You need to know about colour relationships and colour temperature and how they affect your artwork.
You have that set of coloured pencils – student grade or artist grade and you have sorted them. Or, you have a smaller set of pencils, or single pencils, and you have layered them to create some new colours.
Essentially, you have identified groups of colour wheel colours together. You know that putting some colours together look great, and you know that putting some colours together look not so great.
But which ones? Which ones look good together, and which ones don’t? You want to plan your artwork and you want to know quickly. How can you do that?
Needing help with colour relationships
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’m still learning about colour), 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.
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 their colours.
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.
Let’s find colour quicker
After reading this post, you will have a better understanding of colour relationships. You will know which colour family colour groups are harmonious together. As well, you will have a better idea of how to manage colour placement.
These colour harmonies will relate to everything in your art and craft stash that has colour. This can be anything – sewing, painting, drawing, anything.
This post will break down information to help you find the harmonious colour groups you need quickly.
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 or colour harmony? You know – I don’t know. All my understanding of colour has been by learning through books, courses, applying colour theory when creating artwork. I’ve learnt by spending a lot of time swatching, creating colour charts and twirling colour wheels to understand colour combinations.
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.
Some colour technicals
Using a colour wheel
I want to plan my drawings, or look for colour combinations quickly, so I have learnt as most of us do by most by looking at the Colour Wheel Company colour wheel to apply theory. This colour wheel is one that is regularly referred to in posts and art courses.
This handy colour wheel is something that every artist or craftist should have in their art and craft kit. Yet their colours are not the same as your colours (or my colours) – that’s why it’s good to make your own colour chart.
The colour wheel I use for myself, is related to the Colour Wheel Company colour wheel, and has been developed based on Janie Gildow’s complementary colour wheel.
This colour wheel follows a clock format with the 12.00 o’clock position being red, the 6.00 o’clock position in green, etc. The image below shows the colour wheel in the clock positions.
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 are warm or cool?
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 – but where does this leave yellow? There are others that note that each colour has a warm or cool colour – say warm red and cool red. So, where does leave violet-red? Is this warm or cool? 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
For our purposes, we will follow the Colour Wheel Company’s popular colour wheel (as they are available and commonly used) and this will be by noting that yellow is warm, and that violet-red is warm.
In this case then, the warm colours sit with violet-red at the 11.00 o’clock position and finish with yellow at the 4.00 o’clock positions. The warm colours are violet-red, red, red-orange, orange, orange-yellow, and yellow.
Consequently, the cool colours are from the 5.00 o’clock to 10.00 o’clock positions on the colour wheel. These are yellow-green, green, green-blue, blue, blue-violet, and violet.
Tints, tones, and shades
The next item to note is that colour are 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.
The 10 colour relationships
There are 10 colour relationships. These 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.
Monochromatic is the tints, tones and shades that belong to one colour wheel colour family. Here is an example of the Caran d’Ache Luminance coloured pencils green-blue colour family.
Green-blue is made up of yellow and blue (with more blue than yellow). 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.
See here an example of the monochromatic colour relationship.
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.
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. See how the orange stands out against the blue.
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.
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 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, yellow-green is the dominant colour, and violet and 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.
In this colour relationship, primary and secondary colour relationships are presented, or only tertiary colour relationships. The tertiary colours in this colour relationship are visually pleasing. See the orange-yellow, yellow-green, blue-violet and violet-red colour combination in the image below. In this example, the warm orange-yellow is dominant (its complement cool blue-violet is less so), and cool yellow-green is dominant (and its complement warm violet-red is less so).
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. See the illustration in the image showing warm red, cool green, warm orange-yellow and cool blue-violet colour combination. Where 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 these 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 Triad 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.
Use the red, yellow, blue; or the orange-yellow, green-blue, violet-red colour combinations for a warm effect. Use the orange, green, violet; or red-orange, yellow-green, blue-violet colour combinations for a cool effect. You can see how this appears with the example below using the triadic colour combination of orange-yellow, green-blue and violet-red that creates a warm effect. (Or depending on your view of colour temperature is this a cool effect? )
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.
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 images below that show the 2 analoguous, followed by adding 3, 4 and 5 analoguous colours to the image.
See the analoguous colour relationships together with examples illustrated below.
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. By following this post, you can get an understanding of colour relationships and how you can apply these to your art and craftwork.
To help you apply your colour combinations, you can make your own colour charts. You can follow our instructions in this post.
However, colour mediums (such as coloured pencils) have more than four colours in each colour wheel colour family. This is hard to visualise, yet you can access the interactive colour charts that have the colour families identified and listed. Just click the images below to access the charts.
Just search and sort the colour families as you wish to find the colour combinations you need.
Also, sign up to be a subscriber on Artnitso.com and get access to a Polychromos colour chart with colour families and colour wheel clock positions.
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