Colour Contrasts and Harmonies
The following notes have been put together referencing Johannes Itten’s book on colour theory and other books on colour harmonies. The images are sourced from design magazines and a few from Itten’s book “ The Art of Color”. There are two main types of colour. Additive colour is classified as light colour and is projected light.
Known as RGB colour it’s used for Television Broadcasting and Computer monitors.
Adding red and green for example create yellow.
Subtractive colour is referred to as pigment or reflected colour. Yellow for
example is created by the subtraction and absorbsion of all colours except
yellow. Yellow would then be the only colour reflected.
The Itten colour wheel is comprised of many colour relationships. It serves as a
reference guide for subtractive colour schemes. The Munsell colour wheel is different and is closer to process colours.
The Itten colour wheel
Primary Colours: Red, Yellow and Blue.
Secondary Colours: Two primary colours mixed together resulting in
orange, green, and violet. Tertiary (Intermediate) Colours: One
primary and one secondary mixed together.
Aggressive (Warm) Colours: Reds, Oranges and Yellow.
Receding (Cool) Colours: Greens, Blues and Violets.
Harmony and Contrast
It is the continual interaction of similarity and contrast within a
design that creates an interesting composition and satisfies the viewer.
Too much similarity can cause monotony. Too much contrast can create chaos. Either can work if that’s the desired effect. Usually though, in design it’s the balance of similarity and contrast that creates a unified composition-a certain rightness when viewed. This holds for form and also colour.
There are four main harmonies and seven main contrasts.
It is the interaction of one or several of these colour schemes along with the other
elements of form that creates a successful composition.
The following four harmonies Analogous, Monochromatic, Mixed complementary,
and Split complementary are the visual glue that hold the compositional
components together. They work because they all have some of each other
Also known as an “adjacent” color scheme, an analogous scheme
creates harmony by using colors that are in close proximity to each
other on the colour wheel. Harmony is therefore created because all the
colours are related to each other.
One hue plus white, black or grey creates a harmonic colour scheme.
3 Mixed complementary
Two complements create contrast and the intermixing of the two
complements create the Harmony within the composition.
4 Split complementary
Choosing one colour and using the colour on each side of its
complement on the colour wheel.
The Seven Contrasts
Harmonies add to similarity and a sense of union while Contrast adds
interest and a focal point within a composition. According to the Johannes Itten book on colour he theorizes that there are seven contrasts that work compositionally.
1 Contrast of Hue
Contrast of hue refers to the contrast of pure saturated color
found on the color wheel versus less saturated tints, tones or shades
2 Light Dark Contrast
Contrast of light dark refers to the Value of the colour. Yellow being
the lightest and Violet being the darkest.
3 Cold Warm Contrast
Colour creates of sense of temperature and can be divided into
two broad categories, cold and warm.
4 Complementary Contrast
Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.
5 Simultaneous Contrast
Discordant vibration is created as the eye tries to find the true complement when the pure
complement is not present. This contrast below is present within the typography.
6 Contrast of Saturation
Contrasts of fully saturated and brilliant colour versus colour less
saturated, less bright and dulled as a tone, tint or a shade.
7 Contrast of Extension
Refers to the proportion of hue or colour. A large amount of one
colour range versus a small portion of another. Often used to create a focal point.