When it comes to acrylic painting, one of the most important decisions you'll make is your color scheme. A color scheme refers to the selection of colors you plan to use in your artwork based on principles of color theory.
Choosing the right color scheme is important because the colors you choose sets the mood and tone of your painting, which can greatly affect how viewers perceive your finished piece. The difference between a gloomy or somber painting and one with a more cheerful or bubbly tone can fall on what color scheme you desired at the time.
Before we continue, though, let's clarify the difference between a color scheme and a color palette – two terms that share a close relationship and are often mixed up with each other.
While a color scheme is the set of colors used in an art piece following principles of color theory, a color palette is the actual selection of colors that make up the color scheme, with specific names or shades chosen for a particular project.
The Most Common Color Schemes
There are many different approaches to choosing a color scheme, and which one you choose will depend on your personal style and the mood you want to convey. Here are the options to consider:
1. Analogous Color Scheme
An analogous color scheme involves choosing three colors located next to each other on the color wheel. These colors are typically the main color and the two colors adjacent to it on the color wheel. By choosing the main color and two analogous ones, you can create a harmonious and cohesive combination of colors on your palette.
When looking at a color wheel diagram, you'll notice that the three colors in an analogous color scheme form a triangle shape like slices of pizza beside each other. This color scheme is often used in design and art to create a cohesive and harmonious look.
2. Monochromatic Color Scheme
A monochromatic color scheme uses only a single color, along with its various shades and tints. This color scheme is one of the easiest to create as it involves using just 1 color.
Looking at a color wheel, you'll notice that the various shades and tints of the main color form a line when plotted with a monochromatic color scheme.
3. Triadic Color Scheme
A triadic color scheme is a variant of the split complementary color scheme (more on this later). In a triadic color scheme, you choose three colors that are evenly spaced apart around the color wheel. Using these three colors gives your painting a vibrant yet balanced feel.
You can plot this color scheme by taking an equilateral triangle and placing it on a color wheel. The colors located on each point of the triangle will form your triadic color scheme.
4. Complementary Color Scheme
A complementary color scheme consists of two colors placed opposite to each other on the color wheel. According to color theory, colors opposite to each other complement each other, thereby enhancing and bringing out the best in each other when they are used together.
When used in combination, complementary colors create a strong visual contrast making for a striking and vibrant feel. Complementary color schemes are often used in art to capture a viewer's attention and lead their gaze toward a particular element or area of the painting.
5. Square Color Scheme
A square color scheme uses four colors chosen from opposite corners of the color wheel. These four colors should be equidistant from each other and form a square or diamond shape when plotted out on a color wheel.
Using a square color scheme gives your painting a sense of stability and structure, along with substantial contrast and choice of variations. A common method of creating this color scheme is to choose the main color and then build from there.
6. Split Complementary Color Scheme
A split complementary color scheme is a color scheme where you choose the main color that your pair with the two colors located on either side of its complementary color on the color wheel.
When plotted on a color wheel diagram, the three colors form an isosceles triangle color scheme.
A split complementary color scheme is often used in design and art to add interest and variety to a composition. This creates a harmonious and versatile, yet easy-to-achieve combination of colors that is more dynamic than a complementary color scheme.
7. Rectangular (or Tetrad) Color Scheme
A rectangular, or tetradic, color scheme is similar to a split complementary color scheme that goes a bit further by consisting of four colors, arranged into two complementary pairs. This type of color scheme can be created by selecting two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel and then adding the two colors that are adjacent to each of those colors. The result is a color scheme with four colors that are equally spaced around the color wheel, forming a rectangle when plotted.
Rectangular color schemes provide a good balance of warmth and coolness, as well as a wide range of color options. They can be used to create a sense of balance and harmony in a design as well as a sense of movement and dynamism.
8. Analogous Complementary Color Scheme
An analogous complementary color scheme is one where two analogous colors are paired with their complementary color. As you know, analogous colors are colors located next to each other on the color wheel, such as red and orange or yellow and green.
This creates a more cohesive, subdued, and balanced combination of colors than a complementary color scheme. The three colors in an analogous complementary color scheme form a triangle shape when plotted on a color wheel diagram.