Distribution and Intensity of Colors
The distribution of colors as to their luminosity, apart form the nature of the hues, is of the greatest importance in color practice, being, indeed, fundamental to all good work. The subject has however been discussed at such length as is permitted by the limitations of this study in the chapters on contrast and light and shade. It is reintroduced here merely in order t fix it in its proper position in the general subject of color harmony.
In intensity colors may vary from spectral purity to neutral gray. Spectrum colors are, as we have repeatedly noted, bold, aggressive, obvious and of pronounced individuality. In direct proportion to the degree in which their own positive qualities are overcome, or neutralized, by the equally positive antithetical qualities of their complementaries they become progressively quiet, subtle and refined. It is manifest that all background surfaces must be relatively neutral, both because the eye could not stand constant exposure to large areas of positive color, and because it is the proper function of a background to stay back-to provide an effective foil for the clearer outlines and brighter colors of the objects or the persons who appear against it. A delicate picture or complexion against a pure red or green or yellow background would be like a lullaby sung to the accompaniment of a calliope.
The wall color may be anything from half-intensity to a gray just tinged with the hue. Other things being equal, purity of the wall color will vary inversely with the number and purity of the other hues in the room. No washed-out, characterless, colorless room is pleasant to live in. Every room requires a certain amount of color interest and of positive color quality, although the amount will vary according to the purpose and size of the room and the tastes of its occupants. When there are few hues in the rugs, hangings, furniture and decorative objects employed in a given room, and these few hues relatively neutral in character, the walls ought normally to approach the maximum of one-half intensity in order to invest the room, as a unit, with the necessary color interest. For example, yellow used on the walls of a Craftsman living room furnished in dull colors and having only a few low-toned pictures, vases and books for accents could be anywhere from one-fourth to one-half intensity; whereas in a drawing room furnished with a Kermanshah rug, bright-colored paintings, rich porcelains, lacquered cabinets, and satinwood chairs and settees upholstered in brocades or damasks the hue would be neutralized to a point where it would just appear in the warm grayish-cream walls.
When the purity of the dominant hue is constant, the number and purity of the subordinate hues will be increased directly with the area of the dominant hue. A room done in blue and tan, with tan walls, ecru curtains, blue and fawn rug, blue and tan hangings and blue colors, and those of low intensity. But if hangings and furniture coverings of tan and fawn were also used, so that all the background surfaces were in broken tones of orange, strong accents, not only of the complementary blue but also of old red, green and yellow, would be required in order to give sufficient color character to the room.
Up to this point we have discussed complementary harmonies as if both colors could be used pleasantly on plain surfaces, and the whole problem of their harmonious distribution were one of area, purity and tone. As a matter of good practice, however, large plain surfaces almost never. It is not only that the eye demands a judicious balance of plain and ornamented surfaces, but also, and chiefly, that complementary colors on plain juxtaposed surfaces are intolerably abrupt. Cultivated people do not like abruptness in any of the relations of life. Suave curves and blended colors please in the same way that suave manners and carefully modulated voices please, and for the same reason. Obviously complementary colors can be blended only when both are very near the point of complete neutralization; but under proper conditions complementaries of one-half and three-fourths intensity can be so united that they seem to belong together, and so that they can be seen with a sense of pleasing stimulation but with no sense of shock. The principle, which was mentioned in the chapter on contrast as rhythmic contrast, is called, according to the method of its application, interchange or counter change.