In dealing with merchandise, a recognition and understanding of colour harmony is desirable. A fine colour sense is not so rare as a fine musical ear, but even the untrained eye may become educated by careful study. Taste and discrimination as well as creative ability in the use of colour may be developed by study, comparison, and selection.
We have said that there are three primary, three secondary, and three tertiary colours. The three primary colours are yellow, red, and blue. Black and white are not regarded as colours, but when they are mixed with the three primary colours, lighter or darker tints or shades of those colours are produced. White is a blending by lens of the three primaries. Black is the result of mixing the three primaries in pigments or dyes.
The Primary Colours
The first of the primary colours, yellow, is the gayest, most cheerful of the three, and nearest to sunshine when used in small areas. It is at its best when it is pale, however, for in large expanses it becomes irritating. Perhaps that is why it is a symbol of cowardice as well as of sunshine and fruitfulness. It represents warmth and heat when mixed with red. It is tender and delicate in a pure state but MOST easily defiled when mixed with other colours. It is lost in a warm light and increases in beauty in a dull light. It remains untouched by distance. A field of yellow wild flowers, resembling delightfully a patch of sunlight, is visible for miles. Nature is prolific in yellow flowers and foliage, but a yellow room is irritating. Small areas of yellow used in a neutral-coloured room, however, or in a room in which die other primary colours occur, create a sense of gaiety and cheer.
Red is the most versatile of all the colours. It is positive, cheerful, and favourable to the eye. It is charming, beautiful, and one of the most universally becoming of all colours. However, when used in too large masses it becomes ostentatious. It stands for the most varied emotions: for danger, fierceness, rage, passion, defiance, excitement, power, and war. But it is a symbol also of ardour, courage, truth, and loyalty, and to look through “rose coloured glasses” is to look optimistically. It is used for royal robes, for ecclesiastical vestments, and for the cape that enrages the bull. It glows in die cock’s comb and the turkey’s wattle. Red is pleasing in its tints; there is a long and lovely range of pinks. It is deep and rich in its shades when it is mixed with black. It mixes beautifully with yellow, and is equally lovely in the more sombre colours resulting from a mixture with blue. It brightens in a warm light and is rich and glowing in a dull light. It is lost rather quickly in the distance, however. When wars were carried on at a distance, therefore, military uniforms were sometimes red. Those same uniforms were disastrous in trench warfare because they made the wearer a sure target. Red occurs little in nature; but when it does occur, as in a garden, the red flowers immediately attract the eye to the disadvantage of flowers of all other colours. Yellow reaches out toward light; red leans toward light when mixed with yellow and toward shade when mixed with blue. It is discordant only when used in certain hues with orange and vivid purple.
In clothing, blue is the most popular colour because it is the most generally flattering colour to all skin types for men, women, and children. Blue has the same relation to shade as yellow has to light. Yellow is warm; blue is cold. Blue is most powerful in strong light and loses its effectiveness in dull light. Blue suffers little change by distance. It blends well with white, and the result is a range of pale blues. It is cool, soothing, and agreeable to the eye and it can be used in larger quantities without causing fatigue than can any other primary colour. It is sedate rather than brilliant and does not arouse emotions; but it is a bit depressing when used in too-large quantities. In hot countries blue rooms are refreshing; but in countries where the winters are long, areas of blue in rooms incline the occupants toward despondency. Blue is discordant with green when used in merchandise, although green leaves are harmonious with blue skies out-of-doors. Blue stands for purity, innocence, peace, loyalty, and truth. In religious pictures the virgin’s robes and the saint’s garments are often painted blue.
The Mixing of Colours
The colours discussed thus far have been the three primary colours: pure yellow, pure red, and pure blue. The combination of these three colours in various quantities, or with white or black, produces all the other hues, tints, and shades.
The mixing of colours is in itself interesting if one is painting or actually designing, but the effect of colours on one another either when mixed or when placed side by side is of especial interest and importance to us here, for it will help us to create colour harmonies and to avoid colour discords.
Each of the three primary colours is at its best in the presence of a mixture of the other two. Pure red is an exciting colour alone, but when you put it next to or surround it with green—the mixture of blue and yellow—it becomes more intense. Pure yellow is bright and full of light alone, but when you surround it with violet—a mixture of red and blue—its brightness is greatly increased. Pure blue, when you surround it with orange—the combination of red and yellow—becomes much more vivid. These combinations of two colours—green, violet, and orange—are called the complements of the third, or primary, colours. They are also called the secondary colours. An understanding of these facts is basic and therefore necessary to the study and use of colour in any line of work.
It is true that you may not always want to intensify your colour; but suppose that you do. Red and green combinations provide gaiety in a costume or in a room. A red rug, for instance, is a prized possession, the owner delights in it and wants to emphasize its beauty. Green walls in the room, green and red in the chintzes. And green chairs will do just that. The walls, however, should be as pale and olive as possible, and some dull blue and grey should be used to tone the room down. A little yellow will soften the complementary colour. Semi-neutral colours, such as grey, buff, or soft brown, however, will make the rug less, rather than more, red. A college pennant of orange and blue upon a wall will catch the eye, but a room in blue, grey, soft yellow, and a bit of rose is in better taste than one in orange and blue. Violet and yellow are usually too shrill for decorative purposes. It is good to know how to use them, however, because occasionally those colours may be used to advantage. A lovely yellow porcelain vase may be the central decoration of a room, and a table cover of purple, or lavender, or violet brocade may help it to appear at its best. The walls of such a room might be a lavender-grey and the furniture blue and violet.
A picture of pink peonies becomes more vivid when placed upon a pale green wall; when placed upon a grey or blue wall, however, it becomes less vivid. A pink blouse may look satisfactory with a dark green suit; but a grey suit will make a pale pink blouse look faded. A blue rug with a bit of orange in the design becomes more deeply blue and thus less sombre.
These combinations of two primitive colours with the third are crude and daring if used in large quantities and indoors. Used in small quantities against white, black, or neutral gray, however, they are very beautiful and gay. That is why plaids, prints, and stripes are so effective.
In heraldry, the three primary colours alone were used, perhaps because of their symbolic significance, or because the mixing of colour was not yet well understood. In painting, Italian primitives were done chiefly in the three primary colours, but these colours were imposed on gold or silver backgrounds and did not often come in juxtaposition. The early tapestries, made in a day of few openings in walls and no window glass, show great areas of these rich, deep colours. There was little light in the large rooms in which these tapestries were hung, and so the tapestries were used to shut out drafts as well as to beautify and enrich the rooms with their colour and their patterns.
Much of the brilliance of colours disappears in the out-of-doors. The competition with light, distance,, flowers, and trees is so great that they lose their importance. Brilliant sunlight, green lawns, yellow sand, trees, hills, and bright flower gardens absorb and blend them into one grand medley. Clothes for tropical wear, therefore, are usually of white or of vivid colours. Beach costumes and country clothes are delightful in these bright colours, but the same colours used in town costumes and worn against the gray city background are likely to startle the eye.-Sometimes it is the fashion to startle the eye, however.-Porch, furniture, awnings, and dishes, also, can be very vivid in colour without offending.
The Secondary Colours
We have said that a mixture of yellow and red makes orange; of blue and red, violet; and of blue and yellow, green. These colours-orange, violet, and green-are called the secondary colours. The combination of these colours, that is, the mixture of them in pigment or in dye, produces all of the other colours. The artist does not consider black and white as colours.
If your eye is trained to colour, you can see the various primary colours that have been mixed to make one of the secondary or even, one of the tertiary colours. If your eye is not trained, it may soon be trained if you watch and analyse the colours you see constantly around you. Blue and yellow are quite apparent in green; red and yellow are obvious in orange; and blue and red are visible in purple. The mixture of the three primary colours makes a very dark grey which may be varied according to the amount of each colour used. Warm grey results when yellow predominates; cool slate grey when blue is the stronger in the combination; and a pinkish grey when red is used in larger quantities. ‘Any colour that has a decided amount of yellow in it we call a warm colour; for example, peach is a warm pink, and rose a cool pink; turquoise or peacock blue are as warm as blues can get; a lavender blue is a cool blue; jade is a cool green; chartreuse is as warm as green can be; blue and green are cool, yellow and orange are warm.