Composition and Design – Color

Composition and Design – Color

I seemed to have missed the Composition and Design post for September but I will just move on to the next element of design, color. I have discussed color many times here especially the year that we had color as the focus of our quarterly challenges. But it’s always good for a review and to think about how you use color in your compositions.

Mixing Color - Color Wheel

Color occurs when light in different wavelengths strikes our eyes. Objects have no color of their own, only the ability to reflect a certain wavelength of light back to our eyes. As you know, color can vary in differing circumstances. For example, grass can appear gray in the morning or evening or bright green at noon. Colors appear different depending on whether you view them under incandescent, fluorescent or natural sunlight. Colors also change according to their surroundings.

There are three properties of color which are hue, value and intensity. Hue refers to the color itself. Each different hue is a different reflected wavelength of light. White light broken in a prism has seven hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Remember Roy G. Biv? White light occurs when all the wavelengths are reflected back to your eye, and black light occurs when no light is reflected to your eye. This is the physics of light.

Contemporary Designs by Deb Stika

Color value refers to the lightness or darkness of the hue. Adding white to a hue produces a high-value color, often called a tint. Adding black to a hue produces a low-value color, often called a shade. Value can be used for emphasis. Variations in value are used to create a focal point for the design of a piece.

Intensity, also called chroma or saturation, refers to the brightness of a color. A color is at full intensity when not mixed with black or white – a pure hue. You can change the intensity of a color, making it duller or more neutral by adding gray to the color. You can also change the intensity of a color by adding its complement (this is the color found directly opposite on the traditional color wheel). When changing colors this way, the color produced is called a tone.

Certain colors have an advancing or receding quality, based on how our eye has to adjust to see them. Warm colors such as red, orange or yellow seem to come forward while cool colors such as blue and green seem to recede slightly. In the atmosphere, distant objects appear bluish and the further away an object appears, the less colorful and distinct it becomes. You can use this tendency to give an illusion of depth, by using more neutral and grayish colors in the background.

Various color schemes can be used in your work. A monochromatic color scheme involves the use of only one hue. The hue can vary in value, and black or white may be added to create various shades or tints.

Leaves Printed in Multi Colors

An analogous color scheme involves the use of colors that are located adjacent on the color wheel. The hues may vary in value.

Hand Stitch Sample Book

A complementary color scheme involves the use of colors that are located opposite on the color wheel such as red and green, yellow and purple, or orange and blue. Complementary colors produce a very exciting, dynamic pattern.

textured felt for cutting close.

Or how about triadic? (Thanks to Ann for the photo above.) This color scheme involves the use of colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. The primary colors of yellow, red and blue could be used together in a color scheme to produce a lively result.


What’s your favorite color scheme? Do you push outside of your comfort zone occasionally and try colors you normally wouldn’t use?

Water Lily

How can you use color to evoke different emotions? Do you connect certain emotions to certain colors?

form barette

What does using a monochromatic color scheme do to your composition? Complementary? Analogous? Or Triadic?

Online Course Embellishing Felt with Surface Design Techniques - A Mixed Media Approach by Ruth Lane

How do you choose your color scheme? Is it affected by the subject of your composition? The mood you want to achieve? What is the impact of choosing a color scheme that is the opposite of your normal choice?

Chemo Curtains

What would your composition look like with all the same values? How can you use value changes to improve your focal point?

I’d love to hear about how you use color and whether you think about it in advance or just jump in with your favorite colors.


13 thoughts on “Composition and Design – Color

  1. Using the colour wheel during layout makes a lot of sense…but I often ‘wing it’ or look to nature for guidance.
    If a piece of felt doesn’t look ‘right’ the explanation can be found by consulting the colour wheel – of course it’s too late then!
    I like your piece with the orange poppies in the foreground.

  2. What a great explanation, Ruth. I’m going to share this on my social media 🙂

    As for how I use colour, I tend to use three-four at a time, and am now working on having one stand out and the other ones complementing each other – the piece with the poppies is a great example of that, there’s more muted, cold colours that become recessive in the presence of those orange-red hot poppies.

    1. Thanks for sharing Leonor! Yes, the more neutral hues do make the brighter colors really pop. I could see how that would be very attractive with yarn colors.

  3. Nice review Ruth. I do both. But usually start out winging it. When I feel something is missing I may consult the wheel. I’m drawn to the triadic in Ann’s example. I do go outside my comfort zone especially when using natural colors.

    1. Thanks Marilyn – I think it’s fun to play with colors I wouldn’t normally use. And I do love the neutrals of nature!

  4. Color is a very emotional thing for me. Shades of blues and turquoises inspire my artistic nature. My studio is painted a bright turquoise…that “happy” shade you can envision painted on a house somewhere in the Caribbean. Warm shades of yellow and red make me feel homey and cosy, like being tucked under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book. Neutrals help me relax. I usually go into the studio with an idea for something I want to make, which doesn’t lend itself to completely winging it, as far as color goes, but I always feel most satisfied when working with very saturated, rich shades of blue and blue/green. I use the color wheel occasionally, but strangely enough, I don’t feel it is very helpful. I seem to just go with my gut when it comes to color (when I don’t have something specific in mind). Your poppy picture really illustrated your point well about cool colors receding. The white flower on the beautiful blue background drew me in immediately, in a peaceful way. Ann’s triadic piece looks so richly warm, like you could wrap yourself in it. Interesting topic!

    1. Thanks for your wonderful comment. Color can definitely affect your emotions. And I always think i learn something new when I post about it. 🙂

  5. Great post, Ruth 🙂
    I agree with Merilee about the poppy picture and receding colours. Hmmm, when I’m making felt, I tend to use ‘similar’ colours, I have them arranged in boxes of ‘blues and purples’, ‘greens’, ‘red, oranges and yellows’, ‘rusts’ etc, but also have ‘related’ colours in there too, for example a couple of yellows and a turquoise in with the greens, a spearmint in with the blues. But I often use complemetary colours for embellishment, just a dash here and there, like a turquoise on a pink/orange/yellow felt. I think I’m more abstract when painting, especially with oils as the colours mix less than acrylics. I like playing in photoshop, to get hues and tones and shades I might not normally pick.

    1. Thanks Zed! I keep thinking I will arrange my colors but haven’t yet. 🙂 Playing in photoshop is a good way to play with colors without “wasting” your supplies.

      I love your pieces that have that pop of complementary color.

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