Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Analogous Colours

Sissinghurst Fields
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Analogous colours often don't get adequate coverage in many art instruction books or, as I've discovered, in websites generated by a browser enquiry. The information made available is often basic in the extreme. This post is an attempt to redress the balance - but it also recommends other sources of even better advice and information!

I'm going to
  • start by looking at the basics about analogous colours
  • move on to some aspects which get referenced less often
  • then point you in the direction of more information.
Analogous colours

Artists may know what analogous colours are without using that term. They may refer to closely-related colours.

What follows are the basic characteristics of analogous colours:
  • analogous colours are both sequential and separate. They lie next to one another on the colour wheel. They often have one main hue in common - but are separate - like distinct notes within a musical harmony. They are more emphatic when that hue is a primary colour. Analogous colours are conventionally referred to as
    • one colour plus the colour either side or
    • any three adjacent colours
  • Analogous colours are hues rather than mixes per se - they can come straight from a tube/pan/stick/pencil.
  • Analogous colours can be derived from mixing hues - if you wish.
    • you can mix analogous hues to create a wider range of colour notes.
  • Analogous colours display unity, are harmonious and thus can be very beautiful.
    • Unity comes from the underlying relationships between the analogous colours
    • Harmony is frequently achieved through repetition. Analogous colours have an underlying similarity which is repetition with a slight variation.
However it's also worth knowing the following.
  • If the number of analogous colours is limited to three, then the choice of analogous colours can depend on how many colours you have in your original colour wheel. The more colours on the outer rim of a colour wheel diminishes the hue variation within analogous colours. For example:
    • 6 colours in a colour wheel: the colours could be yellow, blue and green
    • 12 colours in a colour wheel: the colours could be yellow, green and blue-green
    • 16 colours in a colour wheel:the colours could be yellow, yellow-green, green
  • It's entirely your choice as to how many colours you use in your analogous colour scheme. The only constraint in principle is that they come from the same 'cake wedge' of the colour wheel. So, in reality, analogous colours are three or more colour hues in the same segment of a colour wheel.
  • >Analogous colours within a segment of the colour wheel have related neutrals or semi-neutral hues.
    • As indicated yesterday in Complementary Colours and mixing neutral colours, the chosen analogous hues need to be mixed with their respective complementary hues.
    • So three analogous hues = three analogous complementaries (used only with their respective counterpart)
  • Analogous colours can lack contrast - but this can be a bonus
    • analogous colours tend to blend together when viewed from a distance
    • analogous colours and associated neutrals of similar values do not display stark contrasts and consequently can create quiet areas within artwork.
    • but use of value (tints and shades of the chosen colours) employed wisely can create contrast
  • colour harmony within an analogous colour scheme can be improved if you consider the relative proportions of the various colours involved.
  • analogous colours are often used to suggest a particular mood associated with the range of chosen hues.
  • analogous colours often work extremely well in very stylized or abstract art.
Stephen Quiller has a brilliant section in Color Choices: Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory on analogous colours - which so often get a brief, basic and cursory coverage in other art books. I'm not going to try and explain it all to you here - I'm recommending you to go buy the book! By way of a taster, he covers:
  • the full range of the analogous colour scheme
  • using dominant and subordinate colour
  • accent colours paired with neutrals and semi-neutrals
  • analogous colours used in different colour-keys and intensities
Charles Le Clair has an interesting commentary on the use of analogous colour in contemporary art in Color in Contemporary Painting: Integrating Practice and Theory

In my experience, you can often see analogous colours in the natural landscape. For example, think of the colour of leaves in Autumn, or the colours you see in maritime environments.

I'm still scratching my head as to whether my drawing at the top of this blog post (based on a recent sketch done near Sissinghurst in Kent - Spring fields from Sissinghurst) is based on analogous hues (and respective complementaries) or is a split complementary scheme - of which more tomorrow. It would have helped if I'd kept a record of the pencils I used! What do you think?

I'm now off to find some paintings which feature analogous colour schemes and will post them in this post later.

Note: All text and images copyright Katherine Tyrrell unless otherwise stated



  1. Thanks for writing about analogous color palettes! David Dewey wrote a nice section about using analogous color palettes in his book The Watercolor Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artists. It is not a big section, however I found it to be extremely informative.

  2. Aha - a Watson Guptill book! I've always found them to be excellent at explaining art materials - good to hear this comment also.

    I took a peek at the Table of Conets for this book on Amazon and I see he's got a whole page on analogous colours.

    Maybe I could underline my recommendation by saying Quiller has 14 pages just on analogous colour schemes with lots of images illustrating the points he's making - and that's why I'm recommending the book.

  3. I would've loved to know your range of pencils you used. How many layers of colours have you used to get to the final vcolour, more than three?
    It would so hard for me to label your beautiful painting, but in my opinion, it feels like you've sort of gone analogous? I love it. Thanks for wonderful info again!

  4. Another Fabulous colour post Katherine!


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