Friday, March 24, 2006

Blue railings

click photo to enlarge
Complementary colours produce the greatest chromatic contrast. So, if you take a colour wheel and select any two colours that are opposite each other - say red and green, purple and yellow, or blue and orange - and place them next to one another the pairing will increase the apparent visual intensity of each colour. Isaac Newton, in 1672, was the first to publish a colour wheel illustrating this effect. The theory was very quickly taken up, elaborated and adapted by both scientists and artists. Interestingly the colour wheels of these two groups, whilst similar, are not identical.

People have differing views about this effect of complementary colours. Some really like it, and see it as aesthetically successful. Others can't stand it, and complain about the vibrant brightness it produces. Graphic designers use it both effectively and badly - try reading red print on a green background! In Britain many butchers edge their displays of beef with green plastic leaves, to make it look redder and more succulent.

The railings and coloured playground surface in this photograph illustrate the complementary effect of blue next to orange. A sunny day isn't necessary to make the area look bright, and that's undoubtedly the designer's intention. It's interesting to speculate, however, on the subliminal effect of this colour combination on the children playing here. Is it positive, negative or neutral? I took this photograph because of those vibrant colours, but also because of the interesting complexity of the overlapping railings and shadows.

P.S. If your computer shows the playground surface as closer to pink (like my friend's) then the last paragraph makes a lot less sense!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen