Thursday, 6 September 2012

Complementary Colours

Amongst the amazing display of artwork that appears on Facebook I have been struck by the way many fine artists use complementary colours.

 A Colour Wheel

Colours opposite one another on the wheel are `complementary'.

A `Watercolor' Wheel with colours specified by name rather than shade.

 A `Pocket' colour wheel and Pocket Guide to mixing colour

Complementary colours. The top row are `pure' colours whereas the bottom three are `mixed'.

Red and Green. This isn't a watercolour but look at the striking effect of using the complements red and green.

 Olivia Quinton. Red and Green once more.

 Arnold Lowry. Orange and Blue.

Milind Millick. A variation on Red and Green using darker shades.

Valery Poppy. Red-orange and Green-blue.

Bro Insideouart. More red than green

 Olivia Quinton. Wow!

Wu Xinglian. Red and Green.

 Bea Diaz. Violet and  Yellow

These are just  examples as I haven't included every combination. I have noticed though that red and green and orange and blue seem especially popular. I hope you will agree  they make the case for using complementary colours as major focal points in paintings. However this is just one approach of many. The basic premise begins with the three primaries of red, yellow and blue. We then have secondary's - by mixing the primary colours, and intermediate's by mixing one primary and one secondary. 

With the primary colours Bruce McEvoy of Handprint maintains that orginally there were four, the fourth being green. The so-called printers primary colours comprise, Magenta, Yellow and Cyan blue, not just `red, yellow and blue'. As there are many different reds and yellows, not quite so many blues, numerous combinations are possible. Then we have Triadic Harmony colours - three colours spaced equally apart on the colour wheel and Split Complementary's, a colour and the two colours next to its complement. We haven't even touched on `cool' and `warm' colours with the complication of their being `cool' and `warm'  versions of each basic shade. Is your head spinning! It isn't really difficult to understand with a little study, taking things one at a time..


Yvonne Harry said...

A very interseting post, Peter. I really enjoyed looking at the examples you chosen to illustrate it

Rui said...

Complimentary colours is a great way to obtain contrast.

Many thanks for sharing the information.

Kind regards,


Peter Ward said...

Thanks Yvonne. I hoped the examples shown would create interest. Much better than dry text!

Peter Ward said...

Thanks as always Rui.

John Softly said...

This comment from Edward Seago from his book "A Canvas to Cover".

"Colours which are complimentary can be a pitfall for the painter. While a spot of red somewhere in the picture can make the greens "sing" an overdose can easily make them crude. I remember once painting a picture inside a circus tent. The curtains at the ring doors were a vivid orange, and the quarter poles of the tent were blue. I painted them so and found that the poles "shouted" and were far too bright I toned them down and they still "shouted. Again I reduced the tone, but with the same result. Finally I painted the poles grey , and they appeared to be the exact shade of blue I wanted. This, of course was due to the orange curtains - blue is the complementary colour to orange. When the eye is confronted with an overdose of orange it seeks blue to rest it; so that anything that is already blue will appear more so, and must be quietened down considerably if it is not to appear crude."

Peter Ward said...

Hi John. Edward Seago was a fine artist, much superior to Wesson in my opinion. I was heavily influenced by Wesson and Seago when I first started painting 13 years ago (still searching for the light at the end of the tunnel) but have moved away from them. Wesson was tremendously popular,as much for his character as his painting I feel, and Steve Hall, who I know personally,is making a name for him self as a `Wesson `clone', which he freely acknowledges.
I have a Bob Wade DVD in which he introduces a small spot of red against a group of trees, pointing out how this improves the painting.
Watercolour painting has moved on a great deal since Seago and Wesson and I find the examples of complementaries I featured stimulating. If you are saying you don't then we'll agree to disagree (grin). It's all a matter of opinion.