Broken Hues and Tonal Balance

After looking at complimentary harmony, colour value and proportional harmony in previous posts,  it’s definitely time to have a look at tonal harmony. As with the other principles, the aim of tonal harmony is to create a balanced palette where the eye can feel relaxed.

Again I would urge you to experiment at home by mixing colours yourself. It is the only way you can truly understand what colour mixing can achieve and you will discover it is very easy to create the colour you were searching for. Consider the task like cooking. If you don’t buy ready meals, don’t buy ready made colours either. Colours are a combination of ingredients just like recipes and you know how to alter a curry to satisfy your palette so why not do the same with colour. I am not suggesting you mix the final paint product yourself (far from it, interior paints are a complex arrangement of binders and pigments) but take your paint colour swatch along to your interior paint supplier and they will colour match it for you.

Start with the three primary colours, red, blue and yellow and begin by mixing them in unequal quantities i.e two parts yellow, one part blue, quarter part red. You have now created a “broken hue”. Most of the colours in nature are broken hues and so it is no surprise that these colours have a pleasing natural, earthy look about them. A broken hue is simply a combination of all the primaries in unequal amounts. If you are mixing an interior paint colour, you will probably find these colours too dark so I would suggest adding white. By doing this you have created a broken tint.

Broken hues

So you have experimented and mixed a colour you are happy with but you need another colour for an adjoining room that will tonally compatible. All you need do is keep the “parent” colour the same. In other words, if your main primary was yellow, make sure your new colour also has a parent colour of yellow but you are free to add varying amounts of other colours to it, just keep remembering both colours should share the same parent. These “child” colours will have a family resemblance which allows them tonal harmony.

For speed of understanding, you can try out combinations with water colour paints but make sure if you are taking your colour swatch to a paint supplier to colour match, take an acrylic paint swatch in order to get an accurate colour match from the spectrometer.

Of course the other way to create tonal harmony is by choosing a monochromatic scheme. In other words, only use one hue but vary it with the addition of only black or white. Monochromatic schemes tend to be very calm and have a quiet sophistication about them but will have less interest than other combinations and will therefore require some “layering” (a subject for a future post).

For inspiration on perfect balance, one look at artist Giorgio Morandi ‘s beautiful paintings and you will forever be seeking tonal balance.

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