Red and Green – The Special Relationship of Complementary Colors (Online art lesson #76)

Red and Green are THE Color Couple of the season, but have you heard the gossip? They can neutralize each other in a heartbeat; that’s their little secret!  You see them snuggled up together everywhere this time of year,  and side by side each makes the other look brighter.  Mix them together, however, and  they wipe each other out.

Try these two exercises:

1.  Seeing the complementary ghost (the law of simultaneous contrast in color):

  • Take a snippet of something bright red or green  and place it in the middle of a sheet of white paper.
  • Stare at it with soft eyes for at least a minute.
  • Remove the snippet and keep staring at the middle of the white paper.
  • You should see a radiant ghost of the complement.
  • Have wild thoughts about the nature of Ying/Yang and how things are in the heart of their opposites.
complementary colors red and green make gray when mixed

complementary colors red and green make gray when mixed


2. Mixing complements

  • Mix a bit of red with a bit of green.
  • Add white to lighten the mix.  This will help you see if you are approaching a true neutral.  If your mix is  reddish, add more green.  If greenish, add more red.  If brownish – you don’t have true complements.
  • Study this sample (realizing that you may be seeing the colors differently on your monitor).   Cadmium Red is on top  and Alizarine Crimson is below.  These reds have both been mixed with Pthalo Green, which is an aggressive almost acidic green – oh, I’m really into the gossip today, but it’s from the family of Pthalocyanine Pigments, so what can you expect? Anyhow, Alizarine is also cool and aggressive, so together they make an icy gray.  Cadmium Red leans towards  Yellow and with the Pthalo creates a warmer gray.  It’s difficult to really judge neutral, but you can’t see any   red or green in the mix.  However, if you use a gray in your painting that is made from the colors in your painting, it will seem more harmonious.
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4 Responses to Red and Green – The Special Relationship of Complementary Colors (Online art lesson #76)

  1. Color! …how i LOVE color! …you have aroused a desire to play with my paints all day and see how many color combos I could possibly put together to come up with luscious darks and greys. Alas, today is not that day, seeing as Christmas is but one week away. I’m sure that when I’m out at the stores today and see those seasonal complements of red and green it will bring to mind your lesson on Alizarin (one of my favorites) and pthalo green. Hmmm…now I’m wondering what exciting shade of purple I could make from Alizarin and pthalo blue? Be Still My Heart.

    • Lillian Kennedy says:

      Isn’t it true, there is always more to explore with color! You never get to the end of it, it’s an endless deepening of appreciation of ever more facets. I’ve had so many discoveries lately and it was in the early 1970s that I started teaching color theory!

    • Judith King says:

      Margaret – don’t wait! If color and art is your love, do it. It’s too easy for us to put it off for daily chores, family or work obligations. Art feeds our souls, and gives us the energy for our other life.

  2. Hannah says:

    i cant wait to play with colors with this brilliant art teacher!

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