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Friday, June 6, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 9: Analogous Combinations

You may be surprised that we’ve waited so long to discuss combinations of analogous colors. We saw in Chapter 5 that monochromatic outfits were relatively easy to construct, and that the results were nice. It would make sense for analogous colors to be the next step up in difficulty, but instead we moved on to complementary, then triadic and split and dual complements.

In media which utilize a small number of colors (such as logos, print design, and often fashion), we see a surprising lack of analogous colors. Consider the emblems and uniform colors for the teams in the NFL and the MLB. Of the approximately 60 teams, I count only who 4 use analogous colors in any significant way (these being the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland A’s, and Seattle Mariners). Interestingly, all four instances either use green and yellow or green and blue, though I’m not sure if there is any significance to this. Much more common are monochromatic, triadic, or complementary relations.

Now look in your own wardrobe, especially your shirts. How many of them even have multiple colors on them? Of those that do, how many use analogous colors? I’d guess that the number will be fewer than you expect. I can’t say that I fully understand why this is true, but I can give a few reasons why mixing analogous colors is more difficult than imagined (note that this is much less true in art, when often in natural subjects color flows continuously, requiring the use of analogous hues).

  1. When colors are very near each other in hue, it creates a tension because the mind wants the two colors to be the same. This is similar to the effect described in Chapter 5 with adjacent blocks of similar (monochromatic) colors.
  2. Given that color changes in fashion are usually abrupt (edges), we have a disconnect with natural systems, in which analogous colors usually flow continuously, while contrasting colors produce edges. This means that we may tend to expect edges to be associated with higher contrasts, such as triadic or complementary colors.
  3. The contrasts created by analogous colors are often too small to be interesting, while the similarities are also too small to exude coherence.

So how can we hope to use analogous colors effectively? From the above we see that at the core of the analogous problem is the indecision between coherence and contrast. We must manage these two ideals when putting together. In either case, the key is intentionality. Our choices must make it clear that we’ve introduced the colors for a specific purpose, either contrast or coherence.

We’ve already looked at two ways to introduce contrast into a set of analogous colors; split and dual complements. We can form a split complement from a pair of analogous colors by adding the complement to the center of the two colors. Similarly, we can create a dual complement simply by adding the complements of each color. Thus, we see that complementary relations are often not so much removed from analogous ones. Once the split or dual complement is set up, we can proceed as in Chapter 7.

How else can we introduce contrast? If you’ve been following along, you probably have an idea about where I’ll go next; value and saturation. Adding a second type of contrast increases the perceived “distance” between the colors, making the juxtaposition seem all the more intentional. Recall our ideas about this from before, typically we want the color with higher saturation to have lower value. Our other standard trick is to utilize proportions. By giving one color a significantly greater intensity, but a significantly smaller area, we can draw attention to the color, and the intention of our contrast.

We’ll that is wonderful. Now let’s tackle cohesion. Again our goal is to make it apparent that we want these two similar colors together! Now, if we include a color once, it might be an accident, but what if we do it again? And again? And again? Each repetition of a particular color solidifies our intentionality, and the legitimacy of the color in the context of the entire out fit. This can be achieved without much difficulty. Try a shirt with a particular color as the figure or accent (perhaps as the collar or a stripe) and match it with a cloth belt. Bonus points for successfully using a nonstandard (read: interesting) belt (for example, a red shirt with orange design, orange belt with khaki to dark brown shorts or pants).

Another method of introducing cohesion is to invite continuity (as in nature) by ordering analogous colors in a logical sequence. This works especially well if you simultaneously decrease the value as we progress down. Consider a progression from yellow to green. We could begin with a yellow undershirt of light value, layered underneath a yellow-green polo shirt (making sure the undershirt is clearly visible). A pair of dark green slacks and brown shoes (and belt) complete the look. Everything flows nicely, and the matching of hue and value flows give significant coherence to the end result. As an advanced exercise, one could consider mixing the two above approaches by using a yellow belt as well. This probably requires a closer look at the colors, but certainly can be done.

Finally, as we mentioned before, analogous colors often occur naturally. They are thus very appropriate for clothing which depicts natural things, such as images or prints. This method, of course, requires significantly less thought, but do not neglect the relation of the colors in the rest of your outfit.

Well, hopefully a good start into utilizing yet another category of colors in your fashion lives!

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