Friday 27 January 2023

2023 Topic 02: Tetradic Colours - Topic Introduction

Hi everyone, Dounia here

For this second topic of 2023 (under the umbrella theme of TRACKS for the current quarter) we are continuing our journey in colourland and our expanding our understanding of the colour wheel.

Colour has a crucial role in all crafters' worlds but we want you to feel confident experimenting and playing with it to find find YOUR colour palette; perhaps to explore a colour theme for a series of works or for the item you are working on now. I'm sure we all have successfully  'made mud' or ended up with clashing, uncomfortable results when mixing colours, and we know this can be frustrating and discouraging, especially if you don't really know what you need to do to improve on this outcome for next time! 

In 2022, we started our adventure in colour theory, taking you with us and explaining how to mix colours to create new and successful combinations,]. Hopefully we have played some part in helping you understand why some colours work better together than others, but also how to make 'nice mud' when you want to!

This time, building on our knowledge from last year, we enter the (sometimes treacherous) realm of four-colour schemes, for more variations and playful possibilities!

Throughout 2022, the blog offered 3 topics exploring the colour wheel. We hope those topic introductions and our bloggers' posts will become a reference for you to fall back on and further your colour game.

To build strong foundations, Leandra shared live how colour mix to create your own colour wheel to your taste. She explained how branching away from the classic bright Magenta/Blue/Yellow primaries and trying other colours opens up new possibilities, for example starting with pastel or rustic options for more muted results. You can also find all this information in the introduction to the 2022 yearly colour theme

Once you have your own wheel (the PaperArtsy wheel is available here), you have quite an number of typical colour schemes you can apply to your project; 3 options were covered in 2022

Source: Alex Guzman

This first topic focussed on the most famous and simple colour combination: complementary colours! Picking 2 opposites on the colour wheel is a sure way to achieve the greatest of colour contrasts. Just be careful to not mix them (that is how you make brown by the way!) Despite its simplicity, the possibilities are endless, especially once you start making your own colour wheels and get beyond bright colours to play with dark, pastel, rustic or desaturated hues. Opposites are always going to offer a striking, high impact result with some energy.

In round 2 of our colour wheel play, the focus was on split complimentary colour combinations or using one colour from any position on the wheel buddied up with the two colours either side of its direct opposite, creating a 'Y' or a thin triangle on the wheel.
Compared to just using complementary colours, adding a third colour allows more variation and nuance to build complexity. While providing slightly less contrast, this colour scheme still packs some punch. It's a more subtle version of the complementary scheme, and an easy way to get colours that will work without looking like you've tried too hard. It is also quite flexible as you can experiment with various ratios: all three colours in equal amounts, the tail of the Y as main colour with two tonal accents, or the split colours as one main colour block, with an accent of the third. And you get 12 different combinations from one wheel! 

For our 3rd colour wheel topic, we continued with the 3-colour scheme, but this time we explored triads or 3 colours evenly spaced on the wheel. Those colours can separated by 3 wedges, 2 wedges or 1 wedge for 3 different atmospheres.
The most classic triad is the equidistant one, where the colours are separated by 3 wedges covering the whole wheel. This is a very balanced scheme, offering a lot of clean colour contrast. When reducing the spacing to 2 wedges, you end up with two opposites and  a third colour balancing both. It is an easy way to soften and intensify the classic complementary contrast. Finally, with only 1 wedge between your colours, contrast is greatly reduced: you are basically ignoring half of your wheel! You can however play with layering similar tones and harmony is generally easier to achieve.

For more information, examples and inspiration, do not hesitate to revisit the introductions for those topics as well as the beautiful projects by our blogging team!

Now for 2023:

With a full year of colour theory under our belt, we are ramping it up a bit. Let's get adventurous and tackle the options within 4-colour schemes!

I want to start with a disclaimer: while doing research for this topic, it quickly appeared that nobody agrees on semantics ie Tetra vs Quad. Various names are used for these schemes, and sometimes the same name is used for different combinations so it can be confusing. We do not pretend to have the final say, but for clarity, we made a choice to use vocabulary consistently. We tried to settle on names that seem both logical and commonly in use and we hope they work for you too! When applicable, I have tried to add the other common names, so you might recognise them.

As you can see from the following graphic, tetradic combos are made of 4 colours. 'Tetra' means 4 in Greek; these are also sometimes called quadratic combos, as 'quadra' is also 4, but derived from Latin, see what I mean about semantics? On a colour wheel, this applies to two pairs of opposite colours.

A 12-segment colour wheel will create 3 types of tetrads: a square, a rectangle and a slim rectangle. The further apart the space between each colour, the more contrasting the colours will be, creating 3 different colour harmonies that we will explore in more detail.

Source: Alex Guzman

If you prefer to see them in action, please check this video by Dr Oto Kano:

Like the geometric figure it is named after, all 4 colours are equidistant on the colour wheel, and separated by 2 wedges, making them the furthest apart from each other they can be (quadratic colour sometimes refers to this combo specifically and not all 4-colour combinations). This is a very balanced and contrasting scheme. 3 possible combinations are possible within 1 wheel, each composed of a primary colour, its secondary opposite and 2 tertiary colours.

Let's start with the classic Red/Green/Yellow /Blue. All the main colours together! Only for it to actually be a square combo, the yellow is actually light orange and the blue Purple blue. Still maximum contrast, especially with bright shades.

Source: Beckie

Now with yellow as your primary choice, it will be balanced by purple, dark orange and turquoise. Notice how you always have two warm tones and two cool ones? Those are often easier to make work together. Here the cools are used in both bright for the bird and soft shades for the background, a sure way to harmonize!

Source: S Audrey

Blues are partnered with orange, red purple and green gold. In light, zingy tones, they make each other pop for maximum pep.

Source: Martha Ponsanesi, the PaperArtsy blog

This time the 2 complementary (opposite) groups of 2 colours are only separated by 1 wedge (this is also called Double Complementary, despite the fact that all tetrads are double complementarys!). There is still a lot of contrast but also more opportunities for harmonies inside the warm and cool groups. You have 6 possible colour schemes within 1 wheel. You can either partner 2 primaries with their 2 opposites secondaries (first row of wheels below) or 4 tertiary colours (second row of wheels). Lots of tetradic combos will instinctively fall into this category, as it is the easiest to work with.

Here are some examples. Another version of the 'main colours': red, green, blue and... orange! In this square combo, the two warm colours are closer together(1 wedge)  than they are to the cool colours (3 wedges). Therefore grouping the colours by temperature is a easy way to create great and clear contrast.

Let's look at another 2 primaries/2 secondaries combo: yellow, purple, red and green. This time the warm colours are further away from each other (3 wedges) than they are from the cold ones (1 wedge), creating a completely different hierarchy and atmosphere. The yellow and the green actually harmonise better than the yellow and the red, making them pop.

Source: Casa Frida

Now playing with tertiary colours, they can still be bold and bright! The warms are back together and the artist used that contrast fully. Cold colours for the background and warms for the focal elements.

Source: Chris Carter

Softer versions are often easier to harmonise? Using focal photo main blue to frame it and also the page creates cohesion while letting it detach from the other elements by colour contrast.

Yes, this name is not the most distinctive but the only other possibility I have seen is 'Double Split-Complementary', which is very long and not very clear, so 'Slim Rectangle' it is! Our 2 pairs of opposites are adjacent (or analogous in colour speak) this time. Contrast is still strong because of the complementary colours sitting opposite each other, with the more subtle variations between the 2 adjacent colours. Again there are 6 possible colour schemes within 1 wheel. Each combination regroups a primary, its secondary opposite and 2 tertiary colours.

With the slim rectangle scheme, the contrast is between the 2 opposite groups of adjacent colours. See how in this fabric, the blue flowers and green foliage pop on the orange background, while the yellow and red flower are much more discrete.

Source: Casa Frida

An instinctive way to use such a combination is therefore to group the analogous/adjacent colours, creating subtle variations in the same block. Here the yellow and green gold fill the background, making the purple eggplants stand out greatly.
Source: Chris Carter

Ellie Knol used the same concept in tag book. The blue-green and orange part make each other stand out without clashing thanks to the frames and colour blocks.

Source: Ellie Knol on the PaperArtsy blog

We have already explained a lot of possibilities, but do not forget that contrast comes not only from the hues chosen but also their brightness/softness/darkness etc. Within a specific scheme, you can play with with the saturation and lightness of your colours to achieve a pleasing and useful palette.

Let's explore the Red/Orange/Green/Blue rectangle. Using the pure hues, you have 4 colours of the same intensity. It makes for a very bright and busy project, not always easy to balance comfortably.

If everything looks too bright or gaudy, do not hesitate to change the vibrancy of your colours. For example, using darker or lighter versions in the mix will greatly soften your final project. Using colours of different lightness will make the brighter ones pop more and 'take the lead' in your composition. In this living room, the darker blue and red stand out compared to the lighter orange and green. Blue and Red are not opposite, creating a softer harmony, consolidated by having their respective complementary strategically placed in the room. The Red/Green complementary creates an horizontal axis, while the Blue/Orange one brings focus to the center of the picture, with a slight vertical elevation.

Playing with saturation, or more or less diluted colours, is an other avenue to harmonise a tetrad scheme. Here the opposite are used together: Blue/Orange in the background and Red/Green in the foreground dinosaurs. While the red and green are bright and saturated, the blue and orange are more muted and diluted with neutral tones. This makes the landscape softer, allowing the more intense focal elements to pop. 

Source: Alain Briot

Now if all your colours are softer versions, you lessen the risk of clashing and gaudiness but also lose contrast. The topical soft colours of this Cupcake ATM make for a pleasing whole but nothing stands out particularly. As all the colours have the same intensity, contrast is only provided by the hues and the rectangular scheme. You then decide if this is enough for you or not!

Source: Sprinkles

When you are making your own colour wheel, all the variations generally come from the 3 colours you choose to start with. To learn how to start, check the introduction to 2022 colour theme as well as Leandra's live in our Facebook Community 'PaperArtsy People' on how to create your own colour wheel. What is more interesting is when you branch away from the classic primary colours of Magenta/Blue/Yellow. You can also be inspired by the community amazing results by following along!
Now, here are a few ideas to go further and create truly unique colour wheels:

Shifting: replace one or 2, or 3, of your starting colours by a secondary or tertiary. You can use green/green gold/light orange/orange instead of yellow, orange/coral/mauve/purple instead of red, purple/lavender/turquoise/green instead of blue.(above) The more stark the departure, the more surprising the results! Jennie Atkinson shifted all 3 in her blog post for a truly delicious wheel.

Intensity: Instead of starting with colours of the same intensity, as we tend to do, mix things up! Have one or two of them be softer/brighter/lighter/darker for more variety. For example, Amanda Pink mixed two light colours with a very dark one for an amazing blog post.

Tones: All the reference wheels are made with pure clean colours, to better show the hue but try using greyish or other half-tones colours and you will be amazed by the results. For example choose khaki instead of yellow, grey blue instead of blue or dusty pink instead of red. Autumn Clark did that with both her blue and her yellow in her blog post, for rustic and mysterious colour palette.

Neutral: Time to get radical! Let's replace  one of your starting colours by a neutral for a completely different wheel. Beige can shine instead yellow, grey instead of blue, brown instead of red. Se this great blog post where Floss Nicholls uses Stone instead of a blue.

Making the wheels is part of the fun and once you have a wheel you like, you can choose whatever tetrad you like and start another round of play!

Tetradic schemes are the richest of all available colour schemes. They give you the most variety, opening up some fun and creative options for you, but they may also be a bit more difficult to pull off. So we have complied a few tricks to help you.

Divide and conquer

Colours clash when they are next to one another. To avoid this issue, let's just not put them too close to each other! The extreme solution is to complete separate the 4 colours, as in this 4-piece print.

It does not have to be this dramatic. First make sure that all 4 colours are not in close proximity too often. An interesting exercise is to go further and insure a maximum of 3 colours are in contact using layering and piecing. Try it out and be creative!

Play favorites

Colour balance is a bit more difficult with 4 colours. While it certainly can work in some cases, you should probably avoid using all four colours in equal proportions. Tetradic colour schemes, especially the square and rectangle ones, work best when you choose one of the four colours to be the dominant one and use the other three as contrast and accent colours. This prevents your project from appearing too busy or unbalanced as it is deliberate. In interior or web design, a classic ratio (in space covered) is: 60% main colour, 30% contrast colour and 10% accent colour(s), which is also a great rule of thumb for crafty projects. For a more visual representation, you can, for example, use Fibonacci colour ratios:

This painting roughly follows this rule, with teal as the main colour and its opposite, dark orange, as the contrast colour. Despite the bright shades, it allows for a cohesive image homogenized by the bold background.

Source: Chris Carter

This bedroom uses sensibly the same hues but in different shades and tones for a much darker atmosphere.

Again teal is the main colour, with light orange as its contrast. Its actual complementary colour is the least predominant one, and they never touch. The ratio is more of a geometric one, where each colour appears twice as much as the previous one.

The impressionists were inspired by colour theory and colour perception. In this Monet water scene, the main colour takes up to 75% of the space with orange and green gold as its contrasts. The pink is barely visible, tucked in the cloud but it also provides shadow to the houses and reflections, unifying the palette.

Source: Claude Monet

Keep it neutral

To prevent clashing, you can balance your tetradic colours with a neutral background or a good amount of white/neutral space. In terms of interior design, A room with orange walls, red drapes, blue furniture and a blue rug would be overwhelming. However, a room with white walls that also uses red, green, blue, and orange pillows, rugs, and window treatments has plenty of vibrancy, but it is still calm enough that you can relax within the space.

When crafting, that means leaving plenty of room for your elements to breathe and using neutral colours to separate the different colour groups. We already know that white and black make colours stand out, they also prevent them from clashing!

Now, black and white are not your only options. Any neutral colour will work: greys, beiges, off-whites etc. You can then match them to the tones of the rest of your project to be better integrate, like the taupey wall of this architectural page.

Source: Jenny Marples on the PaperArtsy Blog

Also keep in mind that our perception of colours varies depending on the others surrounding them, both in shade and hue. The same colour looks lighter on a dark background and darker on a light one. When close, colours tend to bring out each other's opposite tones: Red close to blue will look more orange, while the blue looks more green. This is called simultaneous contrast.

Source: Colour Theory 101 by Hubspot

On a larger scale, the colour of your backdrop also has an crucial impact. These two fabrics have the exact same pattern in the exact same colour only one is on a white background and one is on the black one. As the colours are bright, they pop contrasting on black and look a lot more washed out on white.

Source: Casa Frida

Change tone(s) and throw shade(s)/

We already have seen how using colours of different saturation and value may help avoid gaudiness. Using one or two opaque softer colours as your ‘primaries’ to mix your colour wheel will greatly help you achieve a pleasing result. Perhaps a pastel, a coloured grey or even a neutral within the ‘primaries’ of your colour wheel will create an interesting starting point.
Another trick is to reduce one (or more) of your 4 colours into several shades. The following blanket pattern uses 4 very bright base colours which could have clashed. Darker versions of the blue and green have being added to the mix, effectively introducing more colours to spread the contrasting one more. 

Source: Weelife

The base colour of this fabric and quilt are not that different but the gradients in the quilt add a lot of shade variation. This not only add complexity but it also partially softens the contrast between the colour blocks.

Source: Casa Frida / Veronica Von Zwehl at Fast Friday Fabric Challenge

Check your temperature

By nature, your tetradic combo will generally have 2 warm and 2 cool colours and those two groups will naturally contrast with each other. As with hues, working with equal amounts of warms and colds is tricky as just a slight difference will be unconsciously perceived as imbalance. So if you have difficulties with the colours of your project work, think about choosing one to be visibly prevalent over the other, making it intentional.

Here, with the water and lily pads, the cool colours are obviously dominant, making the warm focal elements pop. With more fishes, the the painting would appear appear gaudy and be a lot less readable.

Choosing a warm or cool theme has a lot of impact in the final look and perception of a project. They are not called warm and cool for nothing and evoke different feeling and associations. It will also dictate which colours of your tetrad will stand out more, depending on their separate contrast with the main, as shown in these two fabrics.

Source: Casa Frida

On the PaperArtsy Blog

As a reminder, if want to start from the star!
2022 Topic #1: Opposites Attract
2022 Topic #8: Split Complementary
2022 Topic #14: Triadic Colours 

All these links can also be found from our linktree here and its easy to save the PaperArtsy colour wheel from this link, print it onto card and you are ready to start exploring colour.

Colour Theory videos

If you want to see someone talking through the theory, mixing colour and then going further, this is a really informative video by Kyle Heath. If you're just interested in the colour mixing, he starts with that, but you may want to keep watching, as there's so much useful information.

Here is Dr. Oto Kano's whole series on Colour Theory, including colour mixing, avoiding mud, customizing your palette and the different classic schemes. A great resource and each video is under 20min long.

Digital Palettes and Colour Schemes

Online colour wheels and palette creators are great to explore and experiment before actually breaking out the paints. They are also allows you to better understand the colour choices of art pieces you like, or don't like!

Adobe Color is free and offers a customizable colour wheel to generate palettes, and a palette and gradient extractor. You can change the background from white to black which is a great feature. The available colours are based on the Pantone catalogue.

All the palettes in this post were made with Paletton, also free. While it is less intuitive at first use, it is also more customizable. You can choose the number of colours in your palette, the distance between you colours on the wheel as well as the type of file to download your palette. Once I had the hang of it, I personally found more versatile and complete than Adobe Color. You choose the hues on the exterior of the wheel, then can modify each colour lightness and saturation in the central part, also creating and adjusting harmonized sub-colours.

We hope this gives you everything you need to get started, and hope you have loads of fun playing with colours!

If you want to create along with us we would love to see what you get up to! 

You could tag us on Facebook, Instagram @paperartsy , Twitter, or post in PaperArtsy People Group on Facebook. We really love to hear about how the blog topics have inspired you, so don't be shy!!  

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