This is that ancient tool of artists everywhere, the color wheel.
The thick, solid lines connect the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. These are the colors that cannot be made by mixing any other colors. The colors connected by dotted lines are secondary colors: green, orange, and violet. These colors are made by mixing different combinations of the primary colors together (i.e. blue and yellow, yellow and red, and red and blue, respectively). Those colors between these two triangles on the circle are called tertiary colors, and they are made by mixing primary colors with secondary colors (for example, yellow-orange is made by mixing primary color yellow with secondary color orange). Neutral colors are white, black, gray (a mixture of white and black), and brown.
Groupings of three colors that appear side-by-side on the color wheel are called analogous colors (blue, blue-green, and green, for example). These color combinations are perfectly harmonious together and often lend a soothing palette to any design. Colors that are connected through the center of the circle via a gray line are complementary colors, or visual opposites. Red and green are complementary colors, for example. A near-complementary color combination is one in which a color is paired with the one that appears next to its complementary color (for example, violet and yellow-orange). These are great combinations that lack a little of the visual tension created by pairing complementary colors, creating a slightly more harmonized design.
As noted above, when paired in equal amounts, complementary colors create an apparent discord; they seem to be in competition with each other and make each other appear more saturated than they would if they were viewed apart. However, when complementary colors are mixed out of proportion, they can offset each other in a visually pleasing way through contrast, as red ornaments placed conservatively can make an evergreen tree appear more beautiful. Another trick is to use one saturated color and then a desaturated (tint or shade) of a complementary color to offset it.
Tints and shades should not be confused with hues. A hue is an unadulterated (pure) color in its saturated form. A tint is a color that has been desaturated by adding white to make it appear lighter. Conversely, a shade has been desaturated by adding black to make it appear darker.
To further illustrate saturation, consider the following three versions of the same picture. The one on the top has been desaturated; the one in the center appears in its original form; the bottom one has had its saturation increased through a computer imaging program.
Note how in the super-saturated version, all the colors appear brighter, but in the less-saturated version, they appear more gray but the lightness and contrast of the original has been maintained.
Now, how to bring all this knowledge into your designs?
Primary colors - saturated hues that cannot be made by mixing any other colors together. Red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors.
Secondary colors - saturated hues made by mixing two primary colors together. Green, orange, and violet are secondary colors.
Tertiary colors - saturated hues made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. Yellow-green, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, and blue-green are all tertiary colors.
Neutral colors - white, black, gray (a mixture of white and black), and brown.
Analogous colors - colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel, and which act harmoniously together. Blue, blue-green, and green are analogous colors.
Complementary colors - visual opposites that appear directly across from each other on the color wheel. Red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet are the main complementary colors. When mixed in equal proportions, complementary colors create a visual tension.
Near-complementary colors - when a color is paired with the color that appears next to its compelementary color on the color wheel, creating slightly less visual tension. Blue and yellow-orange, for example, are near-complementary colors.
Tint - when a color is desaturated by adding white, which makes it appear lighter. Pink is a tint of red.
Shade - when a color is desaturated by adding black, which makes it appear darker. Maroon is a shade of red.
In jewelry-making, there is plenty of room for play with colors. Think of amazonite as a tint of blue. What would go well with it? If blue's complement is orange, how about copper (an orange metal) to offset it? Other blues and some greens would be analogous, so how about some turquois and blue lace agate to harmonize? The possibilities are virtually (and visibly) endless!
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