Thursday, 4 July 2013

How to combine colours


Working with colours can be tricky, especially if you have the feeling that you don't know what you're doing. Which colours go well together and how do you find out? Some people rely on magazines to tell them which colours to use, but they often give the advice to use a certain colour on your eyes to make them pop and that's about it. This leaves a lot of people thinking that there's only a few colours they can use, which is a shame because that's not true at all! I'm not a professional in makeup, but I did go to art school and picked up a few things about colour theory where I found out how to make colours work. As it turns out, you get a lot of options! 

Colour Wheel:

Let me take you back to your art lessons in school for a sec. If you had art in school, you probably remember one of these bad boys:

 Ta - daa! Yes, I know it looks a bit pathetic but that's because I quickly sketched it. Anyway, this is a basic colour wheel. You might remember that blue, red and yellow are the primary colours and if you combine those you can create all the colours in the wheel and more. I actually learned in art school that red isn't a primary colour at all, instead it should be magenta. I thought that might be too confusing and decided to replicate the good ol' colour wheel we are all familiar with. Do keep in mind that if you ever want to mix colours, you should take magenta instead of red. It'll give you much nicer results. Anyway, I left black and white out, since they're technically not colours but tones. They are, however, very important since they are used to make shades darker or lighter. Which is essential to making depth in any painting, including your face. 

Warm, cold, or neutral?

The colours in the colour wheel can be divided into three categories. Warm, Cold and a sub-category that I created and called 'Neutral'. You see, some colours are made out of warm as well as cool shades so I decided to class them as neither. Colours can be neutral leaning to cool, neutral leaning to warm. Even warm colours can have cool undertones in them which can be a bit confusing, so let's just call the shades that have cool as well as warm in them 'neutral.'

Cool or Cold

As you might expect the cool shades are the ones on the left side of the spectrum, with blue being the ultimate cool colour with no trace of neutral or warm undertones.


Again, it's to be expected but I really want all this information to be clear so I added it in just to be sure. All the warm colours are pretty much on the right side of the spectrum, with orange being the colour that's made up of only warm undertones. Surprised that I didn't say red? Red is still a warm colour, but it can have cool undertones as well. A pinkish red is cooler and a more orangey red is warmer. 


So according to my made-up neutral category, greens, pinks and purples can be neutral. Green is made up out of yellow and blue, a warm and a cool colour and thus to me it's neither warm or cold. The same goes for purple, since that's made up out of red and blue. Those colours always either lean to warm or cool colours and are a bit easier to wear for multiple skintones. That's why there's such a huge amount of purple and green eyeshadow for sale, just like brown, taupe, champagne, etc. 

Yeah that's all nice to know and whatever, but how do I combine this stuff?

Well, there's no definite rule here but there are some guidelines in colour theory that have worked quite well for people over the last few centuries or so. There are many colour schemes available but I'll explain the most common ones to you in this article. 

Complimentary Colour Scheme:

I like to call this combination 'Lovers' sometimes. It's a scheme where you choose colours that are opposite eachother on the colour wheel, in this case I chose blue and yellow. This creates a contrast, making the two colours appear brighter and more powerful. I demonstrated it in the drawing below:

As you can see, the golden tones made the eyes look very vibrant. You can also do this by combining eyeshadows together. I actually did this in my last tutorial, although those colours weren't exactly complimentary, it was close enough and thus the colours made each other stronger. This is a great trick if you want your eyes to pop, or if you want your lipstick and eye makeup to go well together and look strong at the same time. If this is way too much for you, you could also use a little bit of the contrasting colour in your look - such as in the inner corners or in the middle of the eyelid. This way it would still make your look vibrant without it being too much. 

Warm/Cold Colour Scheme

It is possible to use cold and warm colours at the same time. In fact, it can create an interesting clash with the contrast between the colours causing the shades to appear brighter and stronger. It's a bit similar to the complimentary colour scheme, but a lot more versatile since you can use many different warm and cool colours instead of the one colour on the opposite of the colour wheel.

This combination can look very nice indeed, especially if the colour would usually not work with your undertone. I have a warm undertone and usually can't pull off cool colours, so the only way to make it work is to balance it with a warmer tone. This way it looks interesting but also still wearable. 

Analogous Colour Scheme:

The analogous colour scheme is one of my favourites. You basically use colours that are neighbours on the colour wheel and the effect is very harmonious, whilst still maintaining some depth to the whole look. 

Colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel often look very nice together and work very well for soft and understated looks. Natural looks are most often made using colour combination like this as well as romantic looks. 

Monochromatic Colour Scheme

The monochromatic colour scheme is quite similar to the analogous colour scheme, although in this version the shades are the same family instead of neighbours. Using one colour but different variations of it to create an interesting combination. Monochromatic makeup looks are made all the time since it's basically a light and dark difference which is very flattering on the eyes. The colours work well together because they're of the same colour family, so they're easy to combine and to blend. You can make very understated looks with monochromatic colours, but you can go for a dramatic effect as well because of the light and dark contrast.

As you can see, using colours from the same family can really help to pull a look together. I highly recommend using monochromatic colour schemes for smokey eyes, since it looks so wonderfully dramatic whilst still being flattering.

Combine Those Colours!

Don't be scared, be creative! You can use different techniques together as well. I often make a monochromatic or an analogous colour scheme with a sneaky bit of complimentary mixed in. Also, don't forget that it's just makeup. I know many people who really want to use colours but are afraid to, and that's such a shame. It's just makeup! You can have a quiet practise and wash it off if you don't like it. Please give it a try, I promise that it's lovely fun once you get the hang of it. 

I hope this little lesson/tutorial has brought you some insight and perhaps even some confidence to try out more stuff. Don't believe it when people say you can only wear one or two shades because of your eye or hair colour! It's not true at all, as I just explained there are lots of options to choose from and there are lots of ways to make colours work. Have fun!

Edit: I suddenly realised something and I don't know if it was clear.

Please don't use my crappy sketched colour wheel as a reference when you want to play with colours! I made it so I could mess with it and show you guys how to do colour schemes comprehensively, but the actual colours might be off. Please use a proper, official colour wheel or websites like Kuler and Colour Scheme Designer as a reference. Also, there are a few different types of colour wheels used for painting. There is for instance the Red-Yellow-Blue type I explained to you, but there's also the Magenta-Cyan-Yellow colour wheel that I actually prefer. I chose to explain the first of the two though, because I know that people who haven't been to art school are a lot more familiar with this. However, no matter which colour wheel you use, the colour schemes work the same. Complimentary is always using the opposite colour on the wheel, analogous colours are always neighbours and monochromatic schemes are always family. I hope this clears a few things up and if I caused you any confusion with this, I'm truly sorry. The thing that I want to teach you in this article is how to combine colours, and that principle stays the same no matter the colour wheel you prefer.

Disclaimer: Images made by yours truly unless stated otherwise.


  1. Oh my, dit artikel ga ik zoooo opslaan! Onwijs handig, duidelijk weergegeven: zelfs een n00b als ik kan hier iets mee! Thanks :)

  2. I knew everything of it (hello designschool lessons!) but I love your drawings and how you explained everything in such a nice and understandable way!

    1. Thank you so much! <3 Ah I remember a whole new world opening up for me when I first had my proper colour theory lessons. You can apply it to everything, it's so frickin handy!

  3. Erg duidelijk uitgelegd en wat kan je toch goed tekenen! Super artikel!

  4. Wauw, wat een handig artikel! Dus zó werkt het..fijn, die duidelijke tekeningen. Thanks!

  5. WAUW, wat ontzettend mooi gedaan, heel gaaf ook met die tekeningen, wát een artikel. Hier kunnen de grote 3 wel een puntje aan zuigen zeg. Kwam op je blog via het beutytopic haha, maar ik blijf zeker plakken hier! Tof gedaan!

    1. Wauw dankjewel! Wat tof om te weten dat het zo gewaardeerd wordt en wat een compliment joh haha.

  6. Wauw die tekeningen! Mooi gedaan.

  7. Super handig en leuk gedaan! Zulke posts moet je vaker maken hoor (naast je game reviews ;D)

    1. Haha, mooi om te weten! Heb al een idee voor wat meer dus dat komt helemaal goed. :D

  8. Wow wat heb je dat vet gemaakt! Echt heel tof!

  9. GREATEST tutorial I have read so far! :)