Why do you enjoy looking at a cloudless sky? What makes you gaze at a display of pretty flowers? When a rainbow forms nearby, what motivates you to stare at it?
In each case, is it not the lovely colors? Color has a powerful effect upon humans. Skillfully used, color can cheer a depressed soul, stimulate productivity at work, calm jangled nerves and serve other useful purposes.
But, really, what is color? How can you make color work for you?
Perhaps you have a fruit dish nearby containing bright-red apples. Do you realize that in themselves the apples are not red? Nor is the grass that carpets your front yard green. Objects in themselves do not possess color. What appears as color comes from a source different from the objects visualized. How so?
Color comes from light. Where there is no light, as in the blackness of night, an object has no color whatsoever. How does light interact with things to produce color?
The sun emits a vast amount of “electromagnetic energy,” or “radiation.” Included is a narrow band of wavelengths that are visible. The longest of these measures only about 32 millionths of an inch (.0008 millimeter) from crest to crest, which we see as red light. As light waves get progressively shorter, they appear as orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (a deep violet-blue) and violet. The wavelengths that produce violet light measure only some 16 millionths of an inch (.0004 millimeter) from crest to crest.
What about white light? This occurs when all the wavelengths are mixed together, as in the case of sunlight. Only when these wavelengths are separated do we see the individual colors making up the sunlight.
This can be demonstrated by using a triangular-shaped piece of glass called a prism. If a person directs a thin beam of white light toward a white screen and places a prism in the light’s path, what appears on the screen will be, not white light, but the full color spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Why does this happen? Because the prism bends each wavelength to a different degree, thus separating them. Probably you have viewed a similar effect after rainstorms, when droplets of water in the air act as prisms, separating sunlight into its basic colors—producing the multicolored rainbow.
Things in Color—Why?
But why do we see objects as red, yellow, blue and other colors? Because various substances called pigments absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others. What is reflected back to the eye appears as the color of the object. Grass looks green, for example, because the pigments in it absorb all the wavelengths of sunlight except green, which is reflected back to us. When all wavelengths of light are absorbed, an object looks black. This would happen, for instance, if you were to shine only yellow or red light on a blue towel. Since the towers pigment reflects only blue and there is no blue in yellow or red light, the towel would absorb all the yellow or red light and appear black. Rather than a color, therefore, black is the absence of color.
Scientists speak of certain “primary colors.” These are ones from which the greatest possible number of combinations can be made. The primary colors in light are red, blue and green. When red and blue light are combined, the result is a bluish-red called magenta. Mixing blue and green light produces a bluish-green called cyan. Red and green light go together to make yellow. All three combined give white light.
You will not get the same results, however, from mixing paints. This is because, in this instance, you are mixing pigments that reflect light rather than mixing lights of different colors. The primary colors for light are, therefore, not the same as those for paint. The three colors that result in the widest variety of combinations for paint are red, yellow and blue. Mixing two primary paint colors produces a “secondary color,” halfway between the two primaries used. Red and yellow give orange; yellow and blue make green; blue and red produce violet, or purple as some prefer to call it. Midway between the primary and secondary colors are “intermediate colors.” These are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green.
Would you enjoy learning how to use colors? If so, the “color wheel” and “color triangle” can help you. What are these?
The “Color Wheel” and “Color Triangle”
The primary, secondary and intermediate colors mentioned above amount to twelve. Many have found it practical to arrange these into a color wheel patterned after the face of a clock. First, place the primary colors at an equal distance from one another. If you put yellow at 12 o’clock, then red could appear at 4 o’clock and blue at 8 o’clock. Inserting the secondary colors between the primaries would result in orange at 2 o’clock, violet at 6 o’clock and green at 10 o’clock. Filling the remaining six spaces with the intermediate colors results in a color wheel such as that shown on the previous page.
But where do the many browns and beiges find accommodation in this color system? They fall inside the color wheel. If you mix all three primaries (or, if you prefer, the secondaries) in carefully controlled proportions you can get infinite varieties of olive-greens, light and dark browns and beiges.
How can this device assist you to harmonize colors? Often pleasing results come from using complementary colors. These are located opposite each other in the color wheel. Thus, you may find that red goes well with green, blue with orange, yellow with violet, and so forth. Some have worked out excellent four-color schemes by combining two sets of complements. However, finding a satisfying color scheme has much to do with your individual personality. What delights one person may clash in the opinion of another.
Quite often a color goes well with the two on either side of its complement. For example, blue combines pleasingly with yellow-orange and red-orange. Another fine arrangement is a triad, made up of colors spaced equally from one another. Combinations such as blue-green, yellow-orange and red-violet, as well as the primary colors, red, yellow and blue, are examples of triads.
Pleasant, too, is the use of adjacent colors, that is, those next to one another on the color wheel. For instance, you will find that yellow, yellow-green and yellow-orange blend nicely, as do violet, blue-violet and red-violet. Another interesting method is known as a mutual complement. This combines five adjacent colors with the complement of the middle one. If, for example, you chose as adjacent colors green, yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange and orange, the sixth color would be violet, the complement of the middle one (in this case yellow).
What about variations of a single color? Such variations are made by diluting a color with a neutral pigment, either white or black. Here you will benefit from using a “color triangle.” What is that? “A color triangle,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “has a color at one angle, black at another, and white at the third. If a color from the color wheel, such as red, is mixed with white, the result is a tint—in this case, pink. If we mix red with black, the result is a shade—in this case, maroon. And if we mix red with both black and white, the result is a tone—in this case, rose.” Such a color triangle might look like the one on page seventeen.
How does one use this? “In a color triangle,” continues the same reference work, “the colors in any straight line form pleasing combinations. A pure color harmonizes with tints and white, with shades and black, or with tones and gray. A tint and a tone blend with black, and a shade and a tone go well with white. Groups of tints, shades, or tones also harmonize well.”
Did you know that color can even make a room appear larger or smaller than its true size? Interior decorating expert Florence Byerly writes:
“Color can change the apparent size of a room. It can also hide or emphasize features in the room. To make a room appear larger, paint it a pale, cool color. The walls will seem to recede, or move farther away. To make a room appear smaller, use a bright color that advances, or seems to jump out at you. You can hide a bulky chair, or make it look smaller, by having it the same color as its background. You can emphasize an object or an area by using contrasting colors. For example, white dishes that seem lost in a white cupboard look striking in a cabinet lined with deep green.”
Have you tried any of these ways of making color work for you? If you intend to do so, there is something else that you ought to know about color. What is that?
Psychological Effects of Color
Colors have notable psychological effects and can be used to good advantage. “From our work,” notes color expert Faber Bitten, “we have found that people react quite differently in a colorful environment than in a drab one, although they themselves may not be conscious of it. The natural condition for the human being is to live in a constantly changing environment—of light, color, forms. There’s no such thing as a monotonous environment in nature. Today we know that children’s intelligence actually degenerates in a monotonous environment.” What, then, are the effects of basic colors?
Among the “warm” colors are red and orange. These are lively and tend to excite emotions and stimulate certain bodily functions. According to the book The Art of Color and Design, red light “accelerates the pulse and raises blood pressure.” Persons who prefer red are often impulsive and energetic, with strong personalities and a craving for action and success. Properly used, red and orange can be stimulating, but overuse produces tension.
Another warm color is yellow. Bright, clear yellow reminds one of the sun and is cheerful, gay and lively. On the other hand, the darker yellows and greenish yellows are not popular. In the minds of many they suggest things such as sickness, cowardice, envy and treachery. But when properly related to other colors, these yellows contribute to a delightful overall effect.
The “cool” colors, including violets, blues and greens, are tranquil and serene. They have a calming effect upon people. In contrast to the results of red light upon humans, blue light has been found to retard the pulse rate and lower blood pressure. Light blue is soothing, suggesting blue skies and the waters of rivers and lakes. Light green is another restful color, reminding one of the outdoors. If your needs are in the direction of a calm, tension-free life, these may be your color preference.
As to choosing wall colors, Florence Byerly advises: “When choosing a wall color, get the largest paint samples available. Tape several on a wall near your draperies. Look at them by both daylight and lamplight. Remember that a color is influenced by its surroundings. A subtle, dull sample will show in its true color when placed beside white paper.”
Color is among the special blessings that mankind enjoys because of God’s gift of light. “Color is one of the natural delights of this world,” remarks Faber Birren. “It is the rule of nature, not the exception, and much of the good life depends on it.” In view of this, why not take the time to make color work for your greater enjoyment?
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