Colour masterclass - identify your green
Ever looked at a colour that doesn't quite match your colour palette, and found yourself unable to decide whether it tones in with yours, or if it actually sits in another palette entirely? Today's colour masterclass is here to help. We're going to take one colour which has a version in every seasonal or tonal palette, and consider what makes it belong to one palette or another. The colour we're going to use today is Green, but many of the lessons learned will be applicable to any colour under the sun.
Deciding whether a colour sits in your palette is really about gathering evidence; some colour theory, some instinct - all of it helpful to guide you towards your very best colours.
The first characteristic of a colour we consider is the hue. This is simply the name of the colour - is it red, blue, orange, turquoise...? This won't necessarily tell us whether a colour belongs in a season or not, but it can be helpful when we consider things like relative temperature later. In this case, of course, the colour we are considering is simply 'Green'!
Naming the hue can also sometimes eliminate/reduce the likelihood of one or two seasons. Black and White (in their truest sense) only exist in Winter, for example, Blue (without any teal/petrol undertones) is vanishingly rare in the Autumn palette, while Yellow exists in only one or two instances in the Summer and Winter palettes.
The temperature of a colour refers to how warm or cool it is - more warm colours have more yellow in them, while more cool colours have more blue in them. However, looking at colours in terms of the seasonal palettes is not as simple as all yellows being warm and all blues being cool, but about relative temperature -let's look at our Green example.
All greens are a mixture of yellow and blue, which can make it tricky to be sure whether they are warm or cool, but once we start to compare our green to other versions of green, it becomes simpler. The warmer greens have a 'nature' feel - leafy, or even slimy! The cool greens on the other hand, have a blue look, and are redolent of gemstones - jade, malachite and emerald.
If you're comparing your chosen green to your seasonal or tonal colour palette, the first thing to consider is does this green have the same, more or less yellow than the greens in your palette? Being a small amount warmer or cooler doesn't necessarily mean it won't belong, but it's one of the first pieces of evidence you can gather.
Bonus tip: It can also be helpful to have in mind a somewhat neutral (in terms of relative temperature) green, and try to picture whether your chosen green is warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue) than your 'neutral' version. This will tell you, in tonal directions terms, whether the colour is dominant Warm or dominant Cool.
Saturation is where things start to get interesting.
The saturation is simply how much of the hue exists - is it at full strength, or is the hue turned into what we call a tone, where the depth of colour is the same, but more and more grey is added, until the original hue has almost or completely disappeared?
Look at how fully saturated your green is. Does it feel like the volume is turned right up on the colour, or is there an abiding feeling of greyness? Don't worry about lightness or darkness yet - think purely in terms of whether there is grey added to your green, dulling it down, creating a tone, and reducing the saturation level.
- Spring - your greens are all highly saturated - they have no greyness added to them.
- Summer - your greens tend towards the less saturated end.
- Autumn - your greens tend to sit somewhere more towards the middle, although can extend both towards more and less saturated.
- Winter - as with Spring, your greens are all fully saturated. No dulled down greens for you!
It is worth noting that although both Summer and Autumn have predominantly less saturated colours, they both have a small handful of colours that are more saturated - again, we are using the saturation level as one of our clues on the detective trail of deciding whether a colour sits in our palette.
Saturation can help us with whether our Green sits within the 'Clear' tonal direction palettes (Spring and Winter - more saturated) or the 'Soft' (Autumn and Summer - less saturated) palettes.
Shades and Tints - Value
Considering value can feel very similar to looking at tones, but the key difference is that we aren't adding grey - a mixture of black and white - to our colour, we are adding only black or only white. When we add black to a colour, we create what are called shades, whereas adding white creates tints. This means that the colour continues to look quite pure and relatively saturated, but simply gets darker or lighter.
Once we get into shades, we lose Spring entirely, and there are few Summer colours either - again, Summer's colours, even the darker ones, have grey added, giving them a softness, rather than true black. Winter is home of the darkest shades, while Autumn also has a degree of darkness.
- Spring - We lose Spring entirely when we get into shades. Springs colours are all light and clear - there is nothing heavy, smokey or dark about this palette.
- Summer - There are a few shades in the Summer palette, but again, almost all of Summer's dark colours are tones (with grey added) rather than shades (with black added).
- Autumn - Shades occur in the Autumn palette, giving the depth and richness that looks so good on this warm toned palette.
- Winter's colours can exist anywhere along the shades spectrum, from full brightness of the hue to almost entirely black.
In tonal directions terms, tints belong to the Light dominant tonal direction, while Shades belong to Deep.
Trust your gut
This one feels tricky at first, but learn to tune into your instinctive reaction every time you look at a colour. Does it feel comfortable to you? Can you imagine wearing it? If your first instinct is to recoil in horror at how full on or boring it is, there's a really good chance that it doesn't sit in your palette, or at least not in the part of your palette that is best for you.
This one is an often neglected part of the evidence gathering, and it's a skill you'll pick up over time, especially if you consciously think about it every time you look at colours - I have been known to do it with car colours when driving on the motorway!
Styling your green
The last piece of the jigsaw. Can you wear this colour with clothes you already own? Will it look expensive and stylish against your chosen neutrals, or will it look cheap and brash? Can you picture something you could pair it with right now?
Pairing your Green with your seasonal colours will also pull it firmly into your palette - this is especially useful for those 'crossover' Greens, which sit at the meeting point of two (or more!) palettes, and are pulled into your palette by the colours they are paired with. In the image below, you'll see both Spring and Autumn are wearing the same Green - Lime - but the styling of it pulls it firmly into place; light and bright and high contrast for Spring, tonal, deep and rich for Autumn. Winters wear their colours with high contrast and splashes of vibrant colour, while Summers suit a softer, more tonal look.
As always, there is no one simple rule to ensuring that a colour you are looking at falls within your seasonal palette, but the more familiar you become with the colour theory around your seasonal palette, the more naturally it will come to you. Of course, we take the guess work out of it for you at Kettlewell, and our colours can help you understand your palette more fully, without worrying about whether you're getting it right or wrong.