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0 Working with complements

There are three PRIMARY colors on the opaque color wheel:
Red dot red,  Yellow dot yellow, and Blue dot blue.

Mixing primary colors gives us SECONDARY colors.
Red and yellow in pure form produce Orange dot orange, yellow and blue make Green dot green, and blue and red give us Violet dot violet.   One might go on with infinite mixes, but the primary and secondary colors will serve us here.
Color Wheel

Put in this form, we see that colors directly across from each other on the color wheel are yellow and violet, red and green, and blue and orange. These color pairs are called COMPLEMENTS.


Mixing any of the pure complements in balance with white will produce Gray dot gray. Using more of either complement will tinge the gray hue toward that color.   As an example, Viridian and Alizarin Crimson are two "representative" complements I often use in painting the sea. I call them "representative" because they are not pure primary colors. Here are some samples of the beautiful grayed colors that result.

Grayed Complements

Now try other representative complements. Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna are two that work well together.   What color wheel complements will they represent?

Why the emphasis on using complements?

blue arrowNature's colors are complementary.


As a demonstration, I've chosen the Oregon Red Elderberry.   I used a photo program to add a background made with #FF0000, the internet red, shown above.   How many colors in the photo do you see that match the background?

0 Elderberry

For the answer, let's take the image back to the photo program and make the red transparent.   Any of the red color in the photo that matched the background would also disappear, leaving areas of white where the page background shows through.

0 As you can see, the photo remains the same.   There is no pure red in the image.
0 Elderberry

Now let's return the image to the photo program, this time adding gray to the background and again making it transparent.   How many white areas of transparency can you see in the resulting image?


Many have appeared, showing that the colors of the original image are indeed grayed.   Continued choices of red-gray backgrounds would each show new white areas of transparency. Nature chooses to complement its colors.

Pick a single subject. It can be a leaf or grassy field, anything you choose.   Using your palette, try mixing the colors of your subject.

Did you use complements to mix your color?


Blue arrowColor values gray with atmosphere and distance. Using complements helps to achieve consistency in transition between the foreground and background of the painting.

Blue arrowUsing consistent color patterns throughout a painting helps to achieve overall color clarity.   Use mixtures of complements instead of the blacks and umbers that could "muddy" the painting.

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DVD Cover
"Rocks and Sea" DVD

Learn to paint rocks with this
58 minute video workshop.
DVD or Download.

DVD Cover
"The Protector" DVD

A colorful 89 minute video workshop, in close-up detail.
DVD or Download.

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"The Wild Sea" DVD

Learn to paint the sea with this 53 minute video workshop .
DVD or Download.

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"The Breaking Wave" CD

The basic wave, 30 page e-book workshop for computer.
CD or Download.

Glacial Lake Missoula
"Glacial Lake Missoula"

See it on Nova Megafloods Website. Geologic commission. 

My back yard

A photo gallery of Oregon coast mushrooms 
Pickering family history
Oil painting video workshop to paint seascapes and ocean waves. Byron Pickering art, oil painting instruction builds confidence to master color, motion, and depth in seascape painting