3. Color harmony

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When people talk about color harmony, they assess the experience of the interaction of two or more colors. Painting and observations on the subjective color preferences of different people talk about the controversial ideas of harmony and disharmony.

For the majority of color combinations, colloquially called “harmonic” usually consist of closely-spaced tones, or of various colors having the same aperture ratio. Most of these combinations do not have a strong contrast. As a rule, the evaluation of harmony or dissonance caused by the feeling of pleasant or unpleasant-attractive-unattractive. Such judgments are built on personal opinion and does not have an objective character.

The concept of color harmony should be removed from the field of subjective feelings and moved to objective laws. Harmony – this balance, symmetry forces. The study of the physiological side of the color vision brings us closer to solving this problem. So, if some time to look at the green box, and then close your eyes, the eyes we will have a red square. Conversely, watching the red square, we get it “return flow” – green. These experiments can be done with all colors, and they confirm that the color image, appearing in the eyes, always based on the color complementary to what they see is real. Eyes require or generate complementary color. And this is a natural need to achieve a balance. This phenomenon can be called sequential contrast. Another experiment is that we impose the color square gray square smaller, but the same brightness. On this gray square yellow seem to us a pale purple on orange – blue-gray, with a red – green-gray and green – reddish gray on blue – orange and gray and purple – yellow-gray. Each color makes gray take it consistent and simultaneous contrasts indicate that the eye receives the satisfaction and sense of balance only on the basis of the law of complementary colors. Consider this and more from the other side. The physicist Rumford first published in 1797 in the journal Nicholson his hypothesis that the colors are harmonious in the case of a mixture gives a white color. As a physicist, he came from a study of the spectral colors, in the section devoted to the physics of color, it has stated that if to remove any spectral color, assume the red of the color spectrum, and the other colored light beams – yellow, orange, purple, blue, green – with a lens to gather together, the sum of the remaining colors will be green, that is, we get an extra color to the withdrawal. In physics color, mixed with its complementary color, forms the sum total of all colors, ie white and pigmentary same mixture will in this case, gray-black tone. Physiology Ewald Hering belongs to the following observation: “middle or neutral gray color corresponds to the state of the optical substance in which dissimilation – power consumption spent on color perception and assimilation – restore them – balanced. This means that the average gray eyes creates a state of equilibrium. ” Goering proved that the eye and the brain requires a medium gray, or, in his absence, they lose their peace of mind. If we see a white square on a black background, and then look in the other direction, in the form of image retention we will see a black square. If we look at the black square on a white background, the residual image will be white. We have seen in the eyes of a desire to restore equilibrium. But if we look at the medium-gray square on medium-gray background, it will not appear in the eyes of any residual image, different from the average gray. This means that a medium gray color corresponds to a state of equilibrium, necessary for our vision.

The processes taking place in visual perception, call the appropriate mental sensations. In this case, the harmony in our visual apparatus indicates psychophysical equilibrium in which dissimilation and assimilation of the visual substance identical. Neutral gray corresponds to this state. I can get the same gray color from black and white or two additional colors if they contain the three primary colors – yellow, red and blue in the proper proportions. In particular, each pair of complementary colors include three primary colors:

Red – Green = Red – (yellow and blue);
blue – orange = blue – (yellow and red);
yellow – purple = yellow – (red and blue).

Thus, one can say that if a group of two or more colors comprising yellow, red and blue in the appropriate proportions, the mixture of the colors will be gray.

Yellow, red and blue represent the overall color total.

His eye for the overall satisfaction require a bunch of color, and only in this case the perception of color achieves a harmonious balance. Two or more colors are harmonious, if the mixture is a neutral gray color. All other color combinations that do not give us gray nature are expressive or disharmonious. In painting, there are many products with a one-sided expressive tone, with their color composition, in terms of the above stated, it is not harmonious. These works are irritating and too exciting emphasized his persistent use of a single dominant color. No need to say that the color compositions must necessarily be harmonious, and when Sera says that the art – it is harmony, it confuses the artistic means and purpose of art. It is easy to notice that the great importance not only the arrangement of colors with respect to each other, but their relative proportions, as well as the degree of their purity and brightness.

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The basic principle of harmony emanates from the law due to the physiology of complementary colors. In his work on color Goethe wrote about harmony and integrity as follows: “When the eye beholds the color, it immediately comes into the active state and by its very nature inevitably and unconsciously immediately creates a different color, which in combination delivered by the color embodies the entire color wheel. Each individual color due to the specifics of perception causes the eyes to strive for universality. And then, in order to achieve this, the eyes, in order to self-gratification, looks next to each color or a colorless empty space, to which it would produce the missing color. This reflects the basic rule of color harmony. ”

Questions also touched color harmony and color theorist Wilhelm Ostwald. In his book about the basics of color, he wrote: “Experience teaches us that some combinations of certain colors are pleasant, others unpleasant or cause emotions. The question is, what defines this impression? To this we can reply that the colors are pleasing, between which there is a natural connection, ie order. Combinations of colors, the impression of which we are pleased we call harmonious. So the basic law, it would be possible to formulate as follows: Harmony = Order.

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In order to determine all the possible combinations of harmony, it is necessary to find a system of order, providing all of their options. Why is this procedure easier, the more obvious or self-evident will be harmony. Basically we have found two systems that can provide this order: the color circle connecting colors having the same degree of lightness or darkness – and triangles for colors representing a mixture of a color with white or black. Color wheel allow you to define a harmonious combination of different colors, triangles – the harmony of colors equivalent color tone. ”

When Ostwald states that “… the color, the impression of which we are pleased we call harmonious,” he expressed his purely subjective notion of harmony. But the concept of color harmony is to be moved from the area of ​​the subjective relation to the objective laws. When Ostwald says: “Harmony – Order,” offering as a system of order color wheels for different colors of the same brightness and color-tone triangle, it does not take into account the physiological laws of the residual image and simultaneity.

It is extremely important basis of any aesthetic color theory is the color wheel, as it gives the location of system colors. As an artist-colorist works with color pigments, the color and range of the order must be built according to the laws of the pigmentary color mixtures. This means that the opposite color should be complementary, i.e. giving a gray color when mixed. So, in my color wheel is blue against orange, and the mixture of these colors gives us gray. While in the color wheel Ostwald blue is opposite yellow, and pigmentary mixture gives green. This is the main difference in the construction means that the color wheel Ostwald can not be used either in painting or in applied arts.


The definition of harmony lay the foundation of a harmonious color composition. For the latter, it is important quantitative relation of colors. On the basis of the brightness of primary colors Goethe gave the following formula of quantitative ratio: yellow: red: blue = 3: 6: 8. You can make a general conclusion that all pairs of complementary colors, a combination of all three colors in the color wheel dvenadtsatichastnom which are connected to each other through equilateral or isosceles triangles, squares and rectangles, are harmonious.


Communication of these figures in twelve private color wheel is illustrated in Figure 2. The yellow, red and blue are the main form a harmonious triad. If the colors in the color wheel dvenadtsatichastnogo interconnect, we get an equilateral triangle. In this triad each color is represented with the utmost force and intensity, and each of them appears here in its typical generic qualities, ie yellow effect on the viewer like yellow, red – the red and blue – as blue. The eye does not require additional spot colors and their mixture gives a dark black and gray. Yellow, red and purple and blue-purple combines the figure of an isosceles triangle. A harmonious accord of yellow, red and orange. purple and blue-green combined square. Rectangle also gives sgarmonizovannoe combination of yellow-orange, red-violet, blue-violet and yellow-green.

Bundle of geometrical shapes consisting of an equilateral triangle and isosceles, a square and a rectangle, may be placed anywhere in the color circle. These figures can be rotated within a circle, thus replacing the triangle composed of yellow, red and blue, triangle, uniting yellow-orange, red-violet and blue-green or red-orange, blue-violet and yellow-green.

The same experiment can be carried out with other geometric shapes. Further development of this topic can be found in the section devoted to the harmony of color harmonies.