A Brief Summary of Color Theory: Part II

A Brief Summary of Color Theory: Part II
Aug 30

This is part two in our blog series on the basics of color theory. Click here to read Part I, which focuses on the color wheel.

If you’re reading this, we hope you’ve just completed the first blog in our series that offers a basic explanation of color theory, and the important role it plays in all forms of contemporary and modern art. Picking up where we left our discussion after explaining the history, design, and purpose of the color wheel, the next important aspect to understand relative to color theory, is a concept known as color harmony.

The definition of the word harmony is as follows:

  1. agreement; accord; harmonious relations.
  2. a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.

It’s often just as easy to identify when individual elements are out of harmony, as it is to identify when they are in harmony. When individual components of a greater entity are in harmony, it feels right. It feels balanced, logical, and pleasing. When components are out of harmony, it feels imbalanced, asymmetrical, and as if there is a clash, or a competition for hierarchy or attention. Or, when components are not in harmony, it may feel bland, dull, or unengaging.

When it comes to color theory, color harmony delivers a pleasing experience for the brain. Where too much consistency can be underwhelming, and too much complexity can be overwhelming, harmony is achieved when the balance is just right.

Individualizing Color Harmony

It should be noted that this very basic explanation does not truly do the concept of color harmony justice, as our innate responses to color are both cognitive, and affective, meaning they illicit both a response of judgement, and an emotional response. Setting theory aside, in reality, such factors as age, personal preference, gender, affective state, culture, and socially-based differences impact our individual responses to color, and color combinations and patters. This is the reason why, when choosing a patterned area rug for your home, you and your significant other may differ greatly on which pattern of colors you prefer, as you’re both adding a layer of personal preference and individuality to what you are perceiving as visually pleasing.

 From a practical application perspective, to achieve color harmony, any one of the following principles can be applied:

Use of complementary colors. Complementary colors are any two colors that appear directly opposite of one another on the 12-part color wheel, such as yellow and purple.


 Use of analogous colors. Analogous colors are any three hues that appear side-by-side on the color wheel, such as yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange.


Use of color schemes found in nature. No matter how much man tries to manipulate the word around him, there can be no argument that artificial interference cannot best what can be found in nature. You may not be able to draw lines on a color wheel to unite certain color combinations found in nature, but you simply know—or rather feel—that they are harmonious, such as in the picture below.


In the next part of our color theory blog series, we will focus on color context, and how colors are perceived in relation to one another, and to defined shapes and patterns.

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