Color Chat: Analogous Color Schemes 22


We’ve talked about complementary color schemes and monochromatic color schemes, so today I thought we’d cover the last of the major three: analogous color schemes.

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If complementary and monochromatic were opposite ends of a spectrum, analogous would nestle quite comfortably between the two of them. Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel – so more colors than monochromatic schemes, but the colors are closer on the color wheel than in complementary schemes.

As a quick aside, I am realizing that I never explained why color schemes are important to begin with, so let me take this moment to fix that.

Are prescribed color schemes the only way colors work together? No, not at all. I’m pretty sure you can get any two colors to work together if you add the right supporting color(s). However, complementary/analogous/monochromatic color schemes are great starting points for building a color story. If you want to create something bold, start with complementary or a single color monochromatic + neutral scheme. If you want something more harmonious and calm, start with analogous or a low-contrast monochromatic scheme. You can always modify from there, but these are great go-to tools for starting to pick your own colors.

Scrappy Spring Sprouts Pillow

Scrappy Spring Sprouts Pillow by Rachel (wooden spoon on flickr)

Back on track! As I noted above, analogous color schemes are great to use when you want a harmonious design. There’s less contrast than a complementary scheme, and more variety than a monochromatic one. Being close on the color wheel means that the colors blend together a bit, which is what creates the sense of harmony. For instance, in the pillow above by Rachel (flickr: wooden spoon), the green stands out from the blues, but not in a strong way like an orange or red-orange would (the complement of aqua.) Instead, there is an overall sense of harmony within the color scheme.

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So what exactly is an analogous color scheme? Start with a color, then choose a color or colors near it on the color wheel. That’s an analogous color scheme. You can choose colors to one side of your starting color, or from both sides. In the example color wheel above, I started with Radiant Orchid (the red-violet tone in the middle) and added colors from both sides to create an analogous color scheme.

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Analogous colors including Radiant Orchid.

Analogous color schemes are usually around 2-4 colors because the further you travel around the color wheel, the closer you get to incorporating a complementary tone. Which is fine, but it’s no longer technically an analogous color scheme. For instance, in the fabrics above, if I’d started moving into the red-orange and oranges, that’s the complement to the navy at the other end of my fabric pull.

When it comes to using analogous colors in design, harmony generally comes for free. The design decisions instead come down to how much contrast you want in your design. (Contrast, always a design factor!) For the lowest amount of contrast, analogous color palettes are great for making gradients.

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Yellow-orange to red-violet gradient.

To create a gradient (or a smooth transition between colors), pick two colors, and then find fabrics that match some of the colors that come between them on the color wheel. The more colors you represent between your starting colors, the smoother the gradient.

Feathers Quilt Top

Feathers Quilt Top by Angela @ AngelaB.me

In the example above, Angela @ AngelaB.me created an analogous color gradient in her Feathers Quilt Top using blues and purples. The gradient starts at the aqua, moves up the quilt, then continues at the bottom of the quilt, ending at the light purple. The aqua/purple end points being put next to each other in the quilt, plus the aqua/purple colors being the lightest tones in the quilt all work together to draw your attention to that area of the quilt.

Gradients are low contrast because you’re putting the colors that are closest on the color wheel next to each other. However, the use of a gradient adds movement to your design since your eye is inclined to follow the gradient.

If you want more contrast between your colors in your design, choose fewer mid-tones. And for the most contrast, place the colors furthest away from each other on the color wheel next to each other in your design. In the example above, Sarah @ {no} hats in the house uses yellows, oranges and reds mixed together. There is a very rough gradient: the head is yellow and the body moves through orange and red, but there are places where red and yellow are right next to each other. This has more contrast than if there was a strict gradient moving through the piece, and brings attention to the various shapes that make up the stag’s silhouette.

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Oh Beehave by Anna Small (smallcloughs on flickr) and bee friends from the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild

Similarly, Oh Beehave by Anna Small (flickr: smallcloughs) and her hive mates from the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild created this log cabin quilt which uses analogous colors with a high amount of contrast. There are few mid-tones, and the colors are not in a gradient. Like the Sunset Stag quilt, the color placement draws attention to the beautiful shapes that make up the log cabins.

Summary

  • Analogous color schemes are more harmonious than complementary schemes, and have more variety than monochromatic schemes.
  • Color schemes are good starting points but not the only way to make colors work together.
  • Analogous color schemes are created by choosing 2-3 colors next to each other on the color wheel.
  • Because the colors are next to each other on the color wheel, analogous colors are well-suited for making gradients. However, if you want to maximize contrast, use fewer mid-tones and mix up the color placement.

Hopefully this quick tutorial has given you some ideas! As always, please let me know if you have any questions, and thank you to everyone who gave me permission to use their images in this tutorial!

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I love comments, and respond to each one!

22 thoughts on “Color Chat: Analogous Color Schemes

  • Vera

    You always show such a pretty examples! I guess analogous would be my favorite 🙂 I will never remember all the terms and “rules” but I enjoy your posts anyway.

    • anne Post author

      Analogous is definitely my favorite, as well. 🙂 The terms and guidelines (I don’t like the word rule when it comes to color 😉 are just there to get you started. You already do a fine job picking colors, so just keep doing what you’re doing!

    • anne Post author

      Haha thanks Ashley! I really love that pull, maybe I SHOULD turn it into something! I do seem to have a few design ideas laying around..

    • anne Post author

      It’s totally my favorite, too. 😉 Mostly because I love gradients. (Although I tend to go ALL the way through the rainbow which isn’t analogous anymore, but whatever, that’s what analogous gets for being all elitist. Um. right. ANYWAY)

      I’m glad I could add to your vocabulary! 😀

    • anne Post author

      Oh, no worries! Mea culpa for waiting so late to ask people! I really need to start thinking about these things a little more in advance so there’s more time to reply. 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and I really do love that plus quilt. 😀

  • Linda H.

    Such an educational post, Anne! I really like knowing this, and your fabric examples help so much! Where you do get the pretty color wheel? Is it a picture, or something in software? I like how you use it – mark it with dots – to emphasize what you’re explaining. You’ve gotten me to thinking about the block I’m requesting from my bee mates when my month comes up (June). I’m thinking of an analogous scheme now. Thank you for so much inspiration!

    • anne Post author

      Thanks so much, Linda! I really appreciate your nice comments. 🙂
      The color wheel image is a thing I drew in Illustrator and Photoshop. I move the dots around and recolor them for each tutorial. There are websites out there that will do something similar, for instance Adobe’s Kuler: https://kuler.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/
      Analogous color schemes are kind of my favorite! Which colors are you thinking of requesting?

  • sarah elizabeth :: {no} hats

    <3 Analogous <3 So I always *think* I get the gist of color theory, and then you go and write these amazing posts and I only then do I feel equipped to engage in intelligent color conversation. Which makes me realize I don't really know as much as I think I do. Thanks for the tools, my friend :o)

    • anne Post author

      Of course you love analogous! You love it for the same reason I do: GRADIENTS! hehehehe Seriously, it’s totally my favorite of the three major schemes. 🙂
      Also you’re super sweet, thank you! I’m glad you feel well equipped to talk color now, because you know I’m always up for discussing it with you. 🙂

    • anne Post author

      Thanks so much, Paula! 😀 I have a lot of fun doing the fabric pulls. 🙂 I need to get a little less lazy about putting fabrics back, though… lol

    • anne Post author

      I’m about as fickle as they come, so I could never judge. (Well I /could/, but it’d be very hypocritical.) Given you’ve done no-volume to highest-volume, I think it’s safe to say you don’t reside in any of the boxes. 🙂

    • anne Post author

      You’re so welcome!! 😀 I’m always happy when someone finds something useful from these color chats. 🙂 Thank you for the kind words!

  • SueP

    I taught color theory for 30 years to high school students! You did an amazing job. I wish I had had your examples to show the kids. I have just spent an hour pouring over your site – so much more to digest.

    • anne Post author

      Wow, that is a huge compliment given your background, thank you SO much! I’m always a little worried that a color expert is going to tell me I’ve got it all wrong, so I really appreciate the vote of confidence. 🙂 Are/were you an art teacher? How did you get to teach color theory for so long? 🙂