Basic Color Schemes

In this Art Quest you will gain a better understanding of color schemes. Specifically, you will explore monochromatic, analogous, and complementary color schemes. You will also have the opportunity to see examples of color schemes at various museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The National Gallery of Art.

Color Scheme Defined
A color scheme is simply a plan for organizing colors.

Color schemes are classified by how the colors relate to each other on the color wheel. Types of color schemes include monochromatic, analogous, and complementary.

Monochromatic Color Schemes
A color scheme that includes only one hue plus the various values and intensities of that hue is called a monochromatic color scheme.

Of course, this is only one example.

Here are some examples of artworks using a monochromatic color scheme.

Analogous Color Schemes
An analogous color scheme uses hues that are side by side on the color wheel and share a hue. Any of the values and intensities of those hues could be used in the color scheme also.

The common hue in the above color scheme is blue.

What is the common hue in this analogous color scheme?

If you said yellow, you were correct!

Complementary Color Schemes
Another type of color scheme that is often used by artists is a complementary color scheme, which is created using hues that are opposite each other on the color wheel.

The complementary color scheme shown here is made from the hues red and green plus the different values and intensities of each color.

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors.

Color pairs that are opposite on the color wheel are:

  • red and green
  • yellow and violet
  • blue and orange
  • red-violet and yellow-green
  • red-orange and blue-green
  • yellow-orange and blue-violet

What complementary color pair was used for this complementary color scheme?

Look at the following painting. What color pair is used to create this mainly complementary color scheme?

Look at the following paintings and decide which color scheme is used in each one. Tip: Even if an artist uses some colors that are outside of a color scheme, the scheme can still be identified by looking at what the majority of colors are.

If you were uncertain, go back to the beginning of the activity and read through it again.