Making Neutrals with Complimentary Colors

Greetings Artists,

We are still artists, and we need to create now more than ever. I want to encourage you to send me photos of your work and or questions as you create. We will make art and work on lessons to feed us through this time.

So here’s a lesson for you to try. Get your color wheel out. If you don’t have one, find one on the internet.

This is my color wheel.

Pick two complementary colors (complementary colors, using any two colors directly opposite each other on the wheel.)

I chose blue and orange.

I used watercolors, but you can do this with acrylic paints also.

I used Cobalt Blue because it is as close to Primary Blue as you can get. I also used  Halloween  Orange for my orange. Just choose what is closest to the color on the color wheel.

These watercolors are different brands. So we will see what happens. You might have heard me say that different brands might work differently. And that each brand might have its own mix of a particular color. But let’s look at what happened.

The first row is the orange and blue watercolors with a little water added.

The second row is orange, with a bit of blue added. And a lot of orange with a lot of blue added.

We tend to think that complementary colors mixed will make “mud”. And yes, they can. But they can also make some good neutrals (a balanced combination of white and black.)  We can do a whole lesson on Neutrals besides using black and white.

Look at the little square of almost black below the orange and blue. Here, I added a lot of each color. This is a wonderful black and this black that will work in a painting of orange and blue that needs some darks. It works because it is the 2 colors that are in the painting.

Now, look at the blue circle to the left that has a brown in it. It was like the orange circle with blue in it that made the beautiful black.  

And see the brown rectangle below it?

 Not the most pretty, some might say. But it is a brown that would work in a painting with these complementary colors. All this also hinges on how much water we add, how much paint we add, and then if they are true to each other as a true orange and true blue.

At the bottom right is how the pigments pushed against each other. What is the stronger pigment? When I painted this swatch, the blue was pulled into the orange to make that brown. But if the orange was higher quality, it might have pushed into the blue.

These are all things to explore as an artist. It’s not always about making a painting. If we learn how our paints act and what works and what doesn’t, we become more confident in painting. We know or at least can see we have more options and things that we have never tried before. And that’s what keeps us excited and more creative.

As I said, you can do the same thing with acrylics. Don’t water down the paint, though. When using heavy body acrylics (in tubes mostly), this lesson will be a challenge. Some mixing on palette paper might help. Use more paint or less paint. Just try and see what you can get.

This last one is violet and yellow. I had to make my violet, so that might have made some difference also. 

Image from Nice,C.
Down by the Sea With Brush and Pen: Draw and Paint Beautiful Coastal Scenes.
Northlight Books, 2009

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