The ordinary white light to which we are accustomed has been proven to be composed of a series of vibrations of varying wavelengths that affect the retina of the eye. These wavelengths range from red through orange, yellow, green, and blue to purple. The simplest proof of this is seen in the decomposition of a ray of sunlight through a prism, into a colored band called a spectrum in which this scale of colors, seen in nature in the rainbow.
True colors are those that we see in the rainbow which have been approximately described by the terms: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red. There are, of course, an infinite number of gradations between these principal colors, to which no definite terms or names may be given.
The spectral colors are, however, light colors and cannot be used in practice. Artists use pigment colors produced by chemical processes from a great variety of sources which are used in stains, paints, dyes and other combinations that may be applied to surfaces such as cherry bar rails or bar rail moulding in order to create color effects suitable to different requirements.
The true colorist not only has a natural talent for the selection and limitation of color to produce certain results but the language of color must be learned by constant experimenting. Many attempts have been recently made to reduce color harmony to a formula by means of charts that attempt to select harmonious combinations.
These are of little value to the decorator and not only limit the possible number of color schemes that may be used, but also prevent the natural development of the ability to use the eye and reason in color selection.
Color charts have been reasonably successful when used to select colors for surfaces of similar texture that are intended to be seen under the same light. The decorator, however, has a far different problem to meet, inasmuch as the colors in a room are used on frieze boards and pediment that stand at a variety of angles and receive different degrees of light upon them.
This may completely alter the effect of the same color combinations when used on different surfaces. Decorators, therefore, must study color harmony from an entirely different standpoint than pictorial or pattern artists. They must develop an entirely new set of principles that will guide them to create agreeable, harmonious combinations that have a definite message to express.
Experience in teaching color selection to students of decoration has shown that color harmony is not as much a matter of selecting particular colors as of selecting the proportions in which colors are to be combined. According to its author, a color chart may indicate that a certain group of three colors will be inharmonious.
The student will suddenly find himself in a room in which these same three colors are used in different superficial areas, with one predominating, and the others subordinated to it. The three colors used are in harmony, but this is what the color chart does not and cannot indicate.
All colors are harmonious, provided they are used in proper proportions from the picture frame moulding to the fireplace design. The same principles of composition and unity may be applied in judging color schemes as in judging composition of forms, lines, and masses.
The warm colors (those toward the red end of the spectrum) affect the human system very differently from the cold colors. Red, being the warmest, is highly stimulating, tending to produce an excited and angry state in very susceptible individuals. Animals, as well as men, are thus affected, showing that this property is fundamental, and not due to any artificial convention.
Yellow is cheerful, rather stimulating, but less so than red. Green is restful, quiet, and soothing. Its good effect on the eyesight is well known. It is the middle color of the spectrum and the predominant color of a great part of nature, being the background of practically all vegetation.
It may be either warm or cool depending upon whether yellow or blue predominates. Blue and purple, further along the line, tend to be more depressing than stimulating. Purple is the most dignified of colors. It is the color of royalty and of mourning.
Colors also have a different appeal to persons of opposite sex. Men as a rule prefer colors of dark and strong values while women prefer colors tending toward the pastel shades. As far as general effect is concerned, color creates the atmosphere of a room more than antique picture frames or decorative moulding.
As everything in a room must be in some color, from the walls and ceiling to the smallest ornament, it naturally becomes an all-important element in decoration. A room may be cheerful or gloomy, friendly or cold, according to its predominating tones.