Color Harmonies

Welcome back to our exploration of color! This is part three so if you missed the first two parts, we recommend that you check them out here and here. Now, onwards to color harmonies, one of the most useful tools for using color impactfully.

But before that, we need to introduce the color wheel. You may have seen these before, these circular arrangements of colors arrange the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) with their resulting secondary colors (green, orange, and violet) and tertiary colors (which result from mixing primary and secondary colors) in a way that helps us visualize how these colors relate to each other.

Why am I describing an image with words? Here is a link to an online color wheel, feel free to use it as a companion to this blog. Just set the type of color harmony you want to play with and drag the base color around to see examples of the various harmonies.

We mentioned previously that color is highly context sensitive. Our perception of a color can change dramatically based on the colors it's paired with. Color harmonies are that concept put into practice! Think of them as recipe cards for selecting colors that interact and influence each other in predictable ways.

Here are three of the most common color harmonies, let’s talk about them:

  1. Complementary Colors: These colors are direct opposites on the color wheel, such as red/green or yellow/violet. When colors are paired in this way it makes each color appear much more vibrant than it would on its own thereby making your quilt feel more energetic, dynamic, and striking.

  2. Analogous Colors: These colors are neighbors on the color wheel. For example, if using blue as your base you may then the neighboring purple-blues and blue-greens to go with it. This color harmony feels subdued and relaxed but provides more visual interest than just using a single color by itself.

  3. Triadic Colors: Triadic harmony refers to three colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. Think red/yellow/ blue, or green/orange/violet. Triadic colors act as a middle ground between complementary and analogous colors. They can come across as bold without being as energetic as complementary colors, stable but not as relaxed as analogous colors.

While technically a color scheme, not a color harmony, I would be amiss to not discuss monochromatic colors as well:

  1. Monochrome: Monochromatic color schemes use just one hue but include a variety of saturations and/or lightness. The most famous form of this is black/white/grey, but it can have saturated colors too as long as you only have one hue! Maybe you’ve seen a quilt that is red/black/pink? Or one that is various lightnesses of the same green? Those are both considered monochrome too. This is the purest way to present a color, but lacks the interplay a mixed color harmony would have. This shouldn’t be taken to be an inferiority though. Horses for courses and all that.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to using harmonies, but that is what next week is for. For now, here are a few quick tips:

  • Color harmonies are grouped by hue, which means you still have the full range of saturations and lightnesses to play with. Remember that neutrals have a hue and are part of this too.

  • If the colors start to feel overwhelming, choose one dominant color and use the rest as accents or neutrals in your quilt design. What does dominant mean? Like everything else here that is context sensitive, but as a rule of thumb it is the color you notice first when looking at a quilt. We’ll get more into this next week.

  • Remember that these are just recipes, and like any good recipe you are free to experiment. Just be sure to stop and ‘feel’ the colors as you make your selection. In the end it is all about eliciting an emotional response, so give your emotions a chance to respond.

We hope that helps! Next week we will be looking at ways to apply these to your quilt without making it feel like a preschooler with a crayon. See you then!

Written by Staff Member/Artist Chris

Happy Colorful Stitching from Bluebird Janet’s blog!