Class Notes: Magic Complements

Working with complements is a great color mixing exercise. Complements are 2 colors that are directly across the color wheel from each other.
They also serve as the simple version of the "How to make BROWN” recipe,
and part of our color mixing vocabulary:  “to mute a color - add the complement.”
Sounds so simple - but as my students know - there is nothing simple about color mixing. It is the artist's lifelong quest - with piles of "icky colors" left in our wake.
In class, I look for constants where beginning painters can go to feel safe.
If you look back a few posts on this blog- I ask the question “What color is Brown?”.
I ask because students ask. That whole range of neutrals,  from warm (brown) to cool (grey) - how does a painter mix them?
COMPLEMENTS - is the simple answer-  that is not so simple.

In class we use a classic Limited Palette:
Lemon Yellow  (cool)
Cad Yellow Deep (warm)
Cad Red Light  (warm)
Alizarin Crimson (cool)
Cerulean Blue  (warm)
Ultramarine Blue, and White (cool)

In our discussion of complements - students scratch their heads-  Where on our Limited Palette are those magic Complements ?
What?  Do you mean I have to mix the complement of yellow or red or blue?  - And by the way there are 2 of each here- which one do I use?
Good questions.
Answers are: You are right - “complements” do not reside on our Limited Palette,
Yes, -  you have to mix them from what we have been given,  and as to Which one to use - well, both.  
I already hear the wheels turning. . . . some students will think about just buying a tube of something that complements a pigment on the Limited Palette.  Hmmmm. . . .
But wait. Put down that supply catalog;

It is a wonderful fluke of pigment karma that we have a set of genuine complements in the Limited Palette listed above.
No mixing, no hard decisions about warm and cool, blah, b-blah, b-blah.
Our go-to complements are Cadmium Red Light and Cerulean Blue.
I won't take time here, to discuss their precise characteristics - suffice to say - if you are trying to mix anything from a warm neutral (BROWN), to a cool neutral (GREY) - start HERE.
The last few weeks in class we have examined, experimented and played, using JUST these 2 pigments.
We have experimented with landscape and with still life.
Everything posted here was painted with only 2 pigments: Cadmium Red Light and Cerulean Blue and in all of the paintings we get intense color as well as a breadth of beautiful neutrals.
Try this exercise at home using ONLY  - Cad Red Light and Cerulean Blue, and white  - you will be surprised at what you come up with.

Judith Greenwood painted the sweet piece at the top in acrylic.


Judith Greenwood said...

Thanks for this helpful overview of the magic of complements!! I am honored to see my own experiment on the blog. Thank you. The exercise was a great challenge (bit scary at beginning) but seemed to flow naturally once we began. It must be a very natural process.... Oh, of course!

Particularly like the totally neutral stack of toilet paper rolls; a sophisticated treatment of such an ordinary subject.


Coni Grant said...

Can't resist those T-P Rolls. Too much fun. . .