face facts - Colour Theory

Written for Soloarte Magazine 2003.

colours theory group

Many make-up artists have said that “there are no rules to make-up” if you welcome this advice you are probably a make-up junkie who constantly experiments with your make-up. If “no rules” rings untrue, you are probably a make-up phobic suspicious of the whole make-up industry. Using your face as a blank canvas can be fantastic fun, but potentially very time consuming, messy and expensive. If you've got more colours in your make-up drawer than a Gauguin painting and half of them unused, read on for some tips on colour harmony. Basically, if you want to reach a Zen state of colour combination, put together colours that if mixed in a pot would make a neutral grey.

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The first colour wheel using pigments was designed in 1810 by Goethe. He used it to illustrate his theory that “when the eye beholds a colour it is at once roused into activity.... to produce another colour forthwith in conjunction with the given one to encompassed the totality of the colour wheel”. Your eyes will always want to see a colour with its complement, which is directly opposite it through the centre of the colour wheel. Therefore, when you see blue, your eye will search for orange, the product of red and yellow (to complete the primary colours of the wheel).

When it sees red it will search for green, the product of blue and yellow. When you see bright flashes of yellow, an afterimage of violet appears, a phenomenon called successive contrast: your eyes need to see violet, the combination of blue and red, the complement of yellow, to redress the whole spectrum of the colour wheel and to make the eyes feel at peace.

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Other colour balancing phenomena handy for make-up fanatics is simultaneous contrast. When the eye looks at two colours next to each other it will adjust their relationship to make them look like opposite colours. So, if you have grey-green eyes and want to bring out the green you should surround them with a muted red, a gravy with red wine kind of colour, which would make the green of the eye look bright green, the opposite of dull red. A dull violet on grey green eyes will make them look a brighter yellow green, very striking. The other thing about simultaneous contrast is that the more you look at the two colours the more they will have an impact on each other: your irises will become a more and more vibrant colour, good news for commanding someone's gaze.

Try not to be too smug when you try this technique and everyone comments on how blue, green etc. your eyes look. In fact, spread the word with caution, you don't want to be a killjoy for all those uninitiated make-up junkies spending fortunes on colours they will never wear.

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