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Elements of Design: What Colors Work Best Together?

Now that we’ve discussed Line and Shape as elements of design, it’s time to dive into color. Now, I say dive but perhaps I should amend that statement and say that we’ll just dip our toes into color. There is so much involved with color that there is now way that we could explore all the aspects of color in one blog post, so I’ll just introduce it here and let you do some exploring of your own if you want to really and truly dive in!

Color an element consisting of 3 properties: hue, value, and intensity. They may be described as follows:

  • hue – the name of a color 
  • value – the lightness or darkness of a color
  • intensity – the brightness or dullness of a color

By changing any one of these properties, you can severely change the color and the intent behind the graphic, photo, or digital art that you are creating.

 

hue

To demonstrate this, take a look at these screenshots of the color picker. The image above and the ones that follow are screenshots of the color picker in Illustrator (although it looks very similar in Photoshop). The red arrow shows you how to change the hue. It changes the color from red to orange to yellow, and so on. 

 

value

The green arrows show you how to change the value (which we will get into more on a later post). So once you have chosen the hue, you could choose to simply make a shade of the color by clicking anywhere on the right vertical of the color box. You could choose to make a tint of the color by clicking anywhere on the top of the color box.

 

intensity

This last screenshot shows you how to change the intensity of the color with the orange arrow. Simply click anywhere inside the box to change the intensity of the color.

 

example

For example, with the color selected in the screenshots above, you could make a wide variety of colors by changing the value and intensity. Look at the colors above. Both have the same hue but the value and intensity have both been changed for each color, giving it a very distinct feel. If you were to make the sky color in your digital art one of these colors, it would definitely signal to the viewer what time of day it was!

Of course, a discussion on color wouldn’t be complete without discussing the color wheel. Yet, I am loath to do so because I feel like it is much less helpful in digital art than it is with physical art when it comes to mixing colors. When you get into learning colors schemes, it will be nice to have familiarized yourself with the color wheel.

Still, in order to throw a little color psychology in the mix (which always leads to interesting discussions), we’ll look at the color wheel briefly.

 

color

So there it is, the color wheel in all its glory! In the physical art world we’d be talking about mixing colors using paints, pencils, chalk, or what have you. However, as we mix colors so differently here in the digital world and this is an introduction to color, I want to draw your attention to something different.

 

warm cool

A digital artist, photographer, or graphic designer can not only affect the mood by changing the value and intensity of the colors in their work, but by the combination of hues in their work. Above you see the color wheel split into two pieces with one side marked “warm” and the other side marked “cool”. Warm colors have a way of showing happiness, positivity, and energy. Cool colors are often calming and soothing but they could also show sadness in an artwork. Check out this article for more color psychology if you’re interested.

 

In the examples below, let’s see how using mainly one side or the other of the color wheel affects the artworks as a whole. I have selected three different artists in three different disciplines (digital art, graphic design, and photography). For each artist, I’ve selected both a warm and a cool image so that we can compare the difference.

 

Digital Artist: Jyo John mulloor

jyo warm
Image Source

WARM: Beyond messing with your brain, I love the way that Jyo John mulloor chose the already warm colored eyes to compliment the brown tones in the owl. In this case, the warm brown tones give off very natural vibes, yet there is also a feeling of imminent action; almost like the owl may take off at any moment!

 

Jyo Cool
Image Source

COOL: I chose this image because it is so similar to the owl image above, but in this case, mulloor chose to represent an image with cool blues. Beyond the “pupal”, the eye itself uses more cool tones of brown. The fact that the figure is so far away and that the overall tone of the image is mostly blue creates a cold, disengaged feeling. 

 

Graphic Designer: Gail Anderson

anderson warm
Image Source

The combination of red and yellow that Gail Anderson uses creates a very striking poster. With the main color being yellow, it really grabs attention! But the red accent if the man with the lance makes us see the imminent danger and excitement to come. 

 

Anderson cool
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I LOVE typography! In the promotional poster above, Anderson has chosen to use mainly blues to illustrate the types of type. Oddly, even though there is a lot going on in the the design, it has an oddly calming effect. It’s almost saying: “Relax! Use whatever type you like, it will be ok.” (But please...don't use comic sans...)

 

Photographer: Jimmy Chin

Chin warm
Image Source

The oranges and reds in Jimmy Chin’s image really imbue a feeling of energy into the silhouetted hiker. It is interesting to note that even though this image was taken in a setting with nearly no color (snow covered mountains), because of the time of day that it was shot there is so much bright warm color!

 

Chin Cool
Image Source

 

Here we have another mainly blue image with a touch of warm pinks and oranges. There is certainly a calmness to the image that is emphasized by the still waters.

Download the FREE reflection worksheet that goes along with this article below. This reflection is available in both Word and Google Doc; click the button below and enter your email!

 

 

 

 

 

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