“As the Color Turns: Considering the Color Wheel”

The full version of this article, as well as much, much more of interest to the decorative painter, and artists, entrepreneurs, and business folk of all stripes can be found in Cre8tive Compass Magazine, helmed by the inimitable Rebecca E. Parsons, artist, blogger, teacher, and creative entrepreneur extraordinaire.

As the Color Turns: Considering the Color Wheel

As decorative painters, artists, and artisans, color is one of the building blocks of what we do. We are making color decisions each and every time we paint, glaze, gild, plaster, and mix and match materials. Color plays a key role in texture, pattern, imagery, and sensibility, the tools of our trade. Consideration of the color wheel, whether it be before, during, or after we have designed, sampled and applied a treatment can yield revealing, surprising, and even fascinating findings about ourselves, our clients and customers, and the environments in which we work.

Primary Colors: Here’s to the Red,  Yellow, and Blue

The primary colors of red, yellow and blue, the components of all other hues, (excluding black and white), in the world of paint, are dynamic when placed next to each other.  Although the renditions of each may not be “pure” in the strict sense, this triad captures our attention, and draws us into a space that feels clearly defined.  As in the entryway pictured above, the blue may be textured, the red a metallic copper paint, and the yellow a multicolored glaze, but the effect is still that of three independent  hues working in dynamic harmony. The result is that of layers of color which set each other off, which draw the eye  from room to room.

Complementary Colors: The Attraction of Opposites


Complementary colors subdue one another when mixed, and, conversely, intensify one another when juxtaposed.” says Christine Pittel, in “Color and Light Luminous Atmospheres for Painted Rooms” by Donald Kauffman and Taffy Dahl. (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. c. 1999)  The complementary duos of blue and orange, green and red, or purple and yellow, (opposite each other on the color wheel) will create vibrancy and drama, drawing attention to any space they clothe. Here several glazes in each of the two hues are manipulated over a lighter  base coat in the same color family. The combination of glazes lends depth and complexity to the surface. Juxtaposing complements creates an instant color “pop”, which can be fun, powerful, and theatrical focal point.

Analogous Colors: Hue on Hue: Energetic Intensity


Blending analogous colors (those adjacent to each other on the color wheel) across a surface can produce an energetic, yet harmonious effect. The colors work well together because they are closely related, and their combination creates  interest. An added benefit to the decorative painter is the ability to integrate glazes more seamlessly together:  being  unified by color; they are easier to blend. Keeping the base coat and glaze colors analogous will cover up a multitude of glazing issues such as seams and joins created by the overlap of wet onto drying glaze. The closer a base coat color is in hue, intensity and value to the glazes being used over it, the easier it will be for us to control the effects we wish to create.

Neutrals: Tone on Tone: Subtle Harmony


“Tone on tone” neutrals create a sense of peace, calm, and soothing harmony.  However, is any color really “neutral”?  Creams, beiges, taupes, grays and ivories actually have significant undertones of color which define them, and thus the effect they create in combination with other “neutrals”. Combining soft colors interrelated in hue and value (tone on tone) needn’t be monochromatic (based on just one hue). Their combination can also be complex, and very satisfying, offering a sense of richness and comfort. When manipulating multiple glazes over a base coat, one way to ensure integration of all colors involved is to make a glaze out of the base coat color, and use it as part of the scheme. This will create an immediate tie-in of the base coat to the glaze colors, and enable easier blending of the glazes over the surface.

Color is a powerful tool, and when we understand how the color wheel works, we can employ it to our advantage in designing and executing  finishes, applications and treatments. In addition, our color knowledge can inform how we plan, mix and manipulate our materials enabling us greater mastery and control over our processes. As we enter more deeply into the resonant world of color, we can use its magic to enhance, beautify, communicate about and transform our world, one space at a time.

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