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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 3: Simple Color Combinations

Now, in most cases, we tend to wear multiple colors at one time, usually multiple hues as well. The major exceptions I can see are some swimsuits, wedding dresses, and the occasional suit, but with standard clothing, footwear, and accessories, it’s really quite rare to see an outfit with absolutely no color variation. In this piece, we’re going to look at basic relationships between colors, which will become the building blocks for creating outfits which utilize colors well.

We looked at a few basic relationships back in Chapter 1: analogous colors and complementary colors. Let’s add two new designations, monochromatic and triadic colors, giving us a near continuum of hue contrast.

Monochromatic Colors technically no hue difference. All variations are in value and saturation. For our purposes, we’ll consider monochromatic to be any group of hues which are very close to each other (that is, not closer to any adjacent primary, secondary, or tertiary color). This is because, in general, two different pieces of clothing rarely have exactly the same hue.

Analogous Colors exhibit slightly more hue variation, in which a color is combined with neighboring hues on the color wheel, with any value or saturation changes. The small variation in hue contributes a relatively weak contrast.

Triadic Colors are sets of three colors equal spaced around the color wheel (that is 120 degrees apart). This generates more contrast, though there is balance given the equal positioning (we’ll see that this is a special case of a split-complementary relationship). In general, triadic colors do not seem to be strongly related to one another, yet harmony can still exist because of the strong mutual balance.

Complementary Colors provide the maximum possible hue variation, being directly opposite each other on the color wheel (180 degrees of separation). The colors are in a sense, mirror images of each other. In fact, if one stares at a high saturation block of color for a while, removing the color often leaves an afterimage of the complementary color. The large variation creates the strongest hue contrast possible.

Now we can extend the idea of a complementary color to a pair of colors which is symmetric placed about a true complement. For example, the complement of green is red, so that red-orange and red-purple would be a pair of colors equally spaced from the complement of green.

Split-Complementary Colors are sets of three colors, composed of a base color and a pair of colors equally spaced about the complement of the base color. We see that triadic colors are a special case, in which any of the three colors could act as the base color of the construction.

Dual-Complementary Colors are sets of four colors, composed of two complementary color pairs. Also called tetradic colors.

This essentially exhausts our methods of hue variation. Any further combination of colors can likely be characterized as one of the above or a combination of the above. The likelihood of using more than four or five colors is also small. Since we plan on using multiple colors in creating outfits, we then need to examine various types of contrast. In truth, all color combinations create some level of contrast, and managing these visual contrasts and their effects is at the center of color design.

Our work differs from print-based color theory in that we often do not have a particular figure which is to take the dominant position against some background visual field. More often, we have a set of adjacent visual fields, sometimes solid color, sometimes patterned.

Johannes Itten (author of the Art of Color) cites seven different contrasts which can be used in color theory:

Contrast of Saturation: As it sounds, this is the contrasting of colors with varying levels of saturation. More effective when the colors share monochromatic or analogous hues (in other cases, it may seem as if the hues are monochromatic or analogous, given our general difficulty in perceiving the hue of many grays).

Contrast of Value: Similarly, this is the contrasting of colors with different value levels. Can be used with different hues or similar hues.

Contrast of Hue: This is what we discussed above, creating contrast using different “colors” on the color wheel, technically, different hues. This is typically the contrast people are most familiar and comfortable with.

Contrast of Proportion: This is the contrast associated with giving different colors unequal parts of the visual field. Different effects occur when we give areas proportional or anti-proportional to the visual weights of the colors. This will be especially important for us in taking advantage of colors.

Contrast of Complements: This is the strong contrast generated by complementary colors, which I would characterize as an example of contrast of hue, rather than another category.

Simultaneous Contrast: This occurs when borders between colors seem to vibrate. It often occurs with complementary colors or with colors with very little hue contrast, but some large value or saturation contrast. More likely to occur if the length of the boundary is large in relation to the area of the color region, such as with text.

Contrast of Warm and Cool: Essentially another specific case of hue contrast, this is the contrast of hues which are warm (reds, oranges) and cool (blues, purples). One could also consider contrast of light and heavy (color weight) and the contrast of dull and energetic (color intensity), cases of value and saturation contrast, respectively.

As we already see, beyond a few measures of contrast, we are forced to repeat ourselves. The complexity comes from the fact that these contrasts are rarely in isolation. Nearly all images exhibit each contrast to some degree, and the lack of a particular contrast can be interesting itself. This gives an immense number of “contrast profiles."

It will be our work to sift through these profiles, to find those which satisfy our fashion goals.

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