Complementary Color

Painting Your Inspiration

A Guide To Color Theory

Shadows are inherently blue in hue. Meaning that blue is the general color for most shadows. Most of us think of shadows as being black, however black is a neutral color. The hue of shadow is in fact blue. Therefore, when we create shadow, theoretically it should have blue in it. Keep that in mind.

Local Color

We don't see blue objects everywhere around us though, instead we see what's called "local color".

Local color refers to the actual color of the object.

  • A red apple's local color is red. There may some other colors on the apple like yellow, white, or green.
  • Local color includes those colors as well.
  • It's generally what your eye sees on an object.
  • Tints of local color are mostly created by adding white to the color, while shades of the local color are created by adding black to the color.

Complimentary Color - Shadow vs. Highlight

If we think of the shadows and the highlights as opposites, we can use our knowledge of color theory to boost that contrast resulting in more dynamic and more natural looking shadows.

We know that complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel.

  • For example, red and green are found on opposite sides of the color wheel.
  • So, if we use the cool complementary color for the shadows and the warm complement for the highlights, we increase the contrast making the image more visually stimulating.

Putting It All Together

  1. How you will handle the highlights and shadows?
  2. Perhaps, you may start with a monochromatic underpainting in blue, layer the local color on top of that and then accent with the complements.

Color Theory and Light

Calibrate The Eye to Color

It is usually a challenging exercise for students to paint an object a different color from what it is. This takes time to learn and get used to. You will no longer be looking at objects as color, but rather as a system of values on a scale.

There are two things to consider:

1. Light and dark from the lighting (which is the most important part to observe)

2. The color of the object (which you must try to ignore).

This takes practice.

Value Scale Activity

Working in value scale is very similar to practicing scales on a piano - it is something that is practiced throughout one's career and it eventually becomes second nature.

First Half of Canvas

  1. Divide your canvas in half. Choose a set of complementary colors to work from. Once selected, try to stick with them and not add any other colors.
  2. Begin with one color. Make a value scale for that color from White to Black.
  3. Paint the value scale in at least 9 squares onto the first half of the canvas. This is a reference guide. Paint 60% dark to 40% light - this helps stay away from mid-tones which, if used too much, can make a painting dull and boring.
  4. Students tend to get lazy or rush through it to get to the painting. However, it's really an effective tool for reference if you follow through and make a clear scale that the eye can easily sweep over with no jumps. The value scale isn't meant as a decoration - but as part of the process of the painting!
  5. Lightly sketch out your object - consider composition - enlarging the object or cropping it to make it more interesting on the painting.
  6. Paint in thin layers to fill in the largest shapes first, working toward your smallest shapes, details and highlights. (make sure you alter the size of your brushes!)
  7. When the first half of your canvas is finished, clean your palette and move away your fruit or vegetable. The second half of the exercise is a bit different.

Second Half of Canvas

Closely look at the first half of your completed canvas and make sure there is a wide range of values from white to black.

  1. Create a value scale for your complementary color from white to black.
  2. Make sure it is the same number of squares as the original value scale in the first half of the painting.
  3. Paint the value scale on the second half of your painting.
  4. Copy from your own painting. If you aren't sure which tone to use, first match the tone in the original color to the placement of it on the value scale.
  5. Look at where that same value exists on your new value scale.

After you finish the second half of the painting, take note of any discrepancies between the two paintings.

  • Does the second one resemble the first?
  • How accurate is your eye?
  • How good is your value scale?