Colour in Flower Arrangements

Colour in Flower Arrangements

Some understanding of the colour spectrum is necessary for the flower arranger, and indeed, if you are hoping to exhibit in a flower arranging competition it is essential to understand colour terms and apply them correctly.

If we look at the rainbow we can trace the sequence of colours as they occur naturally: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Look again at orange, green and purple and you will see that they are made by the overlapping of red and yellow, yellow and blue and blue and red. You cannot make red, yellow or blue from any other colours, which is why they are known as primary colours; those that are made by mixing two primaries together, orange, green and purple, are called secondary colours.

If we continue looking at the rainbow we see that there is a point in the centre of the colour band where the colour is definite; it changes as it goes towards the neighbouring colours on each side. So we get red veering towards orange or purple; orange becoming redder or more yellow; yellow becoming more orange or green; green becoming yellow-green or blue-green, and blue veering from green to purple. These nuances are the ‘hues’ of a colour.

If you find it difficult to grasp the distinction between true colours and hues, take a look at a wood on a hillside. At one quick glance the wood is green. But if you take your time, look more closely and analyse what you see, you will find that the green is really made up of many different greens, yellow-green, blue-green, dark green, light green, olive green, even brown-green. These are hues.

Tones, tints and shades: Hues are often confused with tones. Tones deal with the richness of the same colour. Tints and shades depend on light and shade or shadow. It is often confusing the way we all use the term ‘shade’ in general conversation. ‘Pastel shades’ is a contradictory term. Shade is a colour or hue that has black or grey, shadow, added to it. Tints are colours or hues with light or white added. To take a homely example, think of raspberries, purple, red and cream, creamy white. Squash them together and you get a tint of the true raspberry hue.

Colours which are near each other on the rainbow we call ‘analogous’ or nearly related. To make colour easier to relate we curve the rainbow so that the red is next to the purple and to make things easier still we put the colours into a continuous colour wheel, each primary colour opposite a secondary. There is a natural reason for this, because complementary colours are what the brain offers when the eyes become tired. For example, if you look for a long time at a red spot and then turn away and look at a blank wall you will see a similarly shaped green spot take its place in your vision. The same thing happens with the other colours.

Natural colour harmonies

But how does all this affect the flower arranger? Complementary colours make delightful natural colour harmonies and exciting flower arrangements. They might sometimes be too bright for some furnishing schemes, but they can be adapted easily. For instance you might like to change bright yellow and purple for pale cream and mauve, or orange and blue for apricot and

pale blue, or holly berry red and green to pink and apple green. Also in harmony are any hues of one colour. One can spend a fascinating hour collecting bits and pieces from the garden or hedgerow for arrangements of this kind.

Analogous colours, that is those which are near each other on the colour wheel, occur in many garden flowers in their natural mixtures, which is a great help to the arranger. Fuchsias, pelargoniums, sweet williams, nasturtiums, sweet peas, candytuft and roses are everyday examples. This is why their bright colours do not clash discordantly, no matter how mixed they might be.

Something very interesting happens when you mix the complementariesborrow the children’s paints and see for yourself. Mix the purple of pansies with the yellow of the same flower and you will get ‘pansy brown’. Look at mixed pansies and you will find this same brown in many of the flowers. In some it will be lighter than in others, perhaps tan or ginger.

Another kind of brown is made by mixing red and green. Christmas cards, decorations and even Yule logs (the cake kind!) often successfully combine brown, green and red. No wonder, since there is such an affinity between these colours. You will get yet another kind of colour if you mix orange and blue, and more from other mixtures. Look around at some natural colour combinations and see what happens when you mix them. And don’t stick to flowers. One of the most fascinating discoveries I made was when I mixed the lovely magenta and jade green of a pigeon’s throat. What did I get? Warm pigeon grey !

‘Broken’ colours: We call all of these ‘broken’ colours and the reason why they are important to the decorator is because they are safe. If you are not sure what colour container to use for your flowers, or even for your room, look around. You may have one of the broken colours of either the flowers you hope to use or perhaps of your main wall or curtain colours. Put the other way around, your carpet may be one special kind of grey and you may have wondered what flowers to use with it to give the best effect. What kind of grey is it? Spend a little time with the paint box and do a little detective work. You can then make harmonies of the colours which are mixed to your heart’s content.

Inspiration often comes from the flowers themselves. It really is surprising how many colours there can be in one bloom. They will always give you a guide if you spend a few moments looking at them. For instance, if you have a few tulips and wonder what colour the vase or the other plant materials should be, you can take your cue not only from the flower’s colour, the hue of leaf or stem, but also from the other colours deep down inside the flower.

Furthermore, all flowers have some green in them somewhere and this links all kinds of colours, tones and hues in a lovely, natural manner. And do remember that if at any time you are in doubt as to what colour to use, all-green arrangements can be both very beautiful and economical.

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