Color is one of the basic tools that must be well understood and used in many areas of artistic endeavor: painting, photography, set design for stage or cine, interior design and so on.
Color harmony is found by the use of a color wheel. Using a cine set as an example, color harmony concerns the key color in the set, which is determined by the color that one cannot change — as in an outdoor set where there may be predominantly green grass; or where the lead character must wear a specific color for his costume. It is the biggest amount of color in the scene, or what you are trying to concentrate your people’s attention on in the picture. Harmonious colors are based on the key color and this would then be the basic setting for the color wheel for sets and costumes.
The dominant colors must integrate when put together and make the scene look like it belongs together (which is the reason you use a color wheel). Color has to be used to make something look like it belongs together, not so it’s “pleasing.”
There are four types of color harmonies most usually described in texts on the subject:
1. “Direct” harmony: This is the color directly opposite the key color on the color wheel. This color is also known as the “complementary color” or “complement” to the key color. In the direct harmony one has the equal or lesser amount of color in the scene as complementary.
2. “Related colors”: The immediate adjacent areas to the key color are the “related colors.” When you go two spaces away from the key color on a color wheel, you are stretching color harmony. Some color harmony texts refer to these adjacent colors to the key color as “analogous harmonies.”
3. “Split complementary” or “Splits”: This refers to the colors immediately adjacent to the complement of the key color. When you go into splits, you actually should apply them only to lesser image sizes and even then sparingly.
4. “Triadic harmony,” “Triadics” or “Triads”: This refers to the colors two spaces to either side of the key color’s complement. When you go into triadics, you are dealing with just spots of color in a picture.
When you use triadics and splits, they have to be in small areas.
The fewer the colors in a scene, the more integrated the scene looks.
One color wheel that has been found useful is the Grumbacher Color Compass, published by M. Grumbacher, Inc. , 460 West 34th Street, New York, New York 10001. It is available in many artist’s supply stores and may also be ordered directly from the publisher.
There is another aspect of color which must be understood, and that is “color depth.” This is the apparency of depth (relative distance from the viewer) characteristic of different colors and depending on the background against which they appear.
Against a white background, colors give the illusion of distance from the viewer in the order:
Against a black background, the apparency of distance changes:
Color depth and color harmony must be used in conjunction.
As an example of the use of this tech, I was once submitted a set design for a fill which looked a bit unintegrated, as though it didn’t really belong together. The main fault was that a blackboard in this particular classroom scene looked like it was closer to the audience than the students, when it was actually farther away — thus robbing the set of depth. I tried to work with the color wheel to find some different color background for the set and discovered at that time that I couldn’t get the combination that had been proposed on a color wheel or on the depth perception chart. It turned out that the blackboard would have to be yellow to make the set come off.
As another example, a proposed set design for a Greek temple I was handed had its color depth backwards, collapsing the set and making it look small. The back walls and floors and pillars should have been Greek white marble, and a decorative frieze set in the back wall (because of the white backgrounds in this set) could only have been apple-green.
The costumes would also have to have followed color depth perception — fabrics of almost all hues were available in Greece.
Further data on color depth may be found in the book The Techniques of Lighting for Television and Motion Pictures, by Gerald Millerson, and published by Hastings House, 10 East 40th Street, New York, New York 10016.
According to marketing research, there is a whole index of emotional responses to colors. For example, blue is usually associated with knowledge or serenity; yellow is mostly associated with value and red prompts impulse buying. There have been various studies done on these associations, and it is worth the artist’s time to become familiar with the subject. The television lighting text mentioned earlier (Millerson) includes a short section on color associations.
As an example of the use of color associations, one would not use a blue, connoting serenity, as a key color for a painting meant to convey terror. The message ends up garbled.
The principles of color depth, color harmony and color associations are invaluable tools for forwarding your message. Learn them well.