Design Glossary

What are Analogous Colors? How to Use Them Like a Pro

May 12, 2023 by

As you walk through a museum, your eyes are drawn to a particular painting. The colors on the canvas seem to blend together perfectly, creating a harmonious and pleasing effect.

You pause for a moment, wondering how the artist achieved such a striking visual impact.

Well, it all comes down to the use of analogous colors. These colors sit side by side on the color wheel and create a sense of unity and harmony when used together.

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of analogous colors and how you can use them like a pro in your art and design projects.

Whether you’re a painter, graphic designer, or just looking to add a pop of color to your home decor, understanding analogous colors is essential. So, let’s dive in and discover the secrets to creating visually stunning works of art using this powerful color scheme.

We’ve covered complementary colors, now it’s time we dive into analogous colors.

We’ll be covering the following topics:

Table of Contents

What are Analogous Colors? 

Analogous colors are similar, comparable colors on the color wheel.

Color theory is central to art, so having an understanding of different color pairings is crucial for artists and designers alike.

Unlike complementary colors, which are opposite each other on the color wheel, analogous colors are next to each other, so they are similar, or ‘analogous’ in hue.

They create harmony and unity within a painting, and can even be used in interior design and marketing to bring the complete look together. 

The color wheel originated in the seventeenth century when Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors based on red, yellow, and blue.

Analogous colors sit next to each other on this wheel, and so they belong to a similar group of colors and hues.

Generally, using analogous colors involves selecting three colors that are side by side on the color wheel.

analogous candles example
analogous colors of red, purple and blue

The three colors are usually comprised of a primary color, a secondary color,  and then a third or tertiary color, which is a mix of the first two.

Usually one of these three colors predominates the surface on which it is being used, and the other two are used as accents.

What are Examples of Analogous Colors? 

The best way to understand analogous colors is to look at a color wheel. On the wheel,  red and orange are next to each other, so they are analogous.

If you take a shade of red and a shade of orange, then mix them together, you will create a tertiary analogous color.

The third shade is still harmonious, and similar, to the primary and secondary colors (red and orange), and blends into the scheme.

A good place to find examples of analogous colors is in nature.

analogous colors example nature
analogous colors seen in nature

The leaves turning or the gradient of a sunrise with hues of red, orange, and yellow is a prime example; of a peacock’s feathers combining harmonious shades of blue and green.

Even the ocean is a wonderful example of an analogous color scheme in nature, as you can see the lighter blue of the shallow water transition to the darker blue of the deep sea. 

What is the Purpose of Analogous Colors? 

Analogous color schemes are used to create unification and a visually pleasing harmony within art and design.

They reduce contrast and jarring effects, bringing everything into oneness.

Analogous colors can be applied in interior design as well,  to create an understated, muted feel, and can have a great effect when used to mirror nature in painting.

Water, sunsets, animals, and the sky are all-natural scenes that use analogous colors. This kind of color scheme provides a peaceful, visually appealing balance.

To achieve this balance, it is best to select one color in your scheme as the dominant one and add accents of the secondary and tertiary colors.

In the next section, we will look at more specific tips for using analogous colors in your art.

5 Tips to Use Analogous Colors in Your Own Art

Once you understand the theory of analogous colors and have selected three colors next to each other on the color wheel, you are ready to start using them in your own art.

These simple tips will guide you on how to use an analogous color scheme and create a harmonious, visually pleasing work of art. 

1. Use One Dominant Color

It is best not to use all three of your analogous colors in equal measure. By using one color more than the others, you are able to create more of a more natural and balanced appearance.

analogous color dominant
dominant green

Once you have created a base with the dominant color, you can then add accents and highlights with the secondary and tertiary analogous colors.

If you are painting a tree, for example, you might start with a vibrant green, and for the secondary color, use a slightly darker shade of green that is next to your dominant color on the color wheel.

For highlights, your tertiary color will be a mix of the dominant and secondary colors and will tie the whole picture together harmoniously. 

2. Create Tints and Tones

Although analogous color palettes are created with three colors, this doesn’t mean you are limited to only these three shades for your entire work of art.

You can add various amounts of white, grey, or black to any of your three analogous colors, to create tints and tones that will add interest and depth to your painting.

Applying highlights and lowlights is an easy way to ensure that your analogous color scheme doesn’t become overly monochromatic and that the colors still have a chance to stand out on their own.

It also adds layers to the surface of your painting and creates a look of three-dimensionality within the work.

3. Experiment with Mixing Colors

Before you begin actually painting with your analogous color scheme, try experimenting with a few variations of the colors to see how they work together.

Keep them on a swatch so you can refer back to them once you do start to paint, and keep testing as you go.

This means that you will be completely happy with the balance of your color scheme before you start, as it can be more difficult to correct the colors once you have already applied them to your surface.

When mixing color, it is a good idea to create swatches of the tints and tones you will use as well, by adding black, white, and grey to your three analogous colors. 

4. Look to Nature

When painting with analogous colors, the best inspiration can come from the world around you.

Take note of the different colors you can see in plants, trees, the sky, and flowers. Often, the most pleasing natural scenes are ones that have an analogous color scheme.

Mountains, for example, are made up of various shades of white, grey, and a mixture of these two colors – they have an analogous color scheme.

Seeing the natural occurrence of analogous colors will help create more inspiration for your own color scheme. 

5. Take Inspiration from Famous Artists

If you’re not sure where to start, or how to elevate your use of analogous colors, there are plenty of famous examples of artists who use this kind of color scheme.

Skilled artists of all genres apply analogous color theory to create calming, beautiful, and harmonious artworks.

In particular, the Impressionists loved to explore color theory to capture the natural world around them.

In the next section, we will look at some examples of great works of art that use an analogous color scheme.

These points of inspiration can help you refine your own creations, and give you an idea of how analogous colors can produce astounding effects when used well.

To further explore how to use analogous colors, we recommend this video by Jescia Hopper that explains it using painting as the medium:

Famous Works of Art That Use Analogous Colors

In painting especially, many artists have used analogous colors to soften and harmonize their works.

This is especially true of landscape artists, but analogous color schemes can be used to paint almost any subject.

One of the most famous examples of an analogous color scheme is Vincent Van Gogh’s  Irises in a Vase which combines green, green-blue, blue, and blue-purple for a subdued, cool-toned result.

Similarly, Claude Monet uses this green-blue-purple color scheme in his painting The Water-Lily Pond.

Monet softly blends the analogous colors to create one of the most famous series of paintings throughout history, famed and admired for its tranquil, peaceful appearance.

Gustave Caillebotte, in his Impressionist painting of The Parquet Planers, uses a different set of analogous colors.

They are red, red-orange, and orange-brown. This color scheme creates a feeling of warmth and light.

Caillebotte also mixes light and dark accents into his color scheme to create depth and shadow, further enhancing his masterful painting.  

Concluding Remarks

Whether you’re painting a masterpiece or redecorating a room, understanding what analogous colors are and using them with confidence will help you to create a balanced, peaceful, and harmonious piece of art.

Selecting two colors that are side by side on the color wheel, and blending them together to create your tertiary analogous color, will give you the basis you need to start creating beautiful artwork.

The theory might seem difficult at first, but after a bit of experimenting and finding the tints and tones that you like, you can create visually appealing, soothing paintings in the same way that famous artists like Van Gogh and Monet did.

Your art will look more unified, and more harmonious, and will be able to show the natural beauty of the world more clearly with the use of an analogous color scheme. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What determines an analogous color?

Analogous colors are determined by their position on the color wheel. Specifically, analogous colors are colors that sit next to each other on the wheel, typically consisting of three colors that are equidistant from each other.

What are cool analogous colors?

Cool analogous colors are a group of analogous colors that are generally considered to have a cool or calming effect. This typically includes colors such as blue, green, and purple, which are adjacent on the color wheel and often used together in art and design to create a soothing and cohesive color scheme.

What are warm analogous colors?

Warm analogous colors are a group of analogous colors that are generally considered to have a warm or energizing effect. This typically includes colors such as red, orange, and yellow, which are adjacent on the color wheel and often used together in art and design to create a lively and vibrant color scheme.