The Wheel of Color

The Wheel of Color

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Last week I had the pleasure of teaching a color mixing program for adults at a local library. The “mixed” results were wonderful, and it was thrilling to see the participants get creative with color and the color wheel.

We talked about the vocabulary of color, and I offered the students an overview of some of the most common color terms. Color is a very complex subject, and could be the subject of study over many lifetimes, so I tried to keep it simple and clear, yet informative.

 One of the most important terms is Hue: The “color of a color”. Hue is what we usually mean when we ask “what color is that? Hue is the term for the pure spectrum colors commonly referred to by the color names, such as red, yellow and blue. Different hues are caused by different wavelengths of light. But the relationship of light and color (color is actually an “effect” of light) is a subject for a different post!

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I also touched upon Chromaticity. This property of color tells us how pure a hue is. That means there is no white, black, or gray in a color that has high Chroma. Often referred to as “colorfulness,” Chroma is the amount of identifiable hue in a color. A color without hue is achromatic or monochromatic and will look gray.

As the students moved around and through the color wheel mixing colors, they discovered how the purity of  a hue effected what could be mixed from it. Some reds are a bit closer to blue, and some to orange. Some blues are closer to purple, and others to green. This effects the hue of the secondary colors can be mixed from these primary colors. Thus color mixing can become a real adventure, a challenge, stupendous fun, and always a voyage of discovery.

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Students experienced “saturation” of the colors they worked with. Saturation, also known as “Intensity”,  describes the strength of a color.  Related to chromaticity, saturation tells us how a color looks under certain lighting conditions. A room painted a solid color will look different at night than in daylight.Think about Saturation in terms of pale or weak and pure or strong, NOT light or dark. The terms Purity, Intensity, Saturation and Chroma are often used interchangeably when discussing color.

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When mixing colors, hues can be desaturated (reduced in purity or weakened), in one of three ways: mixed with white to lighten the value (creating a tint), mixed with black to darken the value (shade), or mixed with gray or the complement to either lighten or darken the value ( tone).

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Students were given the three Primary Colors: (Paint colors) Red, Blue, Yellow to work with. These are the colors which cannot be mixed or created through combining other colors.

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They created Secondary Colors, which are mixtures of each two of the primary colors: Purple (blue + red), Orange, (yellow + red),  Green (yellow + blue).

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 We also explored Tertiary Colors which are mixtures of a primary and secondary color next to each other on the color wheel, and contain the names of those colors in their names! The Tertiary Colors are:  yellow-green, yellow- orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green, and blue-violet. (For our purposes, we are using purple and violet interchangeably).

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Students also learned about Value, or the lightness or darkness of a color. When we describe a color as “light” or “dark”, we are discussing its value . The property of Value tells us how light or dark a color is, based on how close it is to white. For instance, yellow would be considered lighter than navy blue which in turn is lighter than black. The value of a color is also is also related its brightness.

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One of the most endlessly  fascinating color relationships is that of  Complementary Colors, which are color pairs  opposite or across from each other on the color wheel. Combining complimentary colors can produce “neutral” browns and grays, as their combination effectively “cancels out” the color properties of Hue, Value and Saturation. The complimentary pairs are made up of one primary and one secondary color, which are directly opposite each other on the color wheel:  blue and orange, yellow and purple, and red and green are compliments.

Above we see how the complimentary pair red and green, as well as blue and orange help this artist to reveal another face of color.

Color is science, but it is also emotional, expressive, and FUN! Find some paints, and start your color exploration… investigate, experiment, explore and experience the power of color to change your state of mind, or even how warm or cold you feel. We can actually FEEL a difference of 7 degrees in temperature, depending on what colors we see and are surrounded by. Such is the power of color. Color is powerful, but don’t forget to play with it, too!

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Color: Coming to (the) Terms

Color: Coming to (the) Terms

Hue: The “color of a color”. Hue is what we usually mean when we ask “what color is that?” Hue is the term for the pure spectrum colors commonly referred to by the “color names, such as red, yellow and blue. Different hues are caused by different wavelengths of light.

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Primary Colors: (Paint colors) Red, Blue, Yellow: the colors which cannot be mixed or created through combinations of other colors.

Secondary Colors: Mixtures of the primary colors: Purple, Orange, Green

Tertiary Colors: Mixtures of a primary and secondary color which are next to each other on the color wheel:: yellow-green, yellow- orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green, blue-violet (For our purposes, we are using purple and violet to mean the same thing).

Complementary Colors: Colors which are opposite or across from each other on the color wheel. Combining complimentary colors can produce “neutral” browns and grays. . The complimentary pairs are made up of one primary and one secondary color: blue and orange, yellow and purple, and red and green are complimentary pairs.

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Saturation: Also known as “intensity,” saturation describes the strength of a color with respect to its value or lightness. Related to chromaticity, saturation tells us how a color looks under certain lighting conditions. A room painted a solid color will appear different at night than in daylight.Think about Saturation in terms of pale or weak and pure or strong, NOT light or dark.

In mixing colors hues can be desaturated (reduced in purity, weakened) in one of three ways: mix with white to lighten the value (tint), mix with black to darken the value (shade), or mix with gray or the complement to either lighten or darken the value ( tone).

Intensity: The terms Purity, Intensity, Saturation and Chroma are often used interchangeably when discussing color.

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Value: Lightness or darkness of a color, When we describe a color as “light” or “dark”, we are discussing its value. This property of color tells us how light or dark a color is based on how close it is to white. For instance, yellow would be considered lighter than navy blue which in turn is lighter than black.

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Tints: A color with white added to it.

Shades: A color with black added to it.

Tones: A color with gray added to it.

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Color Blossoms: Red

Color Blossoms: Red

 Nature’s Paint Brush

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The Passion and Life Force of Red

Coming to Terms: Brightness & Lightness

Coming to Terms: Brightness & Lightness

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Many of us love to “geek out’ on color…whether it be with tools, materials or terms.  There isn’t always agreement about what each term actually means, and some of them seem to overlap.  Maybe some color terms cannot be neatly tied up in  one definition.

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Let’s perceive this post as an exploration, an investigation, and a drilling down into some of the color terms we use every day.  Well, the color terms we may use often, without truly thinking about it, or considering what they mean.  Perception…that’s the ticket!  We’re going to take this slowly, step-by-step, working (and playing) through the Terms, like Noah’s Ark, two by two. We started at the beginning, with Color &  Hue.  We worked  our way through Colorfulness  & Chroma and Saturation & Intensity, (which was, no pun intended…tee hee…intense!)

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Now we are ready to wind up the series with a look at the concepts of “Brightness and Lightness“, which sounds like a definition of Grace.   May this exploration (just can’t quite call it a romp…drilling down into the definition of these Terms does take some fortitude!) be an illuminating experience for us all.

light8What is “Brightness”?

Brightness  is an attribute of visual perception in which a source appears to be radiating or reflecting light.[1] In other words, brightness is the perception elicited by the luminance of a visual target. This is a subjective attribute/property of an object being observed. 

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In other words..the experience of “brightness” is “subjective”, or personal which can vary from person to person, as I understand the latter definition.  We experience “brightness’, as a response to the scientific phenomena of “Luminance” ...a photometric measure of the luminous intensity per unit area of light travelling in a given direction. It [Luminance] describes the amount of light that passes through or is emitted from a particular area, and falls within a given solid angle.

Thus, Brightness is what we see/perceive/experience as a result of that travel and “fall” of Light.  Still poetic.

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What is “Lightness“…and how does it relate to “Brightness”…(besides rhyming with it…and creating poetry!)

Lightness  (sometimes called value or tone) is a property of a color, or a dimension of a color space, that is defined in a way to reflect the subjective brightness perception of a color for humans along a lightness–darkness axis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightness

light9Speaking of Light and Shadow…

Key here is the phrase “…along a lightness-darkness axis.” “Value” is the property, aspect or dimension of color that references its relative lightness or darkness. We may speak of “That is a sky blue, lighter in value, then the darker midnight blue of the night sky.” Also note the use of the word “subjective” (“…defined in a way to reflect the subjective brightness perception of a color for humans…).  Our perception of Brightness is to at least some extent, personable and variable.  The measure of Luminance, which causes the level of brightness that we perceive, is an amount.  Lightness refers to our perception of Brightness in terms of lightness to darkness.  This is about as far as I am able to break it down at this time!

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At one time in San Francisco, there was a Theatre Company called “Thick Description“.  This term also refers to an explanation of behavior, as well as its context…so that it can become meaningful to to others.  Sounds about as “thick” as our attempt to clarify the meaning of the Color Terms we use.

We may have to work through the “Thick Descriptions”, but my hope is for this series of post to shed some Light on Color…for YOU!  Out of the Darkness..into the Light…and Color!  We know Color is an effect of Light…after all.

Cheers!

 


Coming to Terms: Saturation & Intensity

Coming to Terms: Saturation & Intensity

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Many of us love to “geek out’ on color…whether it be with tools, materials or terms.  There isn’t always agreement about what each term actually means, and some of them seem to overlap.  Maybe some color terms cannot be neatly tied up in  one definition.

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Let’s perceive this post as an exploration, an investigation, and a drilling down into some of the color terms we use every day.  Well, the color terms we may use often, without truly thinking about it, or considering what they mean. Perception…that’s the ticket!  We’re going to take this slowly, step-by-step, working (and playing) through the terms, like Noah’s Ark, two by two. We started at the beginning, with Color &  Hue.  We worked  our way through Colorfulness  & Chroma. Now let’s look at the intertwined concepts of Saturation and Intensity.

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Many of us use the term “saturated” often…and the term “intensity” even more. But, what do they mean? is there even an agreement as to what they mean?

Saturation has been described as the strength of a color, the dominance, and/or vividness of hue in a color, the intensity of a color,, the degree of difference of a color from a gray of the same lightness or brightness as the color.  Saturation is one of the three aspects by which a color is described, the others being hue, and value.

We learned that “Colorfulness can be defined as ‘”the degree of difference between a color and gray…and Chroma is the colorfulness relative to the brightness of another color that appears white under similar viewing conditions.”

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Saturation may be defined as “the colorfulness of a color relative to its own brightness.”   or “ the degree to which it is different than gray at a given lightness.” Saturation measures the degree to which a color differs from a gray of the same darkness or lightness.

Thus, the Saturation aspect of a color may be defined as how far is from gray (“Colorfulness”), as regards to the aspect of “ visual perception in which a source appears to be radiating or reflecting light.”, or, Brightness. Thus Saturation relates to Brightness, which relates to to Luminance, which will be discussed in a subsequent post!

We have ascertained that “unpacking’ these Color Terms is akin to a a tongue-twister AND a brain-teaser!

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To desaturate, (lessen saturation, or make less intense, give the appearance of being less strong, or, less full of, color) in a subtractive system, such as paint color, gray, black, white, or the complement (the color opposite on the color wheel) of the color in question can be added.  All will serve to lessen the intensity, strength, “purity”, concentration, and / or colorfulness of the color, and thus make it less saturated.

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The term “Intensity” is often used interchangeably with “Saturation”, by painters and others.  I prefer to think of the term “Intensity” as a descriptor or adjective of “Saturation”.  Also known as “intensity,” saturation describes the strength of a color with respect to its value or lightness. What that means is a color’s saturation is the degree to which it is different than gray at a given lightness. For instance, colors near middle gray are relatively unsaturated compared to brighter, more vibrant colors….”–http://www.colorcube.com/articles/theory/theory.htm

“….saturation tells us how a color looks under certain lighting conditions. For instance, a room painted a solid color will appear different at night than in daylight. Over the course of the day, although the color is the same, the saturation changes. This property of color can also be called intensity. Be careful not to think about SATURATION in terms of light and dark but rather in terms of pale or weak and pure or strong.”http://www.colorcube.com/articles/theory/glossary.htm

Remember, Saturation is related to brightness, light, and luminance.

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Well, I hope your brain is not completely scrambled! It may be time to take a deep breath, relax, let our minds unwind, and take a moment to simply enjoy and revel in color…and saturate our soul and senses with it…pure, intense and full.

Coming to Terms: Colorfulness & Chroma

Coming to Terms: Colorfulness & Chroma

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Many of us love to “geek out’ on color…whether it be with tools, materials or terms.  There isn’t always agreement about what each term actually means, and some of them seem to overlap.  Maybe some color terms cannot be neatly tied up in even a colorful bow of one definition.

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Let’s perceive this post as an exploration, an investigation, and a drilling down into some of the color terms we use every day.   Well, the color terms we may use often, without truly thinking about it, or considering what they mean.  Perception…that’s the ticket!  We’re going to take this slowly, step-by-step, working (and playing) through the terms, like Noah’s Ark, two by two. We started at the beginning, with Color &  Hue.  Now let’s work our way through, and look at the inter-related terms Colorfulness and Chroma.

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Colorfulness:  The definition that made the most sense to me is: ‘”the degree of difference between a color and gray. “–https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorfulness   In essence, Colorfulness is the level, or amount of color in a color! Not to be confused with “Hue“, or the “color of a color”. IE-the question,  “What color is it?” Relates to Hue, while “How full of Color is it?” relates to Colorfulness.

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Gray is a mixture of black and white, Grey or gray is an intermediate color between black and white, a neutral or achromatic color, meaning literally a color “without color.” To drill down a bit on “Gray”, and its components, Black and White: “Black…. is the darkest color, the result of the absence of or complete absorption of light. It is the opposite of white. ….the color the human eye sees when it looks at light which contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, at full brightness and without absorption. White does not have any hue.”

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Chroma may be described as “the colorfulness relative to the brightness of another color that appears white under similar viewing conditions.”  According to this definition, Chroma is a type, or aspect of Colorfulness, which relates to Brightness (which relates to Light, and  Lightness.)  This exploration  is becoming quite a tongue-twister as well as a brain-teaser!

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Thus, according to the above definitions, Chroma, means how far a color is from achromatic gray (Colorfulness),  as compared to the brightness of another color that appears white under similar viewing conditions.  Spoiler alert: “Saturation is the colorfulness of a color relative to its own brightness.     (We will get into Saturation, Brightness, Purity and Intensity in subsequent posts!)

Thus the term Chroma is associated with Brightness, or the perception of luminance.  I am repeating here, but sometime repetition helps us to drill down into, dissect and finally understand meaning.

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Well, that is about all the drilling down we have time for at the moment, so I  will leave You with my heartfelt wish that your Life be filled with as much Colorfulness, and the highest level of Chroma that you desire, with the Achromatic moments far and few between.  Unless you love shades of Gray, of course!

Brand of Colors: The Power of Compliments

Brand of Colors:  The Power of Compliments

When my colleague Debbie Josendale, of 3C Marketing Group, asked me to consult on colors for one of her client’s visual identity, which encompasses its  brand / branding, I was intrigued.  I had a deep purple color in front of me as a starting point, but knew that it was too dark and somber to represent what I understood her client’s message to be.

I read up on the client, I played with colors, I visualized, and knew that purple would be one of the colors involved.  And the obvious choice of a secondary “partnering” color would be its compliment, gold. Purple and yellow, violet and gold…these are combinations which are opposite each other on the color wheel.  They are sets of compliments, of opposites. They are complimentary colors and being opposites, set each other off in high contrast, much in the way that black and white do.  So that the color design wouldn’t be garish, I chose hues that were somewhat toned down, rather than bright, though they are strong and saturated. There is a slight earthiness to these colors, that I felt better communicated the feeling of the brand.  Color design for the visual identity of a business can also be tricky in this regard: the colors may look different on different computer screens, and even when printed on different papers or surfaces, and by different companies. The colors are used throughout the client’s site.

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The symbolism, and associations of the chosen colors are also important in determining their meaning, resonance, and appropriateness for the brand and its story.  In a future post, we will  look at the color choices from the vantage points of:

The Energetic (the chakras, and their meanings, associations and influences), The Associations we have with these colors, (What they express, or represent) and their associations with the other senses (Sensory).  What does purple “taste” like?  How heavy does gold “feel”?

Visit us again to find out….and learn more about the wild, wooly and wonderful world of Color!

 

Color: A Balancing Act

Color: A Balancing Act

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We have all had the experience of sensory overload..as well as sensory deprivation.  We may experience overload when entering an environment filled with loud sounds, bright colors, an array of patterns,  and a variety of textures…to say nothing of what we may be sniffing, tasting or touching there.

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We may experience sense of deprivation when a space is too quiet, neutral, bland, uninteresting, and feels just plain boring.  We know something is “wrong”, but we may not be able to put our finger on it, literally speaking, especially if there is a dearth of textures, colors, patterns, and other visual stimuli.

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Although our tolerance for visual complexity and variety, as well as unity and coherency varies from person to person, we do expect, and maybe even need, our senses to be stimulated to some extent at all times. Perhaps we are experiencing this through dreams while we are sleeping!

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Not surprisingly, even our health and physical well-being can be affected by exposure to over or under-stimulation. Extreme unity, or monotony, can result in restlessness, irritation, a lowered ability to concentrate, wandering attention, and an overly strong emotional response.  Extreme complexity/variety can result in higher blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension.  Not a good thing, as we can probably all agree.

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Knowing this, our job as color consultants/designers becomes charged with even greater purpose and meaning…how to create environments of balance (which doesn’t mean symmetry or the sum of equal parts, which might become monotonous), which support both our physical and our emotional well-being, as well as the function of the spaces themselves, and even our life’s purpose!

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Before we get either too lofty, or too weighty about all this, lets look at some color designs and palettes that achieve balance in a variety of different ways. I hope to continue to investigate, explore and disseminate the subject of color balance in further posts. Have fun!

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A nearly monochrome palette relieved by creamy white trim can be stately and restful, especially when enlivened by a multitude of decorative detail.

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Even a deep, rich, dominating hue such as a  burgundy purple can be set off by accents of an even deeper value. The dramatic shift to white in the trim frames a building that the owner wanted to simplify and streamline, while still acknowledging  its details.

B4A slight amplification in field color from the original,

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 makes this building more satisfying to look at, as it is more “complex”(contains more color) . The addition of a dark accent color on the window sashes, and a more intense door color add variety, which also increases complexity, and protects against visual monotony.

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The temptation to “go color crazy” on this magnificent Queen Anne Victorian could have created so much complexity, that our attention may have been distracted from actually seeing and enjoying its beautiful period details, such as the shift in shingle pattern, decorative insets, and dentils.

clay_cInstead, by limiting the colors to a set of resonant neutrals (field color, field color 200% formula and off white trim color), and adding accents in earthy hues of complimentary sage green and brick-red with just a touch of gold leaf,

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we are not so overstimulated by too much variety, and can actually take in and enjoy the details, colors and shapes that integrate to create a unified whole.

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The complex but neutral beige body color, and white trim are punctuated by a rich red service door, a singular detail on this building, which has very little embellishment, or even trim.

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As the owner wanted to reduce the possibility of visual complexity, subtle interest is brought in by the use of a slightly darker and more intense foundation color, which grounds and visually supports the structure. Thus both over and under-stimulation are avoided, and we experience enough visual simulation to provide a pleasing experience physically and emotionally.

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The size, style,, “stateliness” and foliage around a structure can influence color design choices, as well as how much its body is broken up  by its trim. Here the deep blue-green color of the house body is significantly relieved by the crisp white trim and garage door, as well as bright green foliage, which becomes a color accent or counterpoint to the dominating blue and white. As the building reads  tall and thin, our eye is drawn upward to the sky, which completes the picture. Not seen here is the warm brown accent color used on the planters in both the entry way and back patio, which provide  contrast to the blue and green, and complete the triad of blue, green and brown “nature’ colors.

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A unified palette can make a building stand out…even if it doesn’t contain an extreme shift in accent color. Our richly hued “old  burgundy” beauty commands the street view here.  All  the more regal for being contained and restrained in color variety, the palette is retrained yet fun, making a statement without overwhelming our senses. The building itself serves as an accent for a block dominated by pale, nondescript and rather unimaginative hues.  Maybe, stimulated, but not overstimulated by our royal example, the neighbors will be inspired to follow suite and add more local color!

If You are feeling either over, or under-stimulated in your environment, try experimenting with adding or subtracting color, pattern, texture,  changing the value (light to dark), or intensity/saturation (brightness) of the colors, changing your accent color to the compliment of the dominant color in the space, or if there is no dominant color, creating one.

You may just find yourself feeling better on all fronts!

Until next time…wishing you balance, variation, complexity, unity and coherence in your Life!

Color Blossoms

Color Blossoms

Floral Inspiration for Color Palettes, Choices, and Combinations


Red, yellow and blue…the classic primary palette with a twist…the colors are warmer and lighter than “true” primaries…with the blue leaning towards the turquoise, the red to the orange, and the yellow a paler tint.

Red and black together can signify hatred, but not here.  The illuminated orangey-red flower hue,  the addition of green in the background and calming quality of the surrounding earth make this an energizing, and somehow ethereal combination.

Analogous colors  are next to each other on the color wheel, such as, yellow (a primary color) and orange (a secondary color). Because yellow is a part of orange, and red is a part of both orange and purple, there is an immediate harmony and relationship  between these colors.

Purple and orange are both secondary colors, which as mentioned above, share red as a “parent”.  With the surrounding green leaves, all three secondaries are represented, providing both balance, and visual interest.

We don’t speak of a “pale” red.  When red becomes lighter in value, tinted with white, it becomes pink. The strong intensity of  the  pink rose swathed in not quite complimentary green leaves is softened by the dots of yellow to one side of it, which relieves both our mental attention and our physical eyes.

  The yellow and orange “bouquet”, analogous colors again adjacent on the color wheel, rise out of a mass of green.  All three of which hues share yellow in common. The parchment and brick colors of the building serve as a harmonious backdrop, and do not compete with nature…


Blue, white, green…the colors of nature. Sky, clouds, and plants, with a slight yellow center in view.  Sunlight?  Think Greece, the Aegean Isles……the sea, the sky, white buildings in the distance, and a bright yellow sunflower flaunted by green pines.


Here, “black” earth surrounds brilliant yet tender hues of yellow, pink, red, and purple. Red and green are compliments, as are yellow and purple…thus providing the tension and the attraction of opposites.


Yellow has a direct relationship with green, being one of its “parent” colors, along with blue. The lighter value and greater intensity of the yellow above makes it pop, amidst the green.


A group of related colors, (hues of orange, including the brick wall) all have yellow in common, as do the green leaves.  The variation in value, intensity and tone of the colors, (and differences in texture of the natural, and made-made surfaces)  creates  visual interest, and  their inter-relatedness creates harmony,  thus a pleasing balance is achieved.

Tints of warm, edible-looking orange contrast with green leaves, which reflect the warmth and ruffly quality of the flower!

Our eye is led around the white on red table top, up the bright red vase, and into the glories of burgundy, violet, yellow and white, with some refreshing yellowing-green blossoms thrown in for good measure.  White softens the scheme, and relieves the richness of these very saturated colors. The red, burgundy and violet share red in common, the yellow and green, have yellow in common, the green and violet have blue in common, thus there is both contrast, and relatedness among the colors. The bright red is  the strongest in chroma, and draws our eye in and up to the floral arrangement.  The combination enlivens and energizes the table, the space, our appetites, and our minds, without overwhelming.

What color palettes for Your home, business or other spaces have been inspired by the glories and the subtleties, of nature?

Where  and how does color blossom for YOU?