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?