I have secretly always thought that the emphasis placed on the basic ‘rules’ of colour theory were completely overrated. When I worked at Benjamin Moore at the retail level, [many years ago] and colour theory students would come in looking for help on a ‘complementary’ colour combination or an ‘analogous’ colour combination, it always occurred to me as a useless exercise. “I guess the way I pick colour is different from other people”, I thought.
When I taught colour theory at a local community college, I spent exactly 10 minutes in the first class distinguishing these combinations (and that was the end of the lesson).
I have always told my students that it is definitely important to understand the theory behind the combinations; when you are specifying colour, you need to know that blue is the opposite of orange (complementary) and that yellow and green (analogous) are beside each other on the colour wheel, but I have never once specified colours saying to myself “I think I’m going to specify an analogous colour combination”.
Then a couple weeks ago, one of my designer friends in Calgary, Carol Ann told me about a book she wrote about here in her blog. So I ordered it on-line and it just arrived yesterday! This book, written by a fellow Canadian, Colour Designer Janice Lindsay, called All About Colour, is fabulous, (and here it is in writing, so now I can say it out loud 🙂 and I quote:
Colour theory explains how colour is organized. It is excellent for labeling what has been done. It gives us terminology for describing colour palettes.
I might tell you that here we have an analogous colour scheme, hues from neighbouring or similar colour groups, and this is a complementary one. Over here, we have gone for a monochromatic or a single-colour approach. And to really impress you, I might draw your attention to some split complementaries. Well lah-di-dah. You might think I design according to rules of colour theory. I can only categorize them—after the fact.
The funny thing about colour theory is how interesting it seems and how useless it is.
People in the know about colour seem to think it is important, if they sang its praises, I hummed along. But the truth is that I never really understood how I was supposed to use it. I put colours together by feel.” Janice Lindsay
So my lovelies, put your mind at ease if you have done a colour theory course and barely remember what the rules are, or if you worry that you should be using them and don’t. That is exactly how I have always chosen colours as well–by feel.
As long as you understand the colour wheel, you don’t need to be that concerned with the ‘theory’ behind the combinations. After all, we don’t use that language with clients either.
And of course taking into consideration that clean and dirty colours should only be included on the same palette if you intended it to happen. In other words, these are guidelines to follow and understand in general, unless you want to break the rules. However, as I always say to my students, at least you will know when you are breaking the rules instead of installing colours in a space that clearly do not work!