The Combination of Colors

Manufacturer and builder 4, 1873

Colors have a shade and a hue. By shade we understand the depth of a color as in the gradations from black to white. By hue is meant any compound color undiluted. For instance, we say an orange color of a red hue or a yellow hue; or purple from the bluest to the reddest hue. Nothing is more common than in the assorting of wools to mistake these two qualities, and often we see a pale lemon color shaded down to a deep orange, or a yellow-green down to a dark blue-green, which, when worked into a subject, makes the general effect so entirely discordant. We will consider some peculiar attributes of the three primaries - red, blue, and yellow. red is the most positive of all colors. It holds the middle station between yellow, which is most allied to light, and blue, which ismost allied to shade, is decidedly a warm color, and imparts that quality into every compound color into which it enters. The effect is most apparent when compounded with yellow. Red, from its powerful nature, requires more careful management than most colors, but it is highly useful and agreeable color to look upon. Not so, when it becomes what is called "mauve," (which is crimson diluted with white,) and in some of its shades is most irritating color, an highly destructive to all other surroundings, as its contrasting color is yellow, so it yellows or fades all colors near which it is placed, and it is rarely acceptable as a color in dress without being considerably mellowed by being placed in juxtaposition with plenty of white or black. Blue is the next primary, and is the nearest to shade as yellow is to light. It is the only absolute cool color, and communicates this quality to all hues into which it comes in combination. It is a pleasing color, and may be used in almost any arrangement, and has a larger portion in the nature than any of the two other primaries. There is a popular notion that blue and green are discordant when viewed simultaneously. If we look on a blue sky shining over a green meadow, we shall see under what circumstances they agree, (as nature never errs.) It is that green is yellowed by the sunlight, which, along with the brown of nature, is sufficiently warm to be thoroughly harmonious. Yellow, the next primary, is the lightest of all colors, white excepted, which we consider the combination of all colors reflected. Black - absorbed, its proportional power to red, or blue, is as three of thirteen. It is the most positive and least agreeable color to the eye, that is pure and undiluted. Now, if nature ever errs, why, it may be asked, does she give us the largest flower we have, yellow, the yellow sun-flower? IOn analyzing this, we shall see that the great bulk of the center of this flowe is not yellow, but its contrasting or neutralizing color melodized to it; so the otherwise vulgar staring flower becomes perfect. The eye dwells with greater pleasure on yellow the more it is diluted or weakened in intensity, and we can tolerate a lemon tint or light buff; but even then, unless toned down, you often hear it denounced as sickly and bilious. And we may here remark that no combination of color can be complete without the three primaries entering into their component parts, either in their pure form or compounded with secondaties; all should be so arranged as to form a general bloom, the most powerful colors necessarily being in the smallest proportion.

We have dwelt on the pleasure experienced by the contemplation of beauty, of arrangement of colors, but we must not conclude this is a natural pleasure. It is a natural pleasure to see color, but not in its most refined combinations. A child manifests its natural taste by preferring those toys most gaudily painted, and with the greatest amount of vermilion. A collier dresses himself in a green plush waistcoat with a couple of dozen of brass buttons fown the front and a scarlet comfortable, and thinks himself perfection. We occasionally see also natural taste showing itself in the shape of a pink bonnet, orange shawl, and a green dress. But we do not set these up as examples at all to be imitated, as in nature (which we may always take as our type) we never see large masses of bright color without a larger quality of neutral or tertiary colors to tone, subdue, or counterbalance them.

Now if you are going to furnish and decorate, say your dining-room, it may be done either by the harmony of analogy, or by the harmony of contrast. Your first consideration in either case should be the aspect. If south or west it requires to be on a cool key. If north or east, it should be on a warm key. You then may consider your pictures, (if sufficient to require consideration.) Now sage green is perhaps for a background the most suitable, or claret if there is plenty of light and a cold aspect; tehy say the former. Green for the walls; you would then ask, What is the complementary color of green? The answer is, Red; so you get the three colors by fixing red for your curtains, and blue and yellow in combination, forming green, on the walls; you have only to regulate it further by ascertaining whether the green is a blue green or yellow green. If a blue green, the complementary will be made up by adopting an orange red - in other words, scarlet or cherry; if a yellow green, purple must enter into the composition of your red, which then becomes more crimsony. If the hairs are not covered with morocco, the same rule holds good. If you did not feel that you had your red blue enough, a border containing blue might be added. If short of scarlet or yellow, a gold color border would supply that deficiency.
- The Builder.

[We give the above (a short extract from a most tedious long article in an English journal) for what it is worth, without indorsing any of the opinions expressed. The subject of complementary colors has recently received some attention from the side of scientists, and we will later communicate the positive results of experiments made in this line by Prof. Wood of Columbia College, New York. - Ed.]

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