Do we artists dance with colors? I think we do, at least I know I dance with complementary colors. And as with any dancing partners, some partners dance together better than others.
The color dancing partners I am referring to are the color complements (also called color opposites) that are essential in understanding color mixing & experiencing success. As you probably know, the 3 color complements ‘dancing partners’ are:
It is important and very helpful to memorize these partners to maximize your color skills. You can memorize them outright or another way to remember them is by starting with one primary, such as red, and then ‘mixing’ the other two primaries in your head. In this case, the remaining primary colors of yellow + blue = green. Hence, green is the color opposite of red.
Note: Primaries are defined as the colors we cannot mix.
Staying with the musical theme, I encourage my color students to paint chromatic scales using two color opposites pairs. An example is below. I have chosen a pair of complementary colors and then mixed various proportions of the two to create wonderful and luscious hues. You can see all of the lovely colors that can be mixed with these ‘dancing partners.’
If you would like to see a demonstration of creating chromatic scales, I have an old video on YouTube you can view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TniAwC6gkzU
Of course the mixtures will vary significantly depending on the primaries you use and the colors you use for your secondary colors. But that is the fun of exploration and discovery! No?
I recommend beginning by creating a chromatic scale using the color opposites you are most familiar with, then trying out a few new dancing partners.
How do you know if a pair of color opposite dancing partners are truly color opposites? I ask, because you can create chromatic scales with virtually any two colors; that does not make them color opposites.
True complementary colors or color opposites cancel each others’ hue and the resulting mixing is either a brown or a black as seen in the below example. The middle mixture of the two colors does not show any evidence of the original two hues.
If the resulting mixture is a green, then those two colors are not complementary colors. Green is often the color that artists mix when certain oranges are mixed with a blue. This means the ‘orange’ you are mixing with has too much yellow in it.
See example below where I mix cadmium orange with French ultramarine blue. The color mixtures are yummy but these two colors are not true color opposites because the resulting color is a de-saturated green.
When you take inventory of all of your colors, you will begin to see that there are many many possibilities of potential color complement ‘dancing partners.’ Try out a pair of color opposites that you have never thought of before. Painting these chromatic scales will enhance your color skills.
As many of my color class students experience, you will create colors you have never mixed before and you will happen upon some happy surprises. You will also begin to see how entire paintings could be be created just using these two colors.
Color challenge: What are the true color opposites of cerulean blue and thalo blue? Or lemon/hansa yellow? Answer below in the comment box.
View my demonstration on how to paint a chromatic scale by clicking here.
To learn more about complementary colors, please check out my online color video course, Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy! produced by Craftsy. Though the course is taught using acrylic paints, the concepts and lessons apply to all media.