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  • Writer's pictureCathy Carey

Using Complements to Create Depth and Control Saturation

Complements are opposite each other on the color wheel, the complement pairs are red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple. The following example is another way to remember it by visualizing how the colors are made.


Primary colors are yellow, red and blue. Let’s pretend that you can make all the colors in the world with these three colors. When you want an orange, you mix red and yellow. When you want a green, you mix yellow and blue. When you want a purple, you mix red and blue. To make complements you need to remember these three primaries: red, yellow and blue.

To find the complement of blue, ask yourself which of the three primary colors are missing? Answer: red and yellow. When you combine red and yellow you get orange, so orange is the complement of blue. Let’s check the other colors. Start with green. What colors of the three primaries are missing? Green is made by mixing yellow and blue, so that leaves red as the missing primary. Red is the complement to green. What colors are missing when you are trying to find the complement to purple? Purple is made of red and blue, so yellow is the missing primary.

Complementary color pairs:

Red and Green ( Green is made from Yellow + Blue)

Blue and Orange (Orange is made from Red + Yellow )

Yellow and Purple (Purple is made from Red + Blue)

Complementary pairs are always opposite on the color wheel; they are opposite in temperature also.

Complementary color pairs:

Red is warm and the opposite of and a complement to Green which is cool

Orange is warm and the opposite of and a complement to Blue which is cool

Yellow is warm and the opposite of and a complement to Purple which is cool

When you mix a warm and a cool color, the same thing happens as when you mix a warm and a cool drink. Your color becomes lukewarm, or a neutral. In color, a neutral is brown or gray. When there is more of the warm color in the complementary mixture, the result is brown. When you have more of the cool color in the mixture, the result is gray. Anytime you mix a warm and a cool color, whether they are complements or not, the result will be a more neutralized color than either of the original colors. Sometimes this is hard to see because it is so subtle. In fact, the best use of complementary colors is to slightly neutralize the color to make it more natural. When you add a slight amount of the complement, you can control the color by turning down its brilliance. This is helpful in establishing atmospheric perspective.


Mixing Complements for a Variety of Beautiful Neutrals


Creating Rich Color Drama and Brilliance Using Complements

When you place the complements next to each other, magic happens!  Red next to green will make the green much more alive and vivid. It is in comparing and contrasting the opposite colors that the vividness occurs.  Blue-green next to darker blue-green has no flicker or contrast, but blue-green next to red creates drama and excitement, even if the red is used in small amounts.

These are some of the lessons in my workbook on color called “The Philosophy of Color” to order go to:

To view my paintings go to:

To see my hand painted jewelry visit:

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