5 Tips for Organizing Color

Just Red

I don’t know if I mentioned to you, but I work at Fabricland. Besides getting to feel all the wonderful fabrics, the part that I love about the job the most is that I get to organize color every single shift.

Every round display table of fabric is like a large color wheel. There are some bolts of fabric that look really nice with others but as soon as you move them beside a different color they loose their visual appeal.

I’ve come across this elsewhere in my artistic experiences.

This also happens when you hang an art show, for instance. Some pieces of art look amazing siting next to each other, while others over power or get lost in the showing.

And this happens a lot in home décor, where you love something in the store, only to get it home & realize it doesn’t suit your room.

It is as if the color magically changes somehow. Most people throw their hands up in frustration before understanding the reason why.

This phenomenon has fascinated me for years and I have learned that it comes down to color theory.

To begin to figure this out, we need to take a look at the color wheel as it pertains only to RED. Narrowing the focus (see my blog post The Color Theory Blog Series focusing on JUST RED) to just red will help us really see and understand what is going on.

Now, let’s look at organizing color by the different color palettes or schemes from color theory as it pertains to JUST RED.

Here are 5 tips to organizing color that applies the above color theory. This will take your painting, designing or creating to the next level.


Too many colors confuse the composition.

If you limit your palette to one of these color palettes from color theory, you will have much better success with the final outcome.


Try choosing only one color to be the “star”.

As you can see, in the above graphic, I have made RED the “star”. It is the only saturated color used. The “star” can change depending on your preferences.

The others colors are color mixes or tints and are not fully saturated. They are the “supporting” colors and make the “star” stand out.


“Painters use RED like spice”

… stated Derek Jarman, an English film director, stage designer, artist & author.

You do not need to paint a canvas 75% saturated RED to create a focus area. As Jarman said, “use RED like spice”.

If RED is your “star”, paint it sparingly on anything you want to draw attention to while surrounding it with the “supporting” colors. Like setting a gem in a piece of jewelry.

By doing this, you can pull the eye to the background or draw focus to a particular part of the composition.

This technique also goes for any creative medium whether it is painting, home décor, photography or any design.

Pick one focus color and surround that focus color with other colors that support it instead of compete with it.


For beginners, try to avoid the Triadic color scheme for better success.

The Triadic color scheme is the most difficult scheme to work with, yet it is the one that beginners usually start with since it uses all 3 primary colors.

Do you notice the one color that feels a bit “off” in the above graphic and is only used once in these 9 color theory palettes? I am talking about YELLOW in the Triadic color scheme.

YELLOW-GREEN is used in 3 of the color schemes, as is ORANGE-YELLOW.

Notice that YELLOW is only used once.

As a general statement, this makes me think, that if you are painting a composition where RED is the “star”, try staying away from YELLOW, even in a lighter or de-saturated form, as it tends to compete with the “star”.

This is not a hard-fast rule but may help you resolve a problem area.

BLUE is only used 2 times throughout the schemes. In the Rectangle-Tetriadic BLUE is balanced by its complementary color ORANGE.

Instead, try using BLUE-GREEN  or BLUE-VIOLET  which will push your color scheme out from the Triadic scheme.


If you want to achieve a “Monochromatic” look to your creation, using an “Analagous” scheme instead will give you more depth.

Yet, it will feel like you have used only one color.

Introducing RED-VIOLET and RED-ORANGE into your composition will create a needed push-and-pull to create added interest. This technique will also add interest to a design, photography or any creative project. (see my blog post What is Color Temperature and Why is it SO Important for other ways to create distance in a painting.)