Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Color Balance

( Originally Published 1924 )

When we speak of balance, we mean a combination of two or more contrasting colors; such as red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow. black and white, and so on. Complementary maximum colors afford the greatest contrast.


Red, yellow, and blue form a complete triangle. This is called a complement of colors. If we remove one of the three colors, the triangle will not be complete, hence, the color which we remove will be the complement of the two remaining colors. In other words, if we have only red and yellow, we know that blue, the missing color, is their complement. Now red and yellow mixed produce orange; therefore, blue in turn is the complement of orange. The complementary color of red would be a mixture of yellow and blue, which is green,

Purple is a mixture of red and blue, therefore, yellow is the complement of purple.

The accompanying color chart will show at a glance the complement of any hue. The complement of each hue is shown directly opposite on the circle. Complementary colors when mixed sub-due each other; when employed in juxtaposition (side-by-side) they intensify each other. For ex-ample, in Nature we may see a flaming maple beside a blue-green spruce.—The little spruce tree is gray-green and because its color is complementary, the red of the maple is intensified and the spruce seems greener against the maple than it did in the summer when all the trees were green.

A piano must be tuned to one pitch throughout so that all parts are in sympathetic vibration. When this is true we say, "The tone is marvellously pleasing!" Tone beauty in costume is the result of all the colors being so perfectly related to one another that the vibration or rhythm of the whole color harmony is increased.

In college days, Tennyson's "Princess" was given. Those who were the young lady students in Princess Ida's school wore yellow robes. Cyril's companions who disguised themselves as girls in order to gain admission to the school wore purple robes. The purple and yellow robes produced a complementary arrangement which should have been pleasing—but, alas, it proved the very contrary ! The contrast of light and dark was too great, for yellow is of very high value and violet of very low. If the violet had been brought to such a high value as lavender or had there been inequality in mass, the stage picture would have been much more attractive.

So we learn that complementary colors combine more pleasingly when they are of like or similar value—tint with tint, and shade with shade—for they then produce an analogous harmony of value.

A neutralized color, such as gray, brown, russet, citron, olive, or maroon, may be combined with a small amount of a positive color, such as sage green and scarlet, russet and turquoise. The danger in these combinations is that there may be too great a contrast in value—a dark green-gray might have touches of the positive red, but if a light thin red were used, the costume would be greatly cheapened. However, if a bright but dark red, the same value as the green-gray, were used, the colors would immediately become harmonious. There are, however, certain harmonies which may become more attractive by employing tones that are distant in value. In such cases the intensities must be nearly alike. Ivory and plum color are more attractive than yellow and plum.

A most pleasing effect may be obtained by using complementary colors different in amount. An artist fitted up his studio in red and hunters-green-for he wanted Merry Christmas to be a continuous celebration throughout the year. He wished only a touch of the brilliant and a large area of the somber. So the whole studio was fitted out in the Robin Hood green except the one bright spot—which was his fiery head!

A woman who is drab and neutral in her own color, as the brown-haired Alice beloved of Ben Bolt, will bring life to her personality by choosing a positive color as her resurrection spirit. That life-giving hue must be identical in quality with her own color tone or it will vulgarly proclaim her object in employing it. Her brown will be a half neutralized orange; her blue should not be glaring, but a little gray—elusiveness is the perennial secret of art in dress.

Split Opposites

This balance is made by adding to an analogous harmony the complement of the predominating color. For example, blue and violet are analogous and the predominating hue is a combination of the two or a blue-violet; yellow-orange is the complement of blue-violet and therefore balances these two colors. We might have used yellow and orange with the blue and the violet. It is well to remember that just as complements must be right in value and intensity, so must split opposites.

A girl with red-orange or Titian hair might wear blue-green making a perfect complementary balance, but for variety's sake she might well choose blue and green which give her the color scheme of the split opposites.


Triads are formed of three equidistant colors, such as red, yellow, and blue, or orange, green, and violet. These colors in pastel tints make exquisite negligées and evening gowns. Such a color scheme is most beautiful when values are equal.


After all, the true artist can combine any colors with others if he uses Michael Angelo's recipe, which would be common sense in choice of hue, value, and intensity.

Harmony and Balance in the Three Dimensions of Color

We have discussed at length harmony and balance of hue with some slight reference to the influence of varying values and intensities. Each of the three dimensions of color will show its own harmonies and balances. Colors of similar darkness or lightness are harmonious, while colors distant in value are contrasting. In intensity, colors of equal dullness and brightness are harmonious, while very dull colors and very bright colors are contrasting.

Any color must be considered in its three dimensions, and the harmony and contrast of each carefully weighed and measured. There may be a harmony of hue and a contrast of value; there may be a harmony of hue and value and still a contrast of intensity. Contrasts may be made in all three dimensions, but this tends to ugliness. When all three dimensions are concordant, we have a much to be desired quality.

A mere man sensed this quality when he helped his wife to choose a hat by pointing to the cover of a book with the suggestion, "If this blue were only green, it would be exactly the right color." He sensed the rightness of the value and intensity.

Home | More Articles | Email: