doing well until I had to apply colour – black and white drawings were going along well – but once I had to think about colour – it all fell apart.
Then I had to learn about colour. It took me a long time, and I don’t want you to have to spend months or years trying to figure out what colour harmony is and how to use it. You want to spend your time doing art and craft – you’ve waited long enough to get to it.
This is where colour theory, or as I prefer to call it – colour harmony comes in. Yes – it’s theory, but if it doesn’t look good – then it’s not harmonious. I want you to see harmony in your work, without having to spend a lot of time on it.
Yet this problem is not just something that I experienced. It is something that I see at craft shows, fetes and in online stores – items that are made with great technical yet are less attractive because of the application of colour.
Let’s see how we can help.
Let’s find colour harmony quicker
You can save time in your colour choices. We have done the hard yards and created a colour reference where you can see 91 colour sub-relationships, 91 colour harmonies, and 960 colour combinations. You can find out more information about the ‘Choose Colour’ pdf here.
This post takes you on a trip around a Red Yellow Blue colour wheel. After reading this post, you will have a better understanding of colour relationships, colour temperature, and colour harmony.
These colour harmonies will relate to everything in your art and craft stash that has colour. This can be anything – sewing, painting, drawing, anything.
However, please note that this is how I view colour. However, you may view colour, and colour combinations differently. You can read this disclaimer on my colour analysis.
Learning the hard way
What is the history of colour theory, colour relationships, colour harmony, and colour temperature? You know – I don’t know.
Are you like me in that you don’t need to know why – you just need to know how?
OK. If you need to know why, you can learn about colour theory, from a range of sources. There are books and online courses about colour theory. If you want to find lots of information about colour in one place, this post from a U.S. university has many links to articles and resources about colour.
This post is about how.
Some colour technicals
Using a Red Yellow Blue colour wheel
On my art and craft journey, I needed to learn about colour in my drawing media. So after organising my art and craft supplies, I created many Red Yellow Blue colour wheels for many of the drawing mediums in my stash.
You can also create your own colour wheels, and see how I did it.
Being a beginner, I needed to understand the placement of colour around a Red Yellow Blue colour wheel. I understood that there are 12 main colour families on a Red Yellow Blue colour wheel. This is the same as a clock face. From this, I then was able to view colour as I would look at a clock.
For example, green is at 6.00 o’clock, and blue is at 8.00 o’clock. Because of its position on the colour wheel clock – the colour that is a mix of green and blue, I refer to as green-blue. This is because green comes before blue on a clock. Or rather, 6.00 o’clock is before 7.00 o’clock. This is a different view to a traditional reference of this colour being known as blue-green, as blue is a primary colour (while green is a secondary colour) and therefore is the first name in this colour mix.
Colour Wheel Clock
This colour wheel follows a clock format with the 12.00 o’clock position being red, the 6.00 o’clock position is green, etc. The image below shows the colour wheel in the clock positions.
Needing help with colour temperature
Before we can move on to looking at colour relationships, we need to see the temperature of colour. We will follow a colour wheel that uses clock positions in this chart. Clockwise on the chart we will view the colours as warm or cool. A warm colour is one that appears to move towards you as a viewer, and a cool colour moves to the background as it is viewed. An example here is the yellow and violet complementary colour relationship.
These colour temperatures are important for you as you create your artwork. Do you want a warm scene? Use more warm colours to dominate your drawing. Do you want a cool scene? Use more cool colours to dominate your drawing.
Which colours have warm or cool temperatures?
So, which colours on the colour wheel are warm and which are cool? There are many views on what are warm and cool colours. Some say that warm colours start with the inclusion of red in the colour. There are others that note that each colour has a warm or cool colour – say warm red and cool red.
Colour temperature is subjective for both artists and viewers. It’s a complex subject. You can read Draw Paint Academy’s post about colour temperature for some more information.
How this post will view colour temperature
In doing my artwork, I found that colour temperature could also be visualised on the colour wheel clock. For example, one side of the clock contains warm colours, and the other side contains cool colours.
In this case then, the warm colours sit with red at the 12.00 o’clock position and finish with yellow-green at 5.00 o’clock.
Consequently, the cool colours are from the 6.00 o’clock to 11.00 o’clock positions on the colour wheel.
Tints, tones, and shades
The next item to note is that colour is not just a hue (i.e. the colour and its saturation), but rather that other colour can be added to create other versions of the same colour. These are tints, tones, and shades. Tints are created by adding white, tones are created by adding grey and shades are created by adding black. So, when we speak about colour on the colour wheel, these colour wheel families all include hue, tints, tones, and shades of the colour.
10 main colour relationships
These main colour relationships are:
- Split Complementary;
- A. Double Split Complementary, and B. Tetrad Rectangle;
- Tetrad Square;
- Analoguous 2;
- Analoguous 3;
- Analoguous 4; and
- Analoguous 5.
Let’s talk about each of these colour relationships individually.
You can also see our post which provides an overview of these 10 main colour relationships.
Monochromatic is the tints, tones and shades that belong to one colour wheel colour family. Below is an example of a monochromatic colour relationship shown on a Red Yellow Blue colour wheel.
Green-blue is made up of yellow and blue. This colour then changes when white, black, and grey are added – making the colour tints, tones, and shades.
In effect, all these tints, tones and shades of green-blue should go together, along with the intensity, hue, and values of the colour green-blue.
Here is an example of a monochromatic colour relationship that shows some Caran d’Ache Luminance green-blue colour family pencils.
The second colour relationship we will look at is the complementary colour relationship. These colours sit opposite each other on the colour wheel. This is important as one colour is always cool, and the other is always warm.
See here an example of the complementary colour relationship.
When seen together, two complementary colours are far from harmonious. They are jarring and loud. When mixed, they create muddy colours, or rather, tone each other down. One of the best ways to show complementary colours is to have a dominant colour of one of the complements, and a minor colour of its complementary colour. These minor colours pop or attract attention against the dominant complementary colour.
What are the six complementary colour sub-relationships?
The six complementary colour relationships on the colour wheel are:
- Red and green;
- Red-orange and green-blue,
- Orange and blue;
- Orange-Yellow and violet-blue;
- Yellow and violet; and
- Yellow-green and violet-red.
See this example of orange and blue. It also shows how colour temperature affects images. In the image below, you can see how the warm orange stands out against the cool blue. Therefore, the image below shows colour harmony.
When would you use complementary colours? Any time you want to make something pop (place side by side), or by mixing to tone down each colour. Complementary colours are great to use to show shade in a drawing or picture.
The split complement of colours is ‘Y’ shaped as it moves around the colour wheel.
This relationship takes the complement colours and rather than looking at the colour opposite another on the colour wheel, it looks at the colours on both sides of one of the complementary colour. This is illustrated on the colour wheel as shown below.
What are the split complementary colour sub-relationships?
The twelve split complement colour relationships are:
- Red, yellow-green, green-blue;
- Red-orange, green, blue;
- Orange, green-blue, blue-violet
- Orange-yellow, blue, violet
- Yellow, blue-violet, violet-red;
- Yellow-green, violet, red;
- Green, violet-red, red-orange
- Green-blue, red, orange;
- Blue, red-orange, orange-yellow;
- Blue-violet, orange, yellow
- Violet, orange-yellow, yellow-green;
- Violet-red, yellow, green.
When would you use a split complement colour relationship? Note that with this colour combination, there will be either two warm (or two cool) colours, and one cool (or warm) colour. Where you wanted to have a mainly warm image, with a splash of cool, or you wanted a mainly cool image with a touch of warm. You could use a dominant (warm or cool) colour against the other two split complementary colours.
See this example of violet, red and yellow-green. In this example, colour harmony is demonstrated. Warm yellow-green is the dominant colour, and cool violet and warm red are the less dominant split complementary colours.
Double split complement
The third relationship we will look at is the double-split complement. This colour relationship is like the split complement colour relationship, but rather than looking at two colours on either side of one colour of a complementary colour relationship, this relationship looks at the two colours on both sides of both the complementary colours.
As such, this relationship is presented as a slim ‘x’ on the colour wheel. See the illustration of this colour relationship below.
The six colour groups in the double split complementary colour relationship are:
- Red, orange, green, blue;
- Red-orange, orange-yellow, green-blue, blue-violet;
- Orange, yellow, blue, violet;
- Orange-yellow, yellow-green, blue-violet, violet-red;
- Yellow, green, violet, red;
- Yellow-green, green-blue, violet-red, red-orange.
The next colour relationship we will talk about is the Tetrad rectangle.
Really, the tetrad rectangle colour combination is another name for the Double Split Complementary colour relationship.
It is the relationship of four colours separated by 2 on the colour wheel. However, these four colours are two sets of complementary colours.
Their relationship is illustrated as the same as the Double Split Complement colour relationship. Another way of looking at the Tetrad rectangle and the double split complement are that they are 4 colours 2 apart on the colour wheel, and these four colours are two sets of complements.
This colour relationship balances four colours (2 sets of complements). Depending on the colours used, these complements placed against each other would pop. Take care though, as with complementary colours, one is warm and the other is cool.
How can you use the Tetrad Rectangle / Double Split Complement colour combination?
When would you use a Double Split Complement or a Tetrad rectangle colour relationship? Once again, this depends whether you want something to be dominantly warm or cool. In this relationship, there are two warm colours and two cool colours. You could treat it with the dominant (warm or cool) colours, with smaller amount of their complement colours. Or, you could choose to have a mix of dominant warm and cool, with the complements of each being the lesser colours, as shown in the image below.
An example of the double split complement, also known as the Tetrad rectangle. Once again, this image shows colour harmony. It is a dominantly warm colour temperature image. This image shows a dominant warm orange-yellow, a dominant warm yellow-green. Lesser so is the cool violet-red, and the smallest amount of colour is the cool blue-violet.
There are many possibilities and it is your choice as to how you use colour combinations.
Now, we will move onto the Tetrad Square colour relationship.
The Tetrad Square is the relationship where four colours four apart on the colour wheel are used together. Once again, this relationship involves complementary colours.
This colour relationship is represented as a broad ‘x’ on the colour wheel. See the illustration of how this is shown below.
The three colour combinations in this relationship are:
- Red, orange-yellow, green, blue-violet;
- Red-orange, yellow, green-blue, violet; and
- Orange, yellow-green, blue, violet-red.
As you can see, each of the colour combinations are two sets of complementary colours. E.g. red and green and orange-yellow and blue-violet.
How can you use the Tetrad Square colour combination?
How would you use this colour combination? Once again, like the Tetrad rectangle and the Double split complement, you are managing four colours. Two are warm and two are cool. You would treat it like the double split complement and the tetrad square above. You could have one or two dominant colours supported by less dominant colours.
The image below shows colour harmony. The dominant colour is warm orange-yellow, and its complement cool blue-violet is the smallest colour, and the warm red is the next largest colour with its cool green complement is less so. In essence, this image is warm (as the dominant colours are warm) and it pops because the dominant colours complements are present in the image.
The next colour relationship to discover is the Triadic colour relationship.
The Triad colours relationship is presented as a ‘Y’ as it moves around the colour wheel. See this illustrated in the image below.
This colour relationship doesn’t include any complementary colour combinations. It presents on the colour wheel as a relationship having a combination of one cool colour and two warm colours, or one warm colour and two cool colours.
The four colour combinations in the triad colour relationship are:
- Red, yellow, blue;
- Red-orange, yellow-green, blue-violet;
- Orange, green, violet;
- Orange-yellow, green-blue, violet-blue.
How would you use the Triadic colour relationship?
So, remember back to the beginning of this post, and we spoke about warm and cool colours, which we have been referring to throughout this post? Well, your use of this colour relationship would depend if you wanted a warm or cool effect.
This colour combination has either one warm and two cool colours, or one cool and two warm colours.
You can see how this appears with the example below using the triadic colour combination of warm orange-yellow, cool green-blue and cool violet-red that creates a cool effect. The warm orange-yellow provides contrast to cool green-blue and violet-red.
The next major colour relationship we will look at is the analoguous colour relationship.
An analoguous relationship is one where colours sit beside each other on the colour wheel. They can have two colours that sit beside each other, 3, 4 or 5 colours. The analoguous colour relationships are considered to be the most harmonious. You can see from the images below that they are pleasant to look at.
Once again, be mindful of the warm-cool colour combinations, and if you get up to 5 analoguous colours, you will have a dominant warm or cool colour scheme. You will also need to manage the number of colours used in the image.
How would you use an analoguous colour combination?
While it might be simpler, the 2 analoguous colour relationships could provide colour combinations which could be viewed as either subtle, or dull. Remember the old saying ‘Blue and green should never be seen without a colour in between’? Even with the third colour in a 3 analoguous combination, this may be the tertiary colour, say for ‘green and blue’, the third colour in the 3 analoguous relationship would be green-blue. You can add more excitement to your artwork or design by adding the up to two more analoguous colours. As these would include a pop of cool in a dominantly warm combination, or a pop or warm in a dominantly cool colour combination.
However, as with all these colour combinations listed above, you would need to check that the colour combinations are what you want in your image.
See the analoguous colour relationships together with examples illustrated below.
They are followed by images showing the 2 analoguous, followed by adding 3, 4 and 5 analoguous colours to the image.
You know your colour relationships now
So, there they are. The colour combinations that you can use in your art and craft projects (or anything that requires colour). You also know that colour temperature affects colour harmony. You can know how you can apply these to your art and craftwork.
To help you apply your colour combinations, you can make your own colour charts.
Like this post? Save it to your “Colour Harmony” board on Pinterest.
This post was originally published on this website on 10 June, 2020. It was updated on 11 August 2021, and updated and republished on 30 September 2022.