This is the third post in my series about a personal discovery I recently made about colour. This isn't new information, but it's new to me, and I'm excited about it. I’ve talked about the traditional colour wheel, the “real” colour wheel, and what other components of colour are important. Today I’ll cover which colours work best together, and next time I’ll address how to make this new knowledge work for you. Also, I'm Canadian, and I spell colour with a U. Deal with it.
You know all kinds of things about colour now, including what the actual primary pigments are. The trick now becomes how to put those colours together. There exist three different types of color schemes or combinations of colours: monochromatic, analogous, and complementary. These work as guidelines for which colours work well together as long as you create variation in terms of value and chromaticity.
A monochromatic colour scheme is one in which a single hue or tone varies in value. In other words, choose a single hue or tone, and then lighten and darken it.
This scheme reduces contrast and prevents the eye from focusing on any one particular area. If you want things to just blend in, go with a monochromatic colour scheme. Of course, if the monochromatic colour scheme is in a hue that contrasts noticeably with the environment, the fading away effect will no longer work. Black white and grey may go unnoticed, but shades of red may be more noticeable.
An analogous colour scheme occurs when shades and tones of adjacent hues on the colour wheel are combined. Choose two or three hues which are next to one another in the colour wheel and combine those.
The effect of this scheme is similar to the monochromatic scheme; the colours blend with one another, especially if they are alike in value or chroma. Citrus colours (think orange, lemon, lime) together do not create much contrast with one another. Similarly, deep purples and blues together in an outfit blend easily.
The closer the colours are in the colour wheel, the less contrast they create. Above, the blues and purples are very close to one another. Below, the blues and greens are a bit more spread out. The colours are still harmonious, but they create more contrast.
The classic complementary colour scheme is most heavily influenced by using the “real” colour wheel because it combines colours which are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Complimentary colours are essentially opposites – they each make the other colour stand out more.
Combining blue and yellow makes the blue look bluer, and the yellow look brighter. Choosing two hues is often too jarring, so consider tones, shades and tints. Here is a shade of blue (navy) with a yellow tone.
There are three other types of complementary colour schemes that you can use. The split complementary scheme chooses one colour and the two colours adjacent to its complementary colour.
For example, azure and orange are complementary. Orange is adjacent to red and yellow. Therefore azure, red and yellow together make a split complementary scheme. To translate this into an outfit, I’ve combined leopard print shoes and a bronze scarf (yellow tones) with a red blazer and chambray blouse. I have anchored everything with neutral, black pants.
A double complementary colour scheme basically combines two complementary colours schemes together. Ideally, the four colours form a rectangle in the colour wheel rather than a square. Otherwise there is too much contrast and the outfit just looks like a mess of clashing colours. This can be hard to pull off because it emphasizes the differences rather than the cohesiveness of the colours. It becomes really important to use dark shades, light tints, or greyer tones of some of the colours involved.
Below, I combined dark emerald pants and a fuchsia (rose) top with a light azure cardigan and bright orange purse. The darker pants and lighter cardigan temper the brighter hues, and because azure + orange and emerald + rose are complementary pairs, everything is still in balance.
Finally, a triadic colour scheme groups three colours which are equidistant in the colour wheel. For example our three ‘real’ primary colours – cyan, magenta and yellow – form a triad. The three secondary colours – red, blue and green – also form a triad.
Here I used shades of red (maroon) and blue (navy) with green. I also added a bit more red with a bright red lipstick.
It is important to note that in most of these cases, I never use more than one hue at a time. The boldness of a hue often needs to be tempered with shades, tones, and tints or with neutrals. So what exactly is a neutral? More on that next time.