It’s always good to think about contrasts when you are designing a room. I have looked at textural contrasts in previous blogs and there are also many colour contrasts to think about such as light-dark contrast, chromatic-achromatic contrasts, complimentary contrast, cold-warm contrast, intensity contrast, quantity (area) contrast and more but it’s also important to think about contrasts between light and shadow.
Linen shadows by Lucy Browne
As Frank Mahnke points out in his book, Color Communication in Architectural Space, you should avoid having extreme light and dark contrasts in a room because while your eye adapts to the extreme conditions your visual capacity is actually reduced. It is also a process that tires the iris muscle which can result in eye strain and fatigue. However, too little contrast and you will compromise the definition of the space. If you have ever been skiing when the light is poor you will know it is very difficult to pick out the three dimensional form of the slope. In poor light it is all too easy to hit a mogul by surprise and it can even be tricky to determine whether a slope is inclining or declining.
So just as harmonious colour palettes can provide a comfortable interior, try to create harmony with light and shadow – no contrast and you will create an uninspiring “flat” interior, too much contrast and you will find your eyes constantly adjusting and feeling tired. Mahnke refers to studies which show an increase in levels of productivity in rooms which have appropriate differences in light levels – definitely something to think about in your workroom.
Having spent the last two days walking round Scotland’s North East Fife Coast I am now flicking through my rather enormous collection of photographs from the trip and clearly see why analogous colour schemes are often referred to as harmonious.
Analogous palettes normally consist of three adjacent colours on the colour wheel. The middle colour is chosen as the lead or dominant colour in a scheme while the others take on more of a supporting role.
If you look at combinations of colours in nature, particularly landscapes, you will notice they are frequently analogous which is why they look and feel harmonious to us – useful to know if you want to create a calm and serene room with little contrast and a seamless feel. It’s also a good way of simplifying an awkwardly shaped room.
We all strive to eat a balanced diet, but did you know our bodies also crave a balanced colour palette?
In a room which is predominantly green your brain will feel unbalanced and will begin to compensate for the green bombardment by creating an after image of red (green’s complimentary colour). White surfaces in the green room will begin to appear tinged with red.
In fact, your brain constantly works to create a colour harmony for you. This is why well balanced rooms feel more relaxing to be in because the brain has less work to do.
Edith Anderson Feisner in her book “How to use Colour in Art and Design” cites an interesting example of this effect. A cosmetics company refurbished their showroom with an all- white fresh and lab-like interior. However, instead of the new interior energising the staff, absenteeism became an issue. As the main colour of the products (lipsticks and blushers) were a red hue, when the staff, spend long periods of time looking at the products, and then looked up at the walls or each others faces, everything they saw had a green tinge. Realising what was wrong, they redecorated in a blue-green teal and the problem was solved.
However, stare at grey for a significant time and the brain remains perfectly happy. No after image is created. This is because grey is formed by mixing two equal value complimentary colours together (red and green), in other words, the colour grey is a perfect harmony and therefore your brain can relax.
Many people have asked me to name a perfect grey paint for them to use in their interior. Well I have an easy way for you to discover this for yourself. In my next post I will show you how to mix a grey that will sit comfortably with every other colour in the spectrum and is a perfectly balanced “nutritious” grey.
I’ve spent some time looking at Goethe‘s thoughts on colour value and found his theories of great help in colour placement. He stated that white and warm hues have greater strength than black and cool hues. For example, orange is twice as strong as blue and therefore an artist should use twice as much blue as orange in order to balance the relative strengths.
Balancing colours often comes instinctively to us so when you look around at images and patterns you find pleasing, you will often find they show colour harmony.
Goethe also paid particular attention to complementary colours – balancing colours to achieve a visual harmony. Our brains constantly seek colour balance so here the orange ladder (a small proportion relative to the blue of the sky) is satisfying our need to see blues’s complementary, orange.