Part 3 – Exercise 4: Understanding Colour

Draw two grids of squares, filling one with colours that you like and the other with colours you dislike. Then put the two grids side by side and ask the question ‘which one looks better?’

Next try experimenting with placing colours together as Itten did.

Try and find different combinations of two colours to illustrate each of these ideas:
Angry Brave Creative Dangerous Energetic Familiar Gregarious
Hopeful Independent Jumpy Kinetic Luxurious Masculine New
Open Precious Quiet Reasonable Sociable Tasteful Unhappy
Vital Wonderful Extra special Youthful Zany

Colours I Like:

Colours I Don’t Like:

The theory is that I should find the mix of colours I like, more jarring than those I don’t like, but actually, I still prefer the colours that I like. The colours that I don’t like feature a lot of salmon pink, brown and orange (which I don’t like!). The colours I like don’t particularly all go well all together but the coloured squares remind me of a patchwork quilt.

Colour Experiments based on Itten’s Colour Theory

Colours interact and are influenced by the colours around them. Colours on a white background appear less luminous than against black. The white reduces their brilliance. However colours appear lighter against black. This is particularly apparent in the blue and red examples below when the blue and red squares look darker against white.


Yellow has been placed against a background of blue and red primary colours.  Primary colours are completely distinct from each other, creating quite high contrast in these combinations.


Yellow is now placed against backgrounds of secondary colours orange, violet and green. Yellow is a component of orange and also a component of green and consequently the contrast between these colour combinations is reduced. Yellow and violet are, however, opposite (complementary) colours on (Itten’s) colour wheel – a combination considered to be high contrast.


The combinations above show complimentary (opposite) colours. These are considered the greatest contrast.


Contrast is diminished as hues are further removed from the primary colours, for example green on red has significant contrast, green on orange is less intense.

A bold primary colour next to black can give the black the effect of a tinge of the primary’s complimentary colour (In this case – green). I’m not sure I am seeing this effect.

Grey on an Ice Blue background has a slight has warm (red?) tinge. Grey on red/orange looks slightly blue. They grey colour appears to take on a slight tinge of the complimentary colour. (An effect Itten describes as simultaneous contrast).

The warmth of a colour is effected by the colours around it – violet appears warmer against blue than against red.

Contrast can be achieved using the same hue with different levels of saturation.

Colour Combinations that Represent Words:

ANGRY – This pure red and orange do not sit comfortably together but seem agitated. The combination is hot and irritable, like skin that has been stung by a wasp.

BRAVE – To be brave you need to be calm, level headed, mature and rational. This dark tone of blue feels calm and authoritative. The dark and light blue sit well together, cooperating with each other. There is no conflict here – this colour combination has a focused intent.

CREATIVE – To be creative you need to be energetic, lively, vibrant and a bit whacky. This magenta and lime green combination is fun and the colours feel like they are dancing together. These colours are effectively opposite each other on the colour wheel producing a combination with a lot of energy.

DANGEROUS – This highly saturated red combined with a very dark red black feels moody and sulky. The bright red seems to pulse against the very dark red background.

ENERGETIC – The warm yellow and magenta colours feel warm and active. The yellow and magenta are two parts of a TRIAD and work well together.

GREGARIOUS – The highly saturated hot pink is loud, brash and fun. It is tempered by the blue-green tone giving a lively but not too over-the-top result. Again, green and red are opposites on the colour wheel creating energy. The slightly darker shades mute the effect.

FAMILIAR – Two tones of green, the colour of nature. Green is a cool and calming colour and the addition of black gives the green a soothing and quiet feel. The two colours cooperate with each other to give a sense of calm.

HOPEFUL – The yellow and orange colours are analagous and work well together, supporting each other. Yellow is the colour of the sun and summer. The combination has an optimistic and positive feel.

INDEPENDENT – The indigo blue and violet sit close together on the colour wheel and cooperate well as a pair. The combination is not particularly warm or cool. The blue colour feels formal and level-headed. These colours are bold and stand together well on their own.

JUMPY – A garish, highly saturated orange red and shade of green together seem to clash. They are complimentary colours and feel agitated together. The colours appear to jump around when you look at them.

KINETIC – suggests ordered motion, machine parts working smoothly together. A cool shade of blue tempered with a little black together with a complimentary yellow / orange suggests opposing parts working together.

LUXURIOUS – A warm, deep brown suggests leather or suede together with rich gold gives an opulant feel. This combination could also represent the colours of a smooth chocolate filled with golden caramel suggesting indulgence.

MASCULINE – A dark slate blue / grey and slate blue. These colours are serious and understated. The colours of a business suit. The dark shades are sober and no-nonsense.

NEW – two shades of a muted baby pink. These colours are delicate and fragile. The colours of a (white!) baby’s skin or a kitten’s nose.

OPEN – A bright, light green and cheery saturated yellow. These colours are analagous and work well together. Like spring they are bright and welcoming.

PRECIOUS – A tint of dusty pink and pale cyan hint at the colours of an opal. The pink and cyan are two colours of a triad.

QUIET – Two shades of blue green. The colours of cool, still water. They combination is calm and subtle. The colours recede as though they don’t want to be disturbed.

REASONABLE – Sensible grey (with a hint of blue) and a lighter blue grey. Diplomatic, neutral colours ready to negotiate.

SOCIABLE – A slightly muted tone of lime green and light shade of yellow. The colours are analagous and get along well together. They are harmonious and not too loud.

TASTEFUL – A muted and subtle green grey combined with a lighter, slightly more yellow tint. The green and yellow tones are analogous and sit well together, the muted grey tones are understated and sophisticated.

UNHAPPY – A very dark purple – almost black mixed with a green-grey. The green and purple tones are complimentary and feel uncomfortable together. The dark shades feel sulky and uncooperative.

VITAL – Blue and green, the colours of nature and water. These colours are analagous and work together. They are calm and serious.

WONDERFUL – Cyan and white, the colours of a spring sky, or ice and snow. Light, bright and sparkling – the colours of wonder.

EXTRA SPECIAL – Royal blue and gold. These colours are complimentary and have a sense of formality. The colours of royalty. The gold colour leans towards orange, making these colours complimentary.

YOUTHFUL – A warm and vibrant yellow/orange tempered by a magenta that leans towards blue. These colours are fun and energetic but tempered with a little seriousness.

ZANY – Hot pink and dark orange.  The colours are fully saturated and full of life and vibrancy. They are analogous but together are so brightly coloured that the colours seem to dance together.

Thoughts on This Exercise

I had always known that certain colours represented specific moods or feelings such as yellow for warm sunny optimism or blue for cool formality. I also knew that some colours just went better together although was not particularly conscious of why.  This exercise has really shed some light on why certain colour combinations seem to work, as well as how colours work together to convey certain moods.

Some common themes seemed to emerge for me in this exercise:

Fully saturated, pure hues feel bright, fun, youthful and energetic.

Adding black and creating shades of colours made the colour feel more serious and sober, having a calming and subduing effect.

Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel (complimentary colours)  seem to jangle against each other, giving a sense of energy and agitation. For me these often seemed to fight with each other and were not relaxing to look at.

Colours which are different shades of the same hue are much calmer and relaxing to look at. There is no conflict between them.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s