Nov 02 2008

Shifted Color Harmonies

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The point of the following exercise is for the beginning or intermediate student to learn how to mix specific colors, discerning value and temperature of each hue.  By repeating a design and applying a different color scheme to each section, the student learns to discern varying tones and color relationships that create harmony.  To complete the exercise, you will need a piece of illustration board (I suggest 12×12 or 11×14), acrylic paints, brushes, a pencil and masking tape (if preferred, you can use a panel of quality plywood or masonite for this exercise).

The sample below was created by student, Ann O’Keefe (all images on this page can be enlarged by clicking on them):

To start your design, find some patterned fabric, gift-wrapping paper, wall-paper, or other pattern which has a design of at least 3 colors (and no more than 5). Also make sure that the pattern is fairly simple, unless you have a lot of time to spend on this.

tulip pattern

Ann chose an Art Nouveau stained-glass pattern, whose design she altered to fit the size of her illustration board. First, we made b/w photocopy of the color photograph of the pattern. Using graphite paper, Ann traced the design onto her board.

The second part of the task is to divide the pattern into 3 sections. These lines can be geometric, straight lines, or curvilinear and free-flowing.  You can see in the first photo that Ann chose an irregular, flowing line.

Choose a color scheme for the first section.  This can borrow from the scheme of the original pattern, which would also provide you with the practice of matching the colors.  If you prefer, you can re-invent the colors used.  Vary the values for each color.  If it’s a 3 color theme, choose a different value of lightness/darkness for each color.  The b/w image above, for instance, shows 3 values).

After completing one section, you will create the next section in a shifted color scheme.  For each color in the first section, choose either a complimentary color or one which is analagous to the original color.  For example, if the original color was red, then a complimentary color would be green, whereas an analagous color to red would be either orange or purple.  It will be helpful to have your color wheel handy to choose the colors.  If you are choosing an analagous color, you will want to all colors moving the same direction on the color wheel.  When you move to the third section, you would shift to an analagous color in the same direction (example: red in section one becomes orange in section two, and then yellow in section three).

The example below is from Sharon Sweezey.  She chose to shift her color harmony based on a complimentary theme.  She went a step further by creating a second version of the same pattern, reversing the order of the complimentary colors.  Looking at the two of them side by side creates an optical push and pull of warm colors advancing and cool colors receding:

Sharon was particularly fond of the pattern and color relationship created within one of the squares (see first square, second down).  She chose to enlarge this pattern into another composition, recreating the same colors for both examples:

The idea for the exercise above is a simplified variation of one that I found in the book, “Color: A course in mastering the art of mixing colors”, by Betty Edwards.  In her version of the exercise, there are 6 separated shifts required (instead of 3), including a photo or sample of the original pattern (such as a swatch of pattened cloth or wallpaper), color-matching the original, complimentary hues, complimentary values, and intensities.

More on Color Theory:

Mandala Color Wheel

Color Wheel Masking

Color Shift from a Photographic Source

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