Art Glossary: Analogous Colors

A painting by Claude Monet in analogous colors
Waterlilies, 1905, by Claude Monet. Heritage Images/Hulton/Getty Images

Analogous colors are any colors that are adjacent or next to one another on a color wheel. They are inherently harmonious because they reflect similar light waves. (1) For example, red and orange are analogous colors; orange and yellow are analogous colors; green and blue are analogous colors; blue and violet are analogous colors. 

A simple analogous color scheme can include three adjacent hues of a twelve-hue color wheel. An extended analogous color scheme can include up to five adjacent colors. Usually, however, only three adjacent colors are used; the primary, the intermediary tertiary color, and the adjacent secondary color. So red, red-orange and orange are analogous colors. A fourth color, yellow-orange is also allowable. In an extended analogous color scheme a fifth color, yellow, would also be used. Yellow-green would not be allowed because green is the complement (opposite) of red and is out of the analogous color range, although it could be used as an accent. 

Using Analogous Color Schemes in Your Painting

Analogous colors work well together, creating natural harmony. They are often found in nature, such as in the blue, blue-green, green, and yellow-green of foliage, and are therefore naturally pleasing.

In an analogous color scheme consisting of three colors, the color in the middle is sometimes called the Mother Color because the other colors also consist partly of that middle color. 

In an analogous color scheme, usually one of the colors is dominant or used more than the others. This color is usually a primary or secondary color. 

Analogous color schemes are like monochromatic color schemes except they have a richer, more complex look due to the subtle gradations of multiple hues. 

Analogous color schemes can create a strong overall temperature by selecting warm analogous colors such as red, red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange; or cool analogous colors such as blue, blue-green, green, and yellow-green.

When using an analogous color scheme, you can create the effect of lighting and three-dimensional form by changing value and saturation of the color. 

Using Analogous Color Schemes in Your Painting: Cons

Analogous color schemes, while aesthetically pleasing, are not as vibrant as complementary color schemes since they do not have as much contrast. You need to pay special attention to contrast, one of the principles of design, when working with an analogous color scheme to ensure that there is enough. You should choose one color to be the main color and dominate the composition while the other two colors support it. Also increase the contrast in the composition by using tints, tones, and shades (adding white, gray, or black to a hue). 

You should try to avoid using both warm and cool hues in an analogous color scheme. This scheme works best if you keep the hues consistent within the same temperature range. 

A complementary color may be used as an accent to provide contrast.

Split Analogous Color Schemes

A split analogous color scheme is one in which you skip a color between three analogous colors of the color wheel. Examples of a split analogous color scheme would be red, orange, and yellow, skipping the tertiary colors between them. Another example would be green, blue, and violet. This color scheme can be more vibrant and provide more contrast than a simple analogous color scheme. It is very similar to the extended analogous color scheme which includes the two colors which a split analogous color scheme skips.


  • Edwards, Betty, Color, A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors, Tarcher/Penguin, 2004, p. 23.

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