Sunday, December 20, 2009

The art of choosing colours

By Camilla of Danagonia

When we make jewellery, having a good sense of colour is very important. Therefore I want to give you a quick class in colours. This lesson is something painters also use, but I’ve adapted it to fit our needs as jewellery makers.

Through out time there has been many ways of understanding colours, but the most known and used is Newton’s colour circle which he invented in 1666.

The circle is built on 3 primary colours, which cannot be created with any other colours: The primary colours are yellow, blue and red.

The secondary colours are the ones which can be created by mixing the 3 primary colours:
  • red+yellow = orange
  • red+blue = violet
  • yellow+blue = green

Finally; the tertiary colours can be created by mixing the secondary colours.

Applied to jewellery making

The easiest way of making a great colour combination is to only use one primary colour and that colour’s secondary and tertiary colours. This could mean creating a bracelet which only contains colours from the red scale. This is pleasing for the eye, but can be a little bit boring. I would suggest playing with bead size and shapes to add interest to your piece.

Complementary Colours


When colours are contrasted it means that the two colours enhance each other. Complementary colours are colours which are faced opposite each other in the colour circle; an example could be red and green. When two colours are faced opposite on the circle, it also means that the two colours don’t contain any of the same colours.

Using complementary colours in your jewellery can be a great way to enhance a certain colour. But when using complementary colours you should keep the rule 3 to 1 in mind. The rule says that when using complementary colours, you should do it 3 to 1. Meaning; if you want to make a piece in red and green colours you should use 3 red beads every time you use 1 green bead (or the other way around) the colour you choose 3 beads of, will be enhanced by the 1 complementary colour. If you make a piece where the complementary colours are equal it wont be pleasing for the eye, because both colours will fight for attention instead of enhancing each other. Another great idea is to separate the two complementary colours with metal or black/white.

Hot and Cold Colours

The colour circle can also be divided into two halves; a hot and a cold one. The colour's temperature determines how the colours react to each other. In general a hot colour goes with another hot colour and the same with the cold. And as you can see hot colours are often contrast to cold colours. This is important when choosing colours for different metals.
  • Silver: Cold colour
  • Gold/Brass: Hot colour
  • Copper: Hot-cold colour (Read more of this below)

The colours can be divided into families. All families have both hot and cold variations. This means that an orange colour can actually both be a hot and a cold colour. On the wheel next to the text, you can see how the colour goes from hot to cold. This is written in Danish (varm = hot and kold =cold) So when you are choosing an orange colour for your silver piece, try to keep in mind if the orange is a cold or a hot orange, for a silver piece you should choose an orange that is almost yellow. Copper is a very easy metal to choose colours for, because it’s both a hot and cold colour almost all colours will fit copper.

Featuring artisan handmade creations by the Etsy Starving Artists Jewelry team. SATeam members create handcrafted jewelry and beads. More information about our team and its current etsy shop owner members can be found at


mcstoneworks said...

This is great information. I use color wheels sometimes when I'm drawing a blank.

BeadSire said...

I agree - great info, thank you so much, will certainly come in handy.

galadryl said...

Wonderful info. Thank you very much, Camilla.

Cat said...

That was very interesting, thanks!

Stacie @ said...

Very Interesting Camilla- thank you!

Leilani said...

Great refresher! Thanks!