Tips for Better Color Relationships

Nov 17 / Dan Schultz

Have you been looking for relationship advice? I can help! While the following may not help much (or at all) with your human relationships, I do have a few tips to help you achieve better color relationships.

However you think of color, it's important to remember

we artists want our colors to work in harmony. But if you’ve been painting for any length of time at all, you know that harmony isn’t always easy to achieve. Color temperatures can be askew, values can be in the wrong range, saturation can get out of hand. It can take a lot of brush strokes to get things right. 
At some point along the way I realized something helpful. All the colors available for my painting were present on my palette. I had the whole range of value from light to dark. All the primary colors and some secondary colors were there. Why not use those palette colors to compare the color relationships for my painting? 

Use Your Palette!
The best way to use your palette to compare color relationships is to mix your colors right next to each other. Check out the time lapse video below to see what I mean. (Just FYI, the video makes it look a little like I premixed the colors, but I didn’t. The video shows the whole duration of the painting session. I mixed each color as I went along.)


Saturation is the intensity of a color. In physical terms it is how much pigment, or pure color, is in a mixture.
Saturation is different than value. A color can be either light or dark value and still be high saturation.
One way you can think of it is how loud is the volume turned up on a color, or would the color make it into an 80's costume party.

Warm vs. Cool

Another way to divide color is into warm and cool colors. Warm colors lean yellow red, cool colors lean blue. This spectrum is called color temperature.
Temperature, like many things in art, is relative and contextual. If you place a neutral color next to a warm color it will appear cool. If you place the same neutral color next to a cool color it will appear warm. 

Color Schemes

Themes are specific sets of colors that combine well. These sets are determined by dividing up the color wheel in a certain pattern.
Two common themes are complimentary and analogous.
Complimentary schemes are made up of two colors directly across from each other on the color wheel.
Analogous themes are three adjacent colors on the color wheel.
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"All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites."  

- Marc Chagall

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