Color binaries of Interior Decorating
The binaries are compounds emotionally as well as physically. Orange, the product of two warm colors, has the potency of both. Sharing the heat of red and the light of yellow, it is the most powerful color, being when relatively pure very decorative but hot and irritating. When greatly reduced in intensity to the golden browns and tans it is warm, cheerful and unifying.
Green and violet are products of the union of warm and cold primaries, and accordingly possess qualities markedly different from those of their constituents, as a salt differs from the powerful base and acid that combine to produce it. The greens vary widely in character, being warm or cool, sunny or somber, according to the relative quantities of yellow and blue in their composition. When partly neutralized or pleasantly broken with grey, green is calm, restful and refreshing.
Violet is the color of shadows and of mystery. Violet and purple have always had a peculiar fascination for poets, esthetes and mystics; and however fanciful their extravagances it is true that these colors do possess a subtle suggestive quality-a sense of mysteries half-explored, of fires quenched but still burning-not shared by the other hues.
Black, white and grey will be studied at some length in the chapter on light and shade. It may, however, be noted here that, used by themselves and on large areas, black can suggest only darkness and gloom, and white only a cold purity. Used together in composition, especially in small sharply-contrasted masses, they yield the same effect of concentrated activity that always results from the struggle of powerful opposites. When fused they produce neutral and characterless greys. All the greys are soft and unaggressive. True grey is as neutral emotionally as it is in color, while the tones of grey range upward toward the gentle serenity of light grey and downward toward the sobriety and melancholy of dark grey.
Black imparts solemnity to any composition in which it plays an important part. Used in small masses other colors it serves to accent the peculiarities of the others, and thus to give an effect of concentration and vigor. White has the same power to give animation through the effect of tone contrast, and sets off the warm. When the cold purity of white has been banished by a little yellow, as in cream and ivory, it expresses a dignified and cheerful serenity.
The positive individual qualities of the hues vary directly with their purity. All the normal hues are powerful, bold, somewhat crude, of pronounced individuality, and obvious. They tend to lose these characteristics as they approach neutrality of are broken with grey, while at the same time they gain in quietness, subtlety and refinement. Since the interior decoration is essentially a social art, and since the social qualities demand subordination of self, it is clear that pure or almost pure colors can be used infrequently, and then in very limited areas only.
All the colors vary in emotional qualities with their luminosity, or value. Light tones, like curved lines, are associated with instinctive action, while dark tones, like straight lines, are associated with reflective action. All light tones, simply as values, and apart from any qualities of the hues themselves, have a relatively exciting and exhilarating effect, while all dark tones have a contrary effect. The high values express the ideas of activity, gayety, transience, delicacy, fragility, lightness and grace; while the low values express the ideas of inactivity, sobriety, permanence, strength, weight, repose and dignity.
The use of color in decorative composition will be discussed in several of the later chapters. The student of interior decoration must, however, be alert to gather ideas helpful in color practice from every practicable source-from nature, from art, and from books. There is a considerable literature of color, and much may be learned from reading; but this reading must be done intelligently. We have seen that the study of color is made difficult by the lack of a definite system of color notation, and by the fact that one class of writers employs the theory and terminology of colored light, and another class the theory and terminology of pigments. A third source of confusion exists in the fact that most of what has been written of color practice applies primarily to the art of painting, and very little of it directly to the art of interior decoration.
In their use of color painting and decoration differ widely, as Professor Raymond has pointed out, both in motive and technique; and what is said about the one art is accordingly only partially applicable to the other. The painter uses color in order to represent nature, while the decorator uses it for its own sake. (The most modern of the painters, who have wholly discarded representation, in effect use color as it is used in decoration.) The painter deals with small areas, which he covers with small masses of color revealing wide variation in hue and practically unlimited variation in tone. The decorator deals with large areas, covered with large masses of color, and revealing relatively few hues and a relatively limited variation in tone. One art uses chiefly the greens, greys, purples and light blues so common in nature, while the other uses chiefly the warm colors, and blue in darker rather than in lighter tones. The painter is frequently justified, in order faithfully to set forth what he sees, in introducing inharmonious colors; the decorator, who uses color for its esthetic value purely, has no such justification. Finally, the primary aim in painting is to create something which shall be beautiful in itself; while the primary aim in interior decoration is to create something which shall be beautiful in conjunction with, and as a background for, the people who use the room. Merely to state these differences is enough to emphasize the need for caution in applying to the art of interior decoration the general literature of color.