Harmony can be defined as the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole or the state of being in agreement or accord. The different relationships between colours, particularly as they are arranged on the 12 colour wheel, create differing harmonious combinations.
In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme it is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it cannot organize, what it cannot understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Colour harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.
In summary, extreme unity leads to under-stimulation, extreme complexity leads to over-stimulation. Harmony is a dynamic equilibrium.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the more commonly used colour schemes. As you scroll down the page, notice the birds images. It's the same image coloured in different ways. Notice how you feel about them.
Complementary colours are any two colours directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. Such as Red/Green, Blue/Orange, or Yellow/Violet. These opposing colours create maximum contrast and maximum stability.
Analogous colours are any three colours next to each other. Such as blue, blue violet & violet, or yellow green, green and blue green. Often, one of the three colours predominates. An analogous colour scheme creates a rich monochromatic look and is serene and comfortable.
Triadic colours are any three colours evenly spaced from each other on the colour wheel. Such as red orange, yellow green and blue violet. Triadic colour harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues.
Monochromatic colours are a single hue and that hue mixed with white, grey and black. Monochromatic colour schemes create a sense of elegance, simplicity and harmony. Using sharp contrast can make object stand out.
Polychromatic colour schemes use multiple colours, typically five or more. There's no formula, no rules and, as they say, beauty (or in this case, harmony) is in the eye of the beholder.
An achromatic colour scheme is simply a mix of white, grey and black. It is the absense of colour as no hue is present at all. Achromatic schemes are clean and simple.
Achromatic schemes are very effective when used with an accent colour.
Take your camera, smart phone or tablet out and about. Look around you and notice the colours. Take photos of examples of the different colour harmonies you see.
Add your images of colour harmonies to your portfolio and add note what you think the colour relationship is.