The use of colour theory is of utmost importance in any artistic practice. Floral design is no exception.
Colour often carries the first impression and general emotion of any piece; bright and cheerful; soft and somber; or eclectic and modern. Pieces with high contrast, like yellow and purple, often look jaunty and unusual, whereas a more monochromatic palette of pinks and reds will appear more subtle and cohesive.
The use of saturation can also play with the impact of an arrangement. A collection of soft pinks and pale yellows will suggest youth, spring, and softness. Take that same corner of the colour wheel and turn up the saturation to bright gold and deep red and you have a dramatic fall arrangement!
It can be tempting to just look at which colours you personally prefer and put them all together, but that can appear disorganized and distract from each other as well as the arrangement itself.
With a little planning, you can accent, complement and highlight some choice colours to really make your arrangement pop!
The first step to understanding colour theory is to know where those colours came from. Time for the old colour wheel – you remember this guy from art class.
The first colours we start with are the primary colours – yellow, blue, and red. It’s from these colours that all other colours are made and you can’t make these colours by mixing any other. From there blue and yellow make green, yellow and red make orange, and red and blue make purple. These are the secondary colours. You can go even further, mixing adjacent colours to create tertiary colours like blue-green, or teal; yellow-green or chartreuse; red-purple or fuchsia – you get the idea.
Now consider which of these colours look best together.
There are established colour “rules” you can refer to when seeking inspiration. We’ll cover the basics, but there are lots of theories out there for you to explore.
The first one is complementary colours. These are any two colours opposite each other on the colour wheel – yellow and purple; orange and blue; fuchsia and chartreuse (red-purple and yellow-green). This is the reason Christmas colours work since red and green are opposite each other. It’s also used heavily in summer blockbuster posters: everything is orange and teal. This is a fairly bold look that can be quite striking; think of the purple and gold of royalty or the red and green of a fresh rose.
From here we can also look at split-complementary colours. This is a trio of one colour and the two colours beside its opposite on the wheel. So for yellow, instead of straight purple you’d use blue-purple (indigo) and red-purple (fuchsia). For red, instead of green you’d use blue-green (teal) and yellow-green (chartreuse). It’s appealing for the same reasons and is still a striking combination, but it can be a softer contrast, and often evokes more of a gentle scheme.
The next rule to check out is using analogous colours. Analogous colours are ones that are beside each other on the colour wheel; yellow, chartreuse, and green; fuchsia, red and red-orange; blue, teal and green. They always match nicely and create a cohesive, yet flowing look.
From there it’s pretty easy to move into monochromatic colours. It takes the simplicity up a notch and uses only one colour on the wheel, adjusting the saturation of it and using different shades. Various shades of reds and pinks are a favourite with flowers, especially around Valentine’s Day. Using white as a base, such as a fluffy hydrangea, and building up the colour in deepening shades of yellow creates a soft, sunshine-like brightness.
The last theory I’ll discuss is triadic colours. These are any three colours that sit equi-distant on the colour wheel; red, blue, and yellow; green, orange, and purple; teal, fuchsia, and gold; brick (red-orange), indigo (blue-purple), and chartreuse. This colour scheme tends to appear quite bright, even if you’re using paler or more muted versions of the colours. A good way to tone down this combo if it’s too bright is to mix and match saturation of the colours. A deeper orange with a softer purple and green, for example, will be more pleasing than all jewel tones or all pastels.
Now that you have the basics of colour, you’re free to mix and match at your whim!
A few things to consider when working with colours: These are not hard and fast rules. Use them as a starting point and explore from there. Different things like the texture, lighting, surroundings and the amount of each colour used will affect any artistic composition. Try mixing and matching these schemes as well. Try a complementing combination of purple and yellow with an analogous expansion from yellow into chartreuse, green and teal. Or try differing amounts of each colour. Using 80% red components with 15% yellow and 5% blue will look totally different than equal amounts of each.
A few things to consider when working with flowers: They are a natural item and as such the colours will vary from flower to flower. The natural essence of flowers creates a filter through which our brain accepts near-matches far more readily than if you were holding up two almost-matching paint chips. It doesn’t matter as much here to be exact, focus more on the overall effect than the minute details of colour-matching.
Which colour combos are your favourite to see in flower arrangements? Let us know in the comments!