Guest Blogger Mary on Color Theory

Mary Gildersleeve is a prolific published designer, an author and knitting instructor. She currently blogs at By Hand, With Heart. Many of her designs are available through her website.

Color theory encompasses a multitude of definitions, concepts and design applications. All the information would fill several encyclopedias. As an introduction, here are a few basic concepts and definitions.

A color-wheel, a circle based on the primary colors, is traditional in the field of art. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept. Remember, the color-wheel, altho showing separate segments is actually a spectrum with (virtually) infinite shades based on adding or subtracting a bit of each color from the segment.

PRIMARY COLORS = Red, yellow and blue — In traditional color theory, these are the 3 pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues

SECONDARY COLORS = Green, orange and purple — These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

TERTIARY COLORS = Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow- green — These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

COLOR HARMONY = Harmony can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts. In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order,

a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it’s either boring or chaotic. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

Color scheme based on analogous colors: Analogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates. These are colors right next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match extremely well, but they also create almost no contrast. They’re good for very serene-feeling designs and artwork where you want viewers to feel comfortable. To get a better contrast, skip the middle color and use the two on the “outside”.

Yarn and Color Theory: Usually a successful combination is one where you stay within the same tonal range across your palette. That said, sometimes you might WANT to cross ranges — for instance, with many traditional knitting styles (Nordic or Fair Isle), the colorwork is based on the interplay of dark/light and stark contrasts.

With yarns, sometimes the ONLY way to know what works or doesn’t is by knitting swatches. Some colors – no matter what a color wheel shows – just don’t work or disappear or don’t do what you want while you’ll find that some really SING when put together.

Nature provides a perfect departure point for color harmony. In a photo of a plant red, yellow and green create a harmonious design, regardless of whether this combination fits into a technical formula for color harmony. When you have a question whether colors will look good – go outside and look at the mix God has created. How much red is mixed with the greens; what is striking or soothing or upsetting? What looks chaotic or ordered? What makes YOU smile or happy? These are the colors that will work.

Sometimes you’ll just “see” a combination that looks pleasing – I once looked down and the dusty-pale blue of a book with the rich, chocolate brown of another book were a very nice combination. In addition, there was just a hint of antique gold and warm-white that set off the two colors so nicely and knit up into a sweater gifted to a friend!

Bottom-line? Color is one of those easy-to-comprehend-but-hard-to-implement aspects of knitting. Swatching and playing and practicing are the best solution for successful color combinations.

Here are some online sites which may prove useful in your “playing with color”.

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