Applying colour principles
Artists & Illustrators|August 2020
Applying colour principles
It is well known that colour can contribute to the illusion of spatial depth in a two-dimensional image or design. This is usually explained in terms of each colour attribute: hue, value, and saturation.

HUE: WARMER COLOURS ADVANCE, COOLER COLOURS RECEDE

In figure 1, warm colour is flanked by two colours that get progressively cooler as they move away from the centre. All three are equal in saturation (bright muted colours) and value (around mid-tone). There are no linear signifiers such as overlap, size variation, or perspective to influence the spatial hierarchy, so hue is the only active agent in this example. The yellow-orange at the centre seems to advance while its neighbouring colours recede.

VALUE: DARKER COLOURS ADVANCE, LIGHTER COLOURS RECEDE

Figure 2 shows three colours unalike in value, but similar in hue and saturation. The dark colour at the centre does seem to dominate the visual field, but you can also flip the figure-ground relationship in your mind and see the dark centre colour as dropping back behind two lighter panels. This suggests that value may be a more equivocal spatial indicator than hue or saturation.

SATURATION: PURER COLOURS ADVANCE, DULLER COLOURS RECEDE

Figure 3 below shows three colours that are disparate in saturation, but similar in hue and value. The centre colour, a prismatic red, appears to advance in relation to its neighbours.

All three of these assertions are true under the right circumstances. But, as often happens, when a colour is light in value (receding) and warm in temperature (advancing), or warm in hue (advancing) and dull in saturation (receding), these “rules” come into conflict with each other.

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August 2020