color harmony

Itten color wheel

Rules of color harmony have been one of the main subject that occupy minds of scientists and artists over the centuries. Simply said “what is visually right” can be considered a good harmony. However, lets go briefly back in the history to find out how we got here and where are we heading now. How do we describe color harmony today ?

Goethe was first to notice the associated contrasts between complementary colors. Chevreul observed that a color will influence its own complementary over its adjacent color ( simultaneous contrast and successive contrast ). As we get close to the 20th century the most important contributors to the color harmony thought that the best way to establish color harmony rules were to develop color solids and spheres. This way the relationships can be established with more precise formulas. For example, Munsell formulated the harmony among the colors on grey scale, within the same hue and chroma, between complementary colors with the same value and chroma, with colors with diminishing sequences and colors on the elliptical path of the Munsell space. Today, Munsell is more known with its color communication tools rather than its color harmony rules. Itten took Chevreul’s ideas on contrasts and came up a set of its own color harmony rules. According to Itten color harmonies can be created by contrasting : value, saturation, hue, extension, warm and cool, complements and simultaneous contrast.

Today we can find color softwares on line to generate color harmonies for us. Color wheels are used to demonstrate color harmony rules in many art and design books. The color harmony is explained by color schemes like monochromatic, complementary, analogous, split complementary, triadic and tetradic. With these tools the emphasis is mostly on hue combinations. However, we all know by now that the color space is in a 3 D shape. Including tints, shades and tones of the hues would generate more variety of color planning possibilities. By that what if we say any two hue would work well together as long as the values are in even, intermediate and equal intervals ( Understanding Color by Linda Holtzschue). Not only lightness but also chroma shuold be be taken into account for a harmonious composition. With that we also need to consider rhythm, balance, proportion and scale to create harmony among colors.

Color spaces are useful to select colors that are already conceptualized in our mind.
Color preferences change by age, race, culture and education. So it is difficult to establish effective harmonious color combinations by only relying on color wheel harmony rules. We also have to remember that harmony rules shift everyday. They are continuously evolving. To keep up with these changes it would be nice to have practical applications of the current theories.

A successful color harmony means a set of color combination selected for a specific design/art work is pleasing and the color combination achieves a strong impact on the overall appearance of the design /art project.