THE TROUBLE WITH COLOUR is you just can’t believe your eyes. Colours have a habit of behaving differently in the company of other colours. The “value”, “saturation”, and “coolness” of a hue can cause huge differences in our perception of colour. And the way we read colour is also greatly affected by the light source. So colours are duplicitous. One moment that sunny yellow is all light and joyful, the next moment it looks dingy and untrustworthy. How do we navigate through this complicated process of colour selection? Well, say hello to the colour wheel.
The colour wheel, designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, is a tool that helps us understand colour and its relationships with other colours. As we learnt in school, the wheel is made up of 12 colours that are divided into three groups: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
The first three colours are the primary colours or pigment colours, which cannot be made from any other colour. These are red, yellow and blue. The secondary colours are made by mixing any two of the primary colours together, creating green, orange and purple. The tertiary colours are made by mixing a primary and a secondary colour, creating yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.
The colour wheel theory is this: there is a set of principles used to create harmonious colour combinations, Another way to consider the colours on the colour wheel is by temperature. Half the wheel is made up of warm colours – reds, oranges and yellows, and the other half is the cool blues, greens and purple. Warm colours are considered to be vivid and energetic. They advance in the space, or come forward. Cool colours are serene and calm.
White, black and grey are classified as neutrals and these can be used to change any of the colours into a tint, shade or tone. A colour becomes a tint when white is added. White makes a colour brighter but also more pastel. A colour becomes a shade when black is added – this is also referred to as the value. When using design terms, we call these palettes dirty, gritty colours. A colour becomes a tone when grey is added. The words “colour” and “hue” are interchangeable.
Saturation is the amount of actual colour used to make the colour, that is, if the colour is not a tint, shade or tone, then it has full saturation or is full-on colour.
BLACK & WHITE + RED
These two rooms feature a gorgeous monochromatic scheme, also known as a onecolour scheme – and here, that one colour is red. They show how crucial balance is in colour terms – just a few tiny shots rev up these otherwise cool black and white environments.
Red is considered to be stimulating and exciting so it’s appropriate for a study area and, in small amounts, a child’s bedroom. Red is also the colour associated with love, desire, blood, fire, danger, strength and power.
BLUE + YELLOW + RED
Both of these rooms use a triadic scheme. That is, the three colours are spaced evenly on the colour wheel. The dark neutrals in these rooms allow the small amounts of colour to really pop. Yellow is considered to be the colour that is always seen first after all, yellow is the colour of sunshine! But beware, bright yellow rooms apparently make babies cry more.
PINK + GREEN
This is a classic complementary colour scheme – two colours opposite on the colour wheel – in pink and green. When used in large amounts this chord can be extremely vibrant, and that’s putting it nicely. On the other hand, look to Mother Nature. She’s quite a colour show-off, creating perfectly balanced colour harmonies all over the place – for example, most flowers and plants feature either analogous or complementary colour chords. In this bedroom (see right) the colour has really only been applied to the “accoutrements” of a lovely neutral space, so it’s fitting that these colours should collide or oppose each other to create just the right amount of tension to make the room harmonious.
All that said, rules are made to be broken. So be brave with your colour combos! Colour is a great design tool and you should go with your instincts. And, if you’re game to put your blue and green together without a colour in between, then so be it. Enjoy a little colour voodoo. Oh, but perhaps paint a really large sample first!