Color Theory

Our industry, our life, is driven by color.  We discuss daily it with customers, employees, vendors.  We share opinions, and occasionally differ in our opinions, about what we "see".  And there is a good reason for differing opinions as color IS in the "eye of the beholder": color is a mental response that consists of a physical reaction of the eye and the interpretation of the light's wavelengths (color) by the brain.

Luckily the most of us see the "same" thing when we view color - except, perhaps, for Sheldon Cooper.  The point of this article is not to discuss Color Theory as scientists might, or quibble about nuances (Sheldon!) but to explore Color Theory as it applies to ceramic decorating and design: how can Color Theory help us chose and understand complementary colors, create color schemes and understanding and using color terminology.

The Stroke & Coat® Color Wheel

intermixable colorwheel

Basic Color Wheel: Primary Colors: red, yellow and blue. These are the 3 colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green. These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That's why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

You can see how we've matched Stroke & Coat glazes to the color wheel above.  Since Stroke & Coat glazes are intermixable, creating lighter or darker variations on any seocndary or tertiary color, such as "red-orange," is a possibility.


Harmony can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts, whether it be music, poetry, color, or even an ice cream sundae (I'll take the sundae with tertiary sprinkles please.) In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it can not organize, what it can not understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

Color Harmony Schemes:



1. A color scheme based on analogous colors. Analogous colors (this is the word for the day, see how many times you can fit into a sentence) are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates.







2. A color scheme based on complementary colors. Any two colors that are directly opposite of each other.








3. Triadic color scheme A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color schemes tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues. To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced - let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.






4. Split-Complementary color scheme The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension. The split-complementary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners, because it is difficult to mess up.






5. Rectangle (tetradic) color scheme The rectangle or tetradic color scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. Tetradic color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.




Square 1


6. Square color scheme The square color scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colors spaced evenly around the color circle. Square color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.





7. Warm and Cool color scheme The color circle can be divided into warm and cool colors. Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space. Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.




Tints, shades, and tones color scheme These terms are often used incorrectly, although they describe fairly simple color concepts. If a color is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. And if gray is added, the result is a different tone.