During my many years of teaching, I have often heard students ask, “What background color do I choose for my painting?” They have spent valuable time painting a subject or portrait and now they need a background.
Do you have a favorite pairs of complementary colors? Perhaps first, I should ask if you think of complementary colors as pairs? Most likely you do. They are: Yellow and Purple, Red and Green and Blue and Orange.
Two characteristics about complementary colors that make them special:
- When mixed, a pair of complementary colors will cancel each other out. In other words, the two source colors loose their intensity when its complementary color is mixed with it. The same thing happens when they are layered on top of one another.
- When painted next to each other, the colors will sparkle and attract attention. They can actually appear to be vibrating.
Here are three examples using watercolor. On the left of each pair, the color opposite was layered or painted over its partner. On the right of each, they are painted next to one another, showing off. Notice when they are layered how the original intense color is neutralized or dulled
Most of us have heard about complementary colors, also known as color opposites, since we were in grade school. I wonder, “How well do you really know about the various pairs of complementary colors at your disposal? Have you ever played with them to discover the mixtures that are possible?” Here are 6 pairs of color opposites using acrylics. On the right side of each swatch I have added a little water to see a thinner variation of the color.
I like to call these ‘chromatic scales,’ because as on a piano, a slight change of tone or color happens as the two original colors are mixed in different ratios. For example, in the first column on the left, I started with a violet-red and mixed it with a dark yellow-green. The mixture in the middle is a combination of these two colors and neither of the source colors is evident. At the top or second row, I mixed just a little of the green with the violet-red and you can see how quickly the intensity of that red immediately tones down. Isn’t it a lovely color? In the third row, I added a tad more green and you can still see that the color still maintains some red. In this next chart, I painted more chromatic scales using oil paints. However this time I added a little white on the right side of each swatch. To see a video demonstration of painting a chromatic scale, visit my YouTube video (it is a tad old) at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TniAwC6gkzU
As you know, we call them color opposites because they are opposite from each other on the color wheel. Below is a 12-hue color wheel that helps to see potential pairs of complementary colors.
Have you ever tried painting with the complementary pair of red-violet and yellow-green? How about yellow-orange and blue-violet? Try them and let me know your results.
COLOR MIXING TIP: A true mixture of complementary colors results in a black or brown. If it results in a green, then they are not a pair of complementary colors.
Given that we all have different tubes of paint in our paint box, each of us creates unique chromatic scales. It really is fun to make a chart of your own complementary colors. Every time I teach this, students are always surprised by what they discover. This and other color mixing concepts are available via my Craftsy.com online video course entitled: Mixing Acrylics Made Easy! For more information click here.
What possibilities do you see? Are you inspired to try a new pair of complementary colors in your next painting?
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Gratefully & Colorfully Yours,
PS If you want to learn why complementary is spelled with an “E,” check out my post entitled, Is It Complimentary or Complementary?
Do you know why you mix mud?
In my humble opinion, the Two Primary Palette is the gateway to color mixing with confidence and not mixing mud. Knowing how to use this well balanced palette opens doors to mixing clean colors while mixing mud only when you choose. Imagine not mixing mud!
Throughout this CelebraingColor blog, I write about color bias and its role in creating the Two Primary Palette. To read more, please visit these posts: 1) Why Color Bias is Key to Mixing Color; 2) How to Mix Bright and Dull Secondaries. This eye-opening information is also taught via my online Craftsy video course Acrylic Color Mixing with Ease!
Below is a schematic showing the foundation of the Two Primary Palette, which can also be called the Double-Primary or Split-Primary Palette. You will notice I have two strong color bias tubes of paint for each primary color. By this I mean, the color leanings of each primary color is evident. The palette consists of a: green-yellow, orange-yellow, green-blue, red (violet)-blue, blue (violet)-red, orange-red and orange-yellow.
What Does a Two Primary Palette Look Like in Action?
Recently, a reader asked me to show how I place these colors onto my working painting palette.
Below shows you how I translate it onto my palette. On the left I have numbered the six colors of the graphic Two-Primary Palette and on the right you can see these colors squirted out. There is no correct way to do this. It just happens to be how I like to lay out my paints. Putting out your paints is personal and unique to each of us.
Wait I don’t stop there! In the next image you see mixtures of my primaries to add more colors to my palette. In other words, I mix the two yellows, then the two reds and then the two blues. By doing this I have eliminated needing more tubes of paint — see the image below of my yellow mixture that matches up with a tube of paint.
Creating these additional mixtures is optional. Watercolorists you can do the same thing in your palette using the wells and leaving empty wells in between your 6 primary colors and, of course, not including white.
This is an example of mixing my two yellows into another yellow mixture. The big blob is my mixture and the squirt of color out of the tube is to the right of it. I don’t need to own this tube of yellow because it is easy to mix.
Next, I typically mix my bright secondary colors. To learn more, please read How to Mix Bright and Dull Secondaries. By the way, I use a porcelain butcher tray for my palette.
And then, if you want to continue setting up your palette of colors, you can mix your tertiary colors of burnt sienna, olive green and purple-black. Again, these are completely optional.
To learn more about tertiary colors, please visit my post: What is the Correct Definition of Tertiary Colors?
By starting out with this well balanced Two Primary Palette, I have increased my possibilities of a successful painting because of this color unity. Decision making is also easier and I have decreased the chances of mixing mud.
Now you are ready to rock and roll! How do you lay out your colors when using the two primary palette? I would love to know. Please share this in the comment section below.
By the way, the Two Primary Palette and the color mixing principles taught in Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy! apply to ALL media, not just acrylics.
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Artists, are you interested in the straight forward approach on how to mix bright and dull secondary colors? I have heard many painters express their exasperation when trying to mix the greens, purples and oranges they want.
You have been told since you were a toddler that red and blue make purple, right? Yet your experience indicates that this is not always true. Or you go to mix a bright green and it results in something less than bright. Why is this? Then you go out and try to buy tubes of purples and greens and they too, are unsatisfactory.
In my last blog post Why is Color Bias Key to Mixing Color? I explained why I use the phrase ‘color bias’ when describing the hue of a primary color. Then I introduced the Two -Primary Palette using this principle of color bias.
When combining your discoveries of complementary color mixtures with your knowledge of color bias, color mixing merges into a journey of confidence while frustration begins drifting away. This is also where you start to discover the magic of the Two-Primary Palette. It isn’t really magic, though when I learned it and started to use it, it did feel like magic.
The clarity it provides helps to make color mixing seem achievable and fun! [Read more…]
When teaching about mixing color, how often have you heard art instructors use the phrase “warm and cool colors?” Most likely, you have heard it often.
What does “warm and cool colors” really mean when you mix a color? Don’t you find this confusing? I know I did when I was learning about mixing color. To this day — after 25+ years of painting — I still don’t refer to a primary tube of paint as warm or cool when I mix paint. It’s not relevant.
Why is Color Bias Easier to Understand vs Warm & Cool Colors?
What language do I use instead of following this trend or mantra? I teach and use the phrase “color bias.” Why? Because it is a straight forward way to describe a primary tube of paint versus trying to identify it as warm or cool.
What is color bias? I am referring to the hue that influences a primary color. For example, a red-blue, a green-yellow, orange-red, etc. It is the adjective we artists and non-artists use to further describe a color.
When mixing color, it is much easier to describe a yellow, a red and a blue by its color leanings versus identifying whether it is warm or cool. Who cares if a blue is warm or cool – which is confusing? Identify it as a green– or red-blue and color mixing becomes manageable.
The diagram below illustrates what I mean. Nearly every primary tube of paint available carries another color with it — they carry a color bias. There are very few pure primary colors.
When stating the color bias of a color it’s easier to imagine the hue in your mind’s eye versus trying to imagine whether it’s warm or cool, isn’t it? In your everyday life you might say, “He just bought a orange-yellow car or an orange-red sweater.” You would’t say, “He bought a warm-yellow car or a warm-red sweater.”
To mix clean colors, seeing and knowing the color bias or leaning of each of your primary colors is essential.
Because if you mix paints that carry a pair of complementary colors within them, then you will mix a muddier color than you might have intended.
Here is a “test” question. Which mixture will result in a bright green? 1) a green-yellow with a green-blue, or 2) a red-yellow with a red-blue? The correct answer is #1. If you want a duller green, you would use mixture #2.
Why? You know that complementary colors, when mixed, will dull each other. Red is the complementary color of green. Hence, when mixing a yellow and a blue to create green, it is important to know if either tube carries a color bias of red.
If you want a bright green, then you choose a yellow and blue that are not influenced by red. If you want a dull green, then you do want red to be present in the yellow and blue. Does this make sense?
As painters we want and use both dull and bright colors. It’s empowering when we know how to do it! This concept is taught in greater depth in my online Craftsy video course Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy!” From my research, I do not know of a book or another artist who teaches the concept of color bias. Please let me know if you do know of someone.
For mixing greens, download the free ebook you see in the upper right column of this blog.
Mixing Color is Facilitated by the Two-Primary Palette
To facilitate the ease of mixing color, I am a huge fan of using the Tw0-Primary Palette because it employs the use of two tubes of each primary, as seen here. It is important that each set of primaries carries an obvious color bias in each tube of paint. For example, with your two yellows one will carry a strong color bias of orange and the other a strong color bias of green. To maximize the effectiveness of the Two-Primary Palette, pure or nearly pure primary colors are avoided.
By the way, the Two-Primary Palette is also called the Double-Primary Palette or the Split-Primary Palette.
Here is an example of a set of six primary tubes that could make up a Two-Primary Palette. Notice that each of the tubes is convincing in the color bias it carries.
How can you identify the color bias of your primary paints? The most effective and efficient way is to create a pigment chart for each yellow, red and blue hue family. This exercise is described in my post How to be Intimate with Your Colors.
Below is an example of my chart of reds. Creating a chart like this is a lovely way to really SEE the color bias of each tube of paint you own. Several orange and blue reds are apparent in this chart. The fun you have as a painter is choosing the pair you want to use given your creative preferences.
I recommend starting with just two yellows, two reds and two blues. Oh, I know we like to have lots of colors on our palette. However, using a balanced palette such as the one above will open the door to color confidence while decreasing the probability of making mud.
In my next post, I will explain how the Two-Primary Palette is key to mixing the colors you desire. We will start with mixing bright and dull secondary colors. It’s a simple approach to mixing a bright or a dull green, a bright or dull orange, and a bright or dull purple.
In conclusion, I submit that knowing warms and cool colors is important when it comes to applying colors in a painting, It’s just not essential when mixing colors. Hopefully I have convinced you that seeing the color bias of a primary color is easier to comprehend and use versus trying to determine if it is warm or cool.
Let me know what you think in the comment box below.
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