Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

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color theoryIn the previous lesson, titled “Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1” we looked at the basics of color and its relationship on the color wheel. In this lesson, color harmony (a.k.a color schemes), will be discussed.

Color Harmony

Color harmony is the relationship of colors that work well together. A harmony can be basic having only one color with several shades (monochromatic) or two colors that complement one another, or it can be a more advanced relationship involving a combination of multiple colors. There are many ideas for achieving harmony in our color palettes. These harmonies are based on the color wheel. A color wheel is a handy tool to have around as it helps the artist understand which colors work well together. Following are some illustrations and descriptions introducing some of the more popular color harmonies.

Color Relationships


The word “monochromatic” means one color and a monochromatic color scheme is made from the various tones, shades and tints that are surprisingly possible within a single color. Monochromatic colors work well together, producing a harmonizing and soothing effect.

A monochromatic color scheme is created by choosing a single color from any of the twelve colors found on the color wheel, then using it along with its various tints, shades and tones. The example below is a monochromatic family.

monochromatic color scheme


ColorWheel-OppositesComplementary colors (a.k.a. color opposites) are those that are located directly opposite each other on the color wheel. For example: violet is the complementary of yellow since it is located opposite of yellow on the color wheel.

The complementary or color opposites are:

    • Red and green
    • Yellow and violet
    • Blue and orange
    • Yellow-green and red-purple
    • Yellow-orange and blue-violet
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Red-violet and yellow-green
    • Red-orange and blue-green
    • Blue-violet and yellow-orange

Painting tips regarding color opposites:

1) When equal amounts of color opposites are mixed together they will cancel each other out resulting in a drab neutral gray.

color opposites vibrate2) When color opposites are placed next to each other, especially when fully saturated, they create the strongest contrast between them and will even create the optical illusion of appearing to vibrate. This illusion is most evident between red and green.


split-complementary color schemeA variation on the complementary color scheme is the split-complementary color scheme. Rather than the color opposite the key color on the wheel, the split complementary takes the two colors directly on either side of the complementary color. For example if your key color is yellow, you would select the two colors on either side of violet instead of violet to make up this harmony of colors.

This scheme allows for a nicer range of colors while still not deviating from the basic harmony between the key color and its complementary color. It has the same visual appeal as the complementary color scheme, however, with less contrast and tension.  The split complimentary color scheme is a safe choice for virtually any design as it is near impossible to mess up and always looks good.


colorwheel-AnalogousAnalogous colors are groups of three colors that sit next to one another on the color wheel. One being the main or dominant color and two supporting colors. The effect of this color scheme can be quite dramatic as these hues usually work very well together in creating a sense of unity or harmony within the composition.

When using this color scheme, choose one as the dominate color (usually a primary or secondary color), a second color to support, and a third as an accent.

Accented Analogous

accented analogous colorsAn accented analogous scheme (also called analogous complementary) is a combination of the analogous and complementary color schemes. It consists of colors which sit next to each other on the color wheel and a color that is directly opposite to these. The direct complement then becomes the accent color to create a dynamic contrast against the dominant color grouping. This is a great way to add warmth to a cool analogous color pallet or a cool accent color to an otherwise warm color scheme.

Painting tips using this color scheme:

1) This color scheme works best when the number of colors used are limited to four.

2) A good time to use this scheme is when three closely relate colors are dominating a design. Adding the contrasting color provides a surprising accent for the composition.

Triadic (Triad)

triadic color schemeA triadic color scheme is made up of three colors which are equally spaced from one another on the color wheel forming an equilateral triangle. Thus every fourth color on the color wheel will make up part of a triad.

Some examples of triadic color schemes could be:

    • Red / Yellow / Blue
    • Orange / Green / Violet
    • Yellow-Orange / Blue-Green / Red-Violet
    • Yellow-Green / Blue-Violet / Red-Orange

Painting tips for mixing triad colors:

1) Work with only the three selected colors in your triad and their mixes.
2) Make one of your colors dominant with the other two acting as subordinates.
3) Add variety to your design by including different shades, tints and tones of your triad colors.

Test your knowledge of Color. Take this simple test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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UPDATED: 26 October 2020

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