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Like a word, a color has its own properties, a kind of color meaning you might say but it's a meaning imparts the message best like a word in some kind of context. We look at a particular color, we might describe it based on its relationships to the other colors around it in an image. And because it is effected by its surroundings a color can look entirely different in a new context. Purple in one image, can look like a secondary complement green in another context.
Check out these squares of color, one looks green, and the other looks purple, yes? If we take away the context, you can see that they are exactly the same color. That's because they are neutral colors. A blend of many other hues and a surrounding green here make the purple in the color more visible. And the surrounding purple over here, make the green in the color more visible. You might wonder why color plays tricks with our eyes and exactly what is going on here.
Color, like people, respond to their environment, and whatever is similar to its surroundings disappears for our eyes. And what is different from the surrounding colors pops out. The same color can appear more vibrant in one context versus another. Like this. Because the two vibrant colors compete with each other's vibrancies. Whereas here, the neutral tone lets the vibrant colors shout with glee. Or the same color can appear to move forward in space in one context, and recede in space in the other.
It's an illusion, of course, but creating special illusions is a part of what we as image makers and illusionists do. If I'm mixing colors, I always test them on a ground that I'm working with. Check out how different this looks against white by comparison to the ground. I also isolate a color to figure out what it looks like out of context with the window, like this. That can help if I am not seeing its properties, I need to change something in the pattern.
There is no precise formula to follow here. Observing the properties of a color and paying attention to how it functions in the context of an image is the most effective way to controlling what it can do for you. Remember that colors have a voice. And they are best heard when they contrast, in large or small ways, the voices around it.
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