Color theory for dingbats
May 26, 2018 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to paint the wood floor of my sun porch, and inspired by this project, I want to stencil a design on the floor. I really love the monochromatic (I think) color scheme of that floor, but I'm not sure I want that particular color scheme. How do I come up with two shades of the same color that will complement each other?

Do I just do two values of the same hue? Do I pick a darker shade and then use a lighter shade of an analogous color? Please help me not fuck this up, color-conversant Mefites!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Paletton, a slick/easy web app for making color palettes in general and specifically easy for monochromes. Spend a few minutes with it and I'm pretty sure you'll come up with something that you like, and everything it outputs is designed to be not "bad" in terms of color theory. As a fun exercise, try to make a horrible palette with it, it's hard!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:48 AM on May 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

That's pretty great, SaltySalticid!

What I like to do is look for existing color palettes in a photograph or piece of art (magazine ads used to be a good source), then identify the specific colors that were working for me and just copy them.

Maybe something from one of these images, for example.
posted by amtho at 8:23 AM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

The way my parents did it was to mix some of the darker color with white to get a lighter version.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:38 AM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm lazy and cheap. Paint the floor in the 1st color, maybe save a small container of leftover paint, but use the rest to mix with white and/or another color. In the picture, that green could have white plus a little yellow. That's not what they did, but what you could do. If you go back to the paint place and say you want the color adjusted, they'll usually do it for you, as long as it's not crazy busy.

I usually make color cards - I use a subscription card from a magazine, which seem to carpet my home, and paint it, so I can get paint mixed if needed, or want to match something. In theory, I would make one of those design boards, but I already said I was lazy.

Make sure the porch wood is not rotted and is very dry or it's a lot of work that won't last.
posted by theora55 at 10:19 AM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites] has this thing where you can browse palettes people have put together, and then actually see those color palettes applied to a variety of tiling patterns. You can either browse the palettes and then select one and see it applied to various patterns, or you can browse pattern templates for something similar to what you want to use and select the option to color the pattern, then play with the color selections until you get something you like. It's not the world's most intuitive interface but it's fun.
posted by Sequence at 10:55 AM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the simplest way to do this is to choose a colour chip you like at the paint store, then use 2 of the colours off of the same chip - they are pretty much gradations of the same colour, so you'd be sure to have a perfect match.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:55 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

You're asking about two colors but there are three colors in the example you link to. There's some clever thinking going on in that example and I feel like although a two color version of that idea would be quite nice it might not be as impactful and lovely as the example is. The reason it works so well is ratios and contrast.

So, there's three colors: a darker green, a lighter green, and a cream. What it's doing there is making the greens look greener while the cream looks brighter and whiter, because cream has warm hues (red and yellow) and that compliments cool hues. By including the cream they make what could be a kind of dull combination of subdued greens and help it look quite vibrant without being in-your-face.

You can see in the example picture where there's a version with orange dots in addition to the cream - that looks more vibrant, because the contrast between the orange and green is stronger. And contrast makes... think of it like "energy". You want a little of it, but not too much. If there's none at all a space looks boring and lifeless. If there's too much a space will be tiring or chaotic. So they were smart to go with the cream-only option. Imagine a version where the cream is done in the lighter green - much flatter, right? But with the orange dots it would be too much for an all-over floor in a room intended for relaxation.

Also the amount of cream is important. There are roughly equal amounts of lighter and darker green in the pattern. But the ratio of greens to cream is different - there is much less cream overall than either of the greens or the green combined. If the ratio were equal thirds, the floor overall would read much lighter, and perceptually it would feel less calm. Because the greens are low saturation - they are subdued in hue, closer to greys than say a lime or emerald green - they are calm colors. If there were more cream in the pattern, the aforementioned complimentary nature of their hues would bump the energy up again and make it less appropriate for the space. This could go the other way - imagine a pattern of a light cream with a darker beige, with contrasting small dots of a cool blue. If you put in too much blue you're looking at too much contrast for a floor pattern, but if you didn't have any blue at all it would be kind of boring for the effort involved in the application.

So anyway. To make three colors work you want two colors that have the same hue but different brightnesses, and both having about the same level of saturation, plus a smaller amount of a contrasting hue with a contrasting brightness but even lower saturation. So some examples would be: sandy gold, darker brass brown, small amount of light soft blue; a misty lavender, a grey-violet, small amount of dark brown; a washed out reddish brick, a darker terracotta, small amount of dark foresty green. All of these are using the smaller amount of contrasting color to make the overall pattern appear more vibrant without making it too crazy to be a wall to wall floor treatment.
posted by Mizu at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

It depends on how subtle you want it to be.
Start with the base color, which gives the overall feel of the project. Then pick an accent color that is two or more steps lighter (paint store sample cards are ideal for this) and work a small amount of the design, say along one wall.

While I've been known to add white paint to a partial bucket, mixing more paint can be an issue. I would do it if I worked the whole design in one go; otherwise I would use a good paint store for consistent batches of color over a period of time.

Live with it for a while and keep moving the furniture and adding more accent color. You may want an overall design, or you may want a carpet border effect along the walls.

Keep perspective in mind. Unless you have a perfectly square or rectangular surface, you will either adjust the design as required or have placement issues in odd corners (think wallpaper that cuts off a design abruptly). Entryways can be particularly tricky.

You can do a Persian carpet treatment by putting a larger motif in the center and leaving space between it and the wall border. Even if this is identical to the border it can reduce the problem of keeping a precise design from going off-kilter.

I'm more inclined to use three shades of the same color rather than a contrast color over a large surface. White and its blue-based and yellow-based siblings are the exception. A touch of palest gray or soft ivory can add a nice touch.

Another subtle effect would be playing with the same color and different finishes, say semi-gloss paint on a matte surface.
posted by TrishaU at 5:38 PM on May 26, 2018

"Two shades of the same color" will pretty much always work together. You could also push the hue of one around the color wheel a little - for instance, if you chose a deep blue as the ground, it might work well to have a purple-to-magentaish pastel for the design. I wouldn't go more than about 30º in either way, and definitely wouldn't go to a complementary color (180º around the color wheel) as those tend to start vibrating against each other in the eye, which is really not what you want for a chill-out room!

The big thing to do is to experiment. If you are conversant with an art program, then draw your pattern in it, and try a bunch of color variants. Use different blending modes, play with the amount of blending, and once you have a color you like, print it out and bring it to the paint store, then find swatches that match. (Or bring your computer/tablet to the store with the image and match swatches to that; ensuring your colors don't change when you go from screen to print is a big hassle.)
posted by egypturnash at 7:18 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

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