Color 102

by Landis Carey on March 17, 2011

To understand why the color scheme above works, read on!

Last week in Color 101 we talked the basics of color: how primary, secondary and tertiary colors come to be and which colors can be classified as warm and cool. Oh, and we also learned our first lesson about the complicated nature of color: how several, such as violets and neutrals, can be either warm or cool, depending on their undertones. If you weren’t here last week for Color 101, take a peek now.

As promised, this week we’ll learn how colors can successfully be paired according to color theory. But first, let’s review a little vocabulary.

Chromatic Color, Tint, Tone and Shade

From the diagram above, you’ll get a better understanding of how to reference the addition of white, gray and black to chromatic color. What’s chromatic color, you ask. It’s any color other than black, white and gray. Achromatic colors are those without “color” such as black, white and gray.

Hue, Brightness and Saturation

Is hue the same thing as a chromatic color? From the first diagram in this post you would think so, but really hue is a little more scientific. A hue is the way a color is defined in physical terms based on the light wavelengths that create it. Wavelengths, you ask? Yes, although color is usually defined by objects, it is, in fact, actually your eye seeing different wavelengths of light. A basic color name, such as red or yellow, is given to those wavelengths that all appear similar in color.

In the Visual Spectrum above (we saw this last week when talking about warm and cool colors) you see that not all colors are represented equally, right? That’s because the wavelengths that represent these colors may be broader or narrower: the yellow band is the narrowest while the green band is the broadest.

Hue is one of three elements of color appearance. The other two are brightness and saturation. Brightness is the perceived amount of light coming from an area while saturation is the visual perception of the amount of chromatic color. For example, think about the different perceived brightness of yellow and purple and the different perceived saturation of red and pink.

Did you notice I used the term perceived four times in the previous paragraph? It’s important to remember these concepts are all about perception rather than cold hard facts. I know this seems complicated, but keep these concepts in mind for now. They are important and you’ll understand why when we talk about how to use the following theoretical color schemes successfully.

Basic Color Schemes

Complimentary: A complimentary color scheme is made up of two colors that live across the color wheel from each other. The most well known ones are those involving primary and secondary colors: red and green; blue and orange; violet and yellow. However, it can also include tertiary colors such as blue-green and red-orange, which happen to be the colors in our dining room. While we didn’t actually paint anything red-orange, our floors, table and lighting pendant have warm red and orange undertones, completing the complimentary scheme.

Triad: A triad color scheme involves three hues equally spaced around the color wheel. So, this means three primaries, three secondaries or three tertiaries. Wow, three primaries, you ask? Yes, three primaries. Sounds elementary, right? Remember these are just theories. There’s more to consider about color interaction (saturation, texture, advancement) before I recommend choosing any of these options. However, it is possible to execute a primary triad color scheme without your space looking like a child’s playroom.

For now, absorb these ideas and next week we will discuss the subtleties of color: how they advance and appear and their use in small and large quantities in small and large spaces.

Friends, do you have questions? Comments? Let me know in the comments below!

(Image: Landis Carey)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily March 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

Who knew there are so many basics to know about color! I can’t wait to see where you go next week. I’m trying to figure out how you can make money with this knowledge – maybe create your own paint or make this series into a how-to book. :)


Landis Carey March 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Am I getting too detailed? It’s complicated but I want to explain it simply…thoughts?


Jason Good March 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Landis, I beg you to please come help us with our house across the street!


Landis Carey March 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Okay, I’ll be right there!! Seriously, though, we’ll talk.


Barbara Fenton March 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Nice job Landi! A great refresher on a class I took way back as a sophomore in college but you have explained it much better!! Best wishes..


Landis Carey March 18, 2011 at 12:14 am

Thanks so much, Barbara! A friend asked that I share a little of my color knowledge, so I tried! I hope I’m not getting too detailed. Hope you’re well!


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