Complementary Colors

After teaching art for thirty-two years, I can honestly say the one area of curriculum that I don’t miss is Color Theory.  Because color is such an integral part of design and painting, it becomes necessary to grasp an understanding of how colors work, how they are created and how all the other elements and principles of design are so connected to color in every form of visual art.  Let’s just say, in all those years of teaching with multiple classes and multiple semesters, I have had an overdose of color mixing and color harmonies.

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.  Unlike the popularly used word complimentary where you would use the word to say something favorable, the complementary of colors describes two opposite colors that share no like colors.  Red and green are complementary, as green is a mixture of blue and yellow and thus, has no red in it.  The same is true for blue and orange and yellow and violet.  Using these colors together can create visual illusions and movement.  It can also create clashing elements and strong contrast if the concentration or intensity of color is equal.  All this talk of color theory is starting to give me a headache.  It is safe to say that most artists have learned the theories and go on to use them automatically.  Frequently I have found myself leaning towards using the complementary colors blue and orange.  A spectacular neutral color can also be created by mixing these two opposites, or layering them if using transparent or dry media.

Apparently I am also drawn to birds with this color palette.  The Painted Bunting, a member of the Cardinal family, has many colors, but to me the blue and orange seem prominent. Bluebirds also wear a coat of red-orange and blue feathers.  Baltimore Orioles have the orange, but exchange the blue for black in a striking contrast, too.

ComplementsMy collage today started out using  some saved wrapping paper that had beautiful printed butterflies on brown craft paper.  The birds (all of those mentioned above) came from magazines.  Some fruit netting, acrylic paint, medium and gesso held it all together and finally the colored pencils accentuated areas lost under the layers of all those materials.  As you can see, the prominent colors that I have used are blue and orange.  The contrast is strong and allows for the use of Split Complementary Colors, too.  This was a concept that was difficult to teach and also difficult for my students to learn.  A split complement of blue would include blue, yellow-orange and red-orange.  A split complement of orange would include orange, blue-green and blue-violet.  When looking at the color wheel you start with a color, then add the two colors adjacent to its opposite or a color and its two opposite intermediate colors.  Got it?  Probably not, but you are not alone!  These harmonies work together not because they blend or share colors, as in Analogous Colors.  They work because they create contrast, and thus movement, balance and focus.  Yep, it’s not all about just making pretty pictures.

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About circuitousjourney

Retired Art Teacher
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