PART I: Understanding Color
Before we can jump into wallpapers we should first take a look at a color wheel. From gradeschool on we all know that there are 3 primary colors: red, blue, yellow, and black/white. Primary color = colors that you cannot use other colors to combine in order to create them.
These 3 primary colors, however, can be blended in a million different ways in order to create all other colors on the color spectrum with black/white assisting.
Primary colors look great together.
Blending Primaries Create a Rainbow
The purpose of a color wheel is not only to look at how the colors change into each other - red moved to pink - magenta - purple - blue - green - yellow - orange - red, but it acts as a guide to teach us what colors are similar in tone and hue, and what colors contrast each other.
Looking at this particular wheel 1-8 are the warm zone - they cover all of your fire/scorched/earth colors - from yellow, orange, red, brown.
9-18 are your neonish pink/violet/purple hues.
19-27 are your cool, water colors - blue, turquoise, aqua.
28-1 are your earth colors - all spectrums of green.
These quadrants would be colors that compliment each other in a singular color pallet. You can usually take a mixture of colors from each of these areas and combine them and the end result is that if you do not stick other colors in, your piece overall will remain pleasing to the eye. You can also generally add colors from a connecting spectrum and the overall effect will again be pleasing.
Example - take the blues/greens and only use them:
Contrasting Colors that Compliment
In the world of Color - opposites attract. If you want to create a piece of art where the colors look extremely balanced, just study the color chart - pick a color that you like and then look for the color that matches on the exact opposite side of the chart. In the case of this color chart - you would want to fold it in half, where the colors meet there you have your matches.
These opposites are colors that we know in life but never think twice about it.
This means that 7 & 31 compliment each other - green and red (why else do you think it is that Christmas colors look so fabulous together?
Look at the chart, pink and baby blue (girl/boy) are opposites, yellow/blue, orange/green, etc.
So when looking at art that uses rules of opposite colors - notice how the overall effect brings a pleasing, deep color harmony in the pieces.
PART II: Finding the Right Color Combination for a Wallpaper
Colors Create Tones/Moods
The colors that you decide to use for a piece can often say more about your piece than just the colors themselves. Colors depict moods. You can see more indepth here.
Black (Midnight Black To Charcoal)~Ebony/Onyx- Serious, Intense, Mysterious, Stormy, Excited, Fierce, Energetic, Stressed, Overworked, Tensed, Angered, Down/Dread
Brown (Deep Brown To Golden Tan)~Copper/Bronze- Anticipation, Heated Emotions, Adaptive, Random Thinking, Rebellious, Volatile, Jitters, Nervous, Troubled, Worried, Fear
Red (Red-Brown To Rose)~Ruby- Allured, Aroused, Passion/Love, Fiery, Awestruck, Thrilled, Active, Adventurous, Excited, Hot, Anxious, Insecure, Harassed, Fazed, Stressed, Tensed, Angry, Alarmed, Fearful
Yellow-Orange (Amber To Flame)~Gold Bittersweet, Emotional, Lovable, Inflamed, Passionate, Concerned, Sincere, A Little Nervous, Challenged, Indignant, Confused, Cool, Aloof, Anxious/Upset
Green-Yellow (Green Amber To Keylime)~Peridot- Emotions Mixed; Simmering, Hopeful, Expectant, Romantic, Excitable, Restless, Edgy, Contrary, Irritated, Troubled, Uneasy, Worried, Distressed, Fear/Gloom
Green (Jade Green To Light Green)~Emerald- Average Reading; Normal, Neutral, No Great Stress, Good, Calm, Easily Amused, Alert, Involved, Sensitive, Tender, Ambivalent, Inner Disquiet, Envy, Jealousy
Blue (Royal Blue To Sky Blue)~Sapphire- Happy, At Ease, Calm, Relaxed, Approachable, Optimistic, Lively, Joyful, Coasting, Peaceful, Contented, Pleasant, Near Bliss, Moonstruck, Giving, Warm, Lovable
Indigo/Dark Blue (Violet-Blue To Lavenflower)~Iolite/Lapis- Very Happy, Deeply Relaxed, Inner Harmony, Tranquil, Joy, Bliss, Intensely Passionate, Lovestruck, Truly Romantic, In Love, The Ultimate Mood
Violet (Deep Violet To Lavender)~Sugulite- Passionate, Sensual, Romance, In Love, Happy, Relaxed, Elated, Revitalized, Creative, Deep Thought, Keen, Intrigue, Mystical, Impulsive, Mischievous, Irked, Moody
Pink (Magenta To Blush)~Rubellite- Loving, Warm, Affectionate, Happy, Mellow, Alright, Calmed, At Rest, Cool, Thoughtful, Reflection, Curious, Uncertain, Mystified, Fear, Wonder, Enchanted, Infatuated
White (Moonstone To Mist)~Ivory/Opal- Meditative, Philosophical, Constant, Temperate, Cooled, Settled, Restrained, Indifferent, Bored, Unenthusiastic, Confused, Frustrated, Strained, Stunned, Shocked
Gray (Dark Gray To Graystone)~Silver/Steel- Neutrality; At Rest, Cool, Little Emotion, Inhibited, Aloof, Unconcerned, Sullen, Tired, Sad, Hurt, Very Nervous, Uptight, Pessimistic, Depressed, Worried, Afraid
Do I think about these things when I'm picking a color pallet for a wallpaper? Not usually, however, on a basic level if I'm making something that's highly romantic I'll likely lean more towards red/pinks rather than blues. Pieces that wish to convey mystery will get lots of dark colors. Bright pieces usually convey joy or hope.
It is often interesting when you look back on a piece how perfectly colors can end up matching the mood of the piece. Take this poster for example and see how many of the descriptions match it well:
Colors: Yellow-Orange (Amber To Flame)~Gold- Moods Mixed; Bittersweet, Emotional, Lovable, Inflamed, Passionate, Concerned, Sincere, A Little Nervous, Challenged, Indignant, Confused, Cool, Aloof, Anxious/Upset
Or this one:
Orange-Red (Firebrick To Coral)~Andesine- Evocative, Exploring, Emotionally Volatile, Strange Ambience, Tormented, Apprehensive, Turbulent Mood Shifts, Overwrought, Vexed, Aggressive/Exasperated
Orange (Amber-Red To Sun Gold)~Sunstone- Thinking, Searching, Busy, Stimulating Ideas, Excited, Daring Wants, On Edge, Disturbed, Eeriness, Deja Vu, Worried, Guilty Feelings, Impatient, Angst/Annoyed
Choosing Color Complimentary Photos
This might sound like a no brainer, however, often a piece can be completely thrown off because that one photo that was selected for a wallpaper doesn't mesh with the other pieces.
If you are doing a piece where a majority of the pictures were taken indoors, don't add an extra piece that was taken outside because the lighting will be different. Unless you're an expert at using your levels/lighting adjustments it's just better to steer clear of any possible clashes.
Look at the lighting carefully - if the images mostly are bathed in a blue-ish light, don't add an extra photo that's more red. Even with color adjusting in Photoshop usually that extra image will stick out.
Example - which one would likely be harder to incorporate into a wallpaper?
Using your EyeDropper
The Eye dropper tool in Photoshop is my best friend. I use this thing so religiously that I probably couldn't create art without it.
Photos are comprised of millions of colors blended together to give you an overall image. By blowing them up you can get a rather Impressionist view of a photo and discover that there are likely more colors in your piece than you thought.
My favorite things to look at in photos are skin and clothing shadows. Human skin isn't just one dimensional in tone, usually when it's in shadows, those dark places are green or gray in color tones. If your piece is mostly bright and sunny, you can place your eyedropper into shadows of the skin or clothing folds to find all sorts of interesting darker colors that you can incorporate on the piece.
The same goes for needing to find bright colors, simply click on the brightest areas of skin and clothing to find the lightest parts of your color range.
Skin colors discovered the light colors in this piece:
You could go as far as create a whole color pallet if you wanted, I don't personally ever have time for that and usually go back and forth between my 2 color areas.
The colors that are directly taken from the photos in my wallpaper end up becoming the bases for the brush layers that I apply over the entire piece. From there I experiment with playing with blending styles and gradients in order to discover new ways to make those layers bring more color depth to the overall piece.
The final step for finishing a piece is adding Text to your wallpaper. I happen to have major pet peeves with people who use text types that absolutely clash with the style of piece that you're creating.
If you have a fantasy/historical piece, using modern type text will stick out, whereas if you find a nice cursive, calligraphy, or English type text it'll further enhance the piece.
Conversely you wouldn't use those types of text on a sci-fi piece. Modern and funky pieces can use a whole bevy of fun graphic fonts.
Selecting the color of your font can be tricky - usually you want the text to be a part of your piece, you don't want it to stick out like a sore thumb.
Color don'ts: Don't pick a color that you haven't used at all in your wallpaper, or is so insignificant that no one will notice it. Example - if your piece is mostly red, don't use blue text on it.
Don't pick the main color of your piece unless you want to lose your text entirely.
I religiously use many style options for my text: gradients, stoke, shadow, outer glow. I'll often then also use different blending options as well.
Gradients are a great way to incorporate multiple colors onto your text that match those in your wallpaper. Great color choices in your text will allow the text to appear a part of your wallpaper rather than an addition and will overall enhance it rather than detract from it.