Basic Color Schemes and Their Application

Combinations of different colors can be used to invoke certain emotions. It is important to know which colors encourage which emotions so that your intentions come through in your project. For instance, a graphic designer selecting colors for a new brand should choose colors that reflect the brand’s attitude or energy. In another example, an artist should be able to select a color that conveys a desired mood for a painting.

In another post, we reviewed how colors relate to each other on the color wheel. In this post, we’ll go more in-depth in how colors relate to each other through color schemes.

So what are the basic types of color schemes?

Warm Colors – Reds & Yellows

Warm colors are on the high end of the visible light spectrum: reds, oranges, yellows and variations thereof. These colors are considered energetic and are used to convey optimism, enthusiasm, and passion. When paired together, these colors bring brightness and vibrancy.

Cool Colors – Blues & Purples

Cool colors are on the low end of the visible light spectrum: purples, blues, deep greens & variations thereof. These colors are more mellow and are used for a calming or subdued effect. Think about how doctors’ offices usually have a light green color on their walls. That is done to try to calm patients before their visit.

Neutral Colors – Greys & Browns

Neutral colors are colors that don’t fit into the Warm/Cool dichotomy: white, brown, grey, black & variations. On their own, these colors present sophistication and cleanliness. Adding a warm or cold color to a mostly neutral palette will add an underlying emotion to the sophistication. Likewise, adding a single neutral color to a warm or cold color palette will emphasize whatever emotion is being conveyed there.

Complementary Colors

A complementary color are two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. For instance, red and green are complementary colors, as are blue and orange, and yellow and purple. Complementary colors create contrast and stability.

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are three or more colors that are found on one “spoke” of the color wheel. For instance, a brand with three different colors of green in their brand colors are using analogous colors. Analogous colors are used when the emotion from one color is meant to be emphasized. For instance, the painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh uses mostly blues and purples to convey the peace of nighttime.

Being able to identify color schemes is an important skill on an individual’s path to becoming a better artist.

Further Reading

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