Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Color schemesWe looked at the basics of color and its relationship on the color wheel in the previous lesson, “Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1.” Color harmony (also known as color schemes) will be discussed in part 2 of this lesson on the basic art element called color.

What is Color Harmony?

Color harmony is the relationship of colors that work well together. It can be a simple relationship involving only one color with several shades (monochromatic) or two complementary colors, or it can be a more complex relationship involving 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


Monochromatic refers to the use of a single color from the color wheel. A monochromatic color scheme can be made using this single color.

A monochromatic color scheme is created by using that single color along with its various tints, shades, and tones. All the variances of the single color work well together to produce a harmonizing and soothing effect.

monochromatic color scheme
An example of a monochromatic family.


Basic Art Element — Color relationshipsComplementary colors (a.k.a. color opposites) are located directly opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, violet is complementary to yellow because it is located opposite 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, they will cancel each other out, resulting in a drab neutral gray.

Basic Art Element — Color2) When color opposites are placed next to each other, especially when fully saturated, they create the strongest contrast between them. They 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. Split-complementary takes the two colors directly on either side of the complementary color, rather than the color opposite the key color on the wheel. So, for example, if your main 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 wider range of colors while remaining true to the basic harmony between the key and complementary colors. It has the same visual appeal as the complementary color scheme but with less contrast and tension. Split-complementary color schemes are a safe choice for almost any design because they are nearly impossible to mess up and always look good.


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

Using this color scheme, choose one as the dominant 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) combines analogous and complementary color schemes. It consists of colors next to each other on the color wheel and the color directly opposite 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 is limited to four.

2) A good time to use this scheme is when three closely related colors dominate a design. Then, adding the contrasting color provides a surprising accent for the composition.

Triadic (Triad)

triadic color schemeA triadic color scheme comprises three colors that 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 theory. Take this simple test.

Your Next Art Lesson

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

Basic Elements of Art, The(An Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1 

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2You are here.

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Want More Art Lessons?

When you are finished with the Basic Art Elements lessons, why not move on to the Good Design Principles? To get started click on  The Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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UPDATED: 13 March 2023

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