Colour Theory: Balance and Harmony with Scott Naismith

Today, I tapped the Chromecast on, started running on the spot (my wimpy attempt at physical activity for the day) and stumbled on colour theory videos by the talented landscape painter Scott Naismith.

Colour theory is something I struggle to develop. I’ve always painted whimsically and freely, “feeling” my way through choosing colours for a painting. For someone with no technical training, I think my “eye” has developed to become relatively decent for choosing colours that are aesthetically pleasing together. However, a majority of my artwork is digital and choosing from an infinite palette of colours can be daunting. It’s also extremely time-consuming without rules (or at least guidelines) to follow.

Established artists evoke so much emotion and impact through their choice of colours. I’d like to understand why certain colours go well together and how to choose such colours without having to “feel” my way through the process via trial and error. I want to unlock and understand these secrets and am hopeful I’ll mature artistically along the way.

Anyway, here are some nuggets I found helpful from this particular video.
(FYI, his colour wheel is based on the CMYK palette; Cyan Magenta and Yellow).

Complementary Colours and Neutrality
Complementary colours are directly opposite to each other on the colour wheel. Mixing them together will neutralize them and create muted hues (i.e. grey). Always create neutrality by mixing complementary colours instead of applying grey directly to your canvas.

Choosing Balanced Colours

Scott does an interesting physical demonstration on choosing a balanced spectrum of colours for a painting (watch below). His video explains it much better than I’d ever be able to! It’ll also clarify my following rant.

The eye is attracted to paintings that are “well balanced” on the colour wheel. For example, an image heavy in yellow should be balanced by colours on the opposing side of the wheel (blues, purples).

Using predominantly saturated colours (i.e. shades near the edges of the colour wheel) can create visual instability. To regain stability and attractiveness, you can use de-saturated versions of each colour (i.e. closer to the core of the colour wheel).

Using a predominant amount of neutral hues (e.g. greys) can ground an image and is a solid starting point for branching out and applying other colours.