Basic Hue Contrast
As I mentioned in the previous post, Hue contrast exists on a circular scale. The unusual thing about the circular scale is that there are different thresholds for contrast suppression and contrast amplification. In each of the other scales, contrast is either suppressed or amplified and there is a threshold where the switch occurs.
The amplification threshold for Hue occurs when two hues are separated by 120 degrees or more. Furthermore, it is a sliding scale. Hues that are 120 degrees apart have some contrast amplification. Hues that are 180 degrees apart have ‘maximum’ contrast amplification. These relationships are defined as Simultaneous Contrast and the colors are said to be Compliments. True complimentary colors are any two hues 180 degrees apart. Split Compliments are hues on either side of a color’s true compliment. The greater the Simulaneous Contrast, the more the that the colors will appear to vibrate next to each other. This phenomenon is fairly easy to see and why it is used to demonstrate the principle of Simultaneous Contrast. Unfortunately, many artists have mistakenly assumed that because it was the demo model, it is the only form of Simultaneous Contrast. As I mentioned in the previous post, Simultaneous Contrast exists in all aspects of our visual perception.
Hues that are within 60 degrees of each other exhibit contrast suppression and are called Analogous colors. The closer the two hues are to each other, the greater the contrast suppression and the harder it will be for your audience to distinguish between them. Analagous colors have the advantage of helping to unify a field.
Hues that fall between 60 and 120 degrees of separation have simple contrast. They can be distiguished from one another, but do not stand out or blend together.
Two color contrast pairs warrant special consideration: Red-Green contrast and Blue-Yellow contrast. These two hue pairings have the strongest simultaneous contrast of any possible combinations because they are hard wired into the mechanisms of our eyes. This is a function of the unique ways in which the Cone cells in our eyes process light. Red- Green contrast stems from the comparison of information between the Medium and Long wavelength cone cells. Blue-Yellow contrast stems from the Medium + Long cone cell data being compared to the Short wavelength cone cell information. These two contrasts will have the strongest hue response in your audience. But remember, Hue doesn’t exist by itself. You will also be manipulating Value and Saturation at the same time. Red -Green contrasts often have very little Value contrast. Blue-Yellow contrasts usually have very strong Value contrasts. (This is because some of the same physiology is used to record both B-Y contrast and Light to Dark contrast.)
Two Color Wheels
The other issue governing Hue contrast is whether we are talking about Projected or Reflected light. Projected light exists when light is shined directly at your eyes. Prior to the advent of color television, it really didn’t come into consideration very often. But today’s computer monitors and televisions make it an important part of our every day life. Depending on the composition of energies within the light, we will perceive it as different colors. The more light that I add, the brighter it becomes and the closer it gets to white. For this reason, projected light is often called Additive color and it has it’s own color wheel. The 3 additive primary colors are Red, Green and Blue or RGB. The additive secondary colors are Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. The additive secondary colors formed the basis for the traditional printers inks, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). For over a century, CMYK printing was thought of as full spectrum color. This isn’t true, but until the public interacted with color television and computers, most people didn’t realize it.
The more traditional color wheel is for Subtractive color. This is the color that exists when light is reflected off of a surface and then into our eyes. Hence it is Reflective light. Each object that light hits absorbs some of the energy. For example a red object absorbs everything but the energies that we perceive as red. Since each material absorbs some of the light, when I blend two colors together, they become darker. This subtracts light and approaches black. This is why it is commonly called Subtractive Color. The Subtractive primary hues are Red, Yellow and Blue. The Subtractive secondary colors are Purple, Orange and Green.
So What the Heck does this have to do with Knitting?
Knitting technically falls under the Subtractive color wheel. But unlike paint or dye, we do not mix colors. So the traditional definitions of what is a secondary color or a primary color are basically irrelevant. (This is not true if you are dyeing your own yarn or fiber.) What is important is the structural position of the hues around the color wheel. The primary colors are each separated by 120 degrees. The Secondary colors are also separated from each other by 120 degrees. And each primary has a secondary color that is it’s complement 180 degrees across the color wheel. I know. This last bit is just basic color theory. Elementary school children learn this. (Or they used to before Art was removed from their education.) If anything here is new it is the notion that all of these relationships will exhibit some Simultaneous contrast. This is one of the things that gives their relationships structure.
Another thing to remember is that just because knitting is technically reflected light, we are not limited to the relationships in the Subtractive color wheel. Our brains are used to seeing the structural relationships in either color wheel. Regardles of material, we can leverage that structural familiarity in any design. Many modern sports team use Teal and Burgundy as their team colors. This is a version of the Cyan -Magenta complimentary pairing from the Projected light wheel. Blue and Gold is another complimentary pair from the same wheel and it is one of the two hard wired relationships. This makes it a very powerful color scheme. CMYK is a printing strategy based on Projected light relationships.
But ultimately, the reason that went over this material here is so that we can build upon this basic understanding as I describe some of the things that I am leveraging in my color knitting. Thanks for reading.