Project 1 – Exercise 4: Complementary colors

Remark: embedded photos do not show necessarily my colour perception of the originals.

The idea of the exercise is to mix a complete color wheel and to see how opposite colour, called complementary colors,  do behave in juxtaposition and in mixes.

Definition (Oxford Art Online): “Pairs of colours seen to be in strong contrast to one another. This is achieved through the strengthening of a secondary (i.e. mixed) colour (for example green) when it is placed opposite the primary colour (in this instance red) that is adjacently positioned in the colour circle next to the two primaries (blue and yellow) which together make up that secondary colour.

With my new acquired confidence in colour mixing and a better evaluation of tonal value consistency I decided to make some variants:

a) comparing color perception on white and middle grey background

b) understanding impact of titan white versus zinc white when it comes to tints (for tonal value consistency)

From previous exercises I learned:
– Violet is hard to achieve by mixing primary colours (ultramarine and alizarin crimson was the closest)
– The hues shift of certain primary colours makes a mix with another primary colour rather dull or more saturated (chroma)
– Greens and oranges can be mixed nicely with the right primary colours

Based on this I decided to use the following oil colours for this exercise:
– Yellow (*): mix of Azo Yellow and Cd Yellow Med (from Ex2)
– Yellow-Orange: mix of Yellow* and Red**
– Orange: mix of Yellow*, more Cd Yellow Med and Red**
– Red-Orange: mix of Cd Yellow Med and Red**
– Red (**): Cd Red Med (from Ex 2)
– Purple Red: mix of Cd Red Med, Alizarin Crimson, and Violet
– Violet: Violet (from Ex 2)
– Blue-Violet: mix of Violet and Ultramarine
– Blue (***): mix of Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine (from Ex2)
– Green-Blue: mix of Blue*** and Yellow *
– Green: mix of Blue***, more Cerulean Blue, and Yellow*
– Yellow-Green: mix of Yellow, Blue*** and more Cerulean Blue

Colour wheel on white ground

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 4 - colorwheel on white ground

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 4 – colorwheel on white ground

Overall I am pleased with the distribution of colours and I compared those with Chevrel’s chromatic circle that I research at the beginning of this project (click here). I think it is quite closed to the one from Chevreul. Although the red-purple resembles the one from Chevreul, I do feel that there is something not quite right. I am missing some chroma. As I already mixed it from Alizarin Crimson and violet I am not sure what else could be done. I have the feeling that I need to add some paints to my palette.

So I’ve decided to contintue with this circle though still curious to understand better the scale violet-purple-red.

Colour wheel on middle grey ground

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 4 - colorwheel on grey ground

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 4 – colorwheel on grey ground

Quite astonishing how the grey ground impact visual perception of the colors. They appear more luminous, more intense than on white ground. On the white ground otherwise the colors do appear more solid, denser and darker (especially green). This was also observed by Chevreul during his investigation of the dull dyes in a textile factory. This means a neutral background will eliminate the effect of a visual hue shift by the complementary colour. I can see to use neutral backgrounds in areas where I want to enforce luminosity and light.

Juxtaposition of complementary colours

With the above mixed colors I continued with placing opposite colors side-by-side being careful to achieve a consistent tonal value of those complementary colors on my middle grey ground. I did this twice with titan and zinc white for better understanding and discernment of differences.  From previous exercises in part 1 I learned already that those two white are quite different in opaqueness: a more chalky titan white and a more transparent zinc white. Now I was more interested in the impact on hue.

=> It is enormous how the luminosity and chroma seems to be exaggerated. Already as I place the first stroke of the complementary colour it was overwhelming – what an experience! This was expressed by Chevreul in his concept of simultaneous contrast: “the brain has a tendency to exaggerate differences in order to perceive them better”. This means opposite (complementary) colours are on the extreme end of differences and enforce this through a visual exaggeration of the complementary hue of the juxtaposed colour (red will have a visual enforcement by the complementary of green -> red).

Due to my slight deuteranopia (red-green, (between none and weak in Ishihara test, see reference) I was wondering how I would judge those complementaries. Knowing that others would perceive them as bolder in chroma and more distinct than me. However I didn’t observe a discrepancy here.


Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 4 - complementary colors

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 4 – complementary colors

Mixing with zinc white needs substantially more white to mix the correct tonal value. In this exercise I felt that titan white enhances the chroma when used not too much (red, green) but makes them duller when used more (violet to blue).

Mixing complementary colors

Continuing with mixing a mid tone between both complementary colors (for both scales).
=> What a surprise on the range of brown hues that I achieved. I noticed that having red hues in a mix makes the obtained brown darker in tonal value, yellow hues would keep the brown at a similar tonal value. At least in these experiments. A mixed brown with orange and blue results in an olive hue. Also here I find that using zinc white in those mixes where a lot of white had to be used for tonal value consistency, the resulting browns are more intense compared to equivalent browns with titan white.

I think that some of these browns could be used of skin colour.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 4 - mixes

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 4 – mixes


I was somehow surprised the none of the mixes resulted in grey colour, what I initially had expected. Not clear to my why. In all mixes the a red makes the brown warmer and blue/violet cooler.

I am wondering how I would achieve greys instead of browns. In previous exercise I achieved grey on the scale from red-orange to green-blue (on the blue side). In part 1 I mixed grey hues with a combination of three colours (intuitive) instead of only two.  Another option would be to use a grey tone mixed from white and black and to mix this with a complementary color mix (to try). This approach I applied in my assignment 1 work.


I’ve purchased now from another brand two colours that I hope would give some answers on my above question related to the scale from violet-purple-red.

=> with new paints on my palette I am able to make other and for me better mid-scale hues between violet and red. Using Cobalt violet (but so expensive 🙁 ) allowed me achieve did hues with more chroma. Although those colors tend to be rather transparent compared to the opaque mix of violet and alizarin crimson. I have to see what other paints could be beneficial – and less expensive.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 4 - violet-purple-red

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 4 – violet-purple-red



  • I feel now more and more confident with color mixing and evaluation. I find thee exercise in this project really helpful although it took quite some time and paint to work on the exercises. I have to see how I can apply my learnings in my paintings.
  • Mixing browns can be nicely modulated by selection of complementary colors. Red hues with green hues makes the brown warmer. Yellow hues with blue-violet hues makes the browns cooler, but also lighter.
  • Browns made from complementary colors could be useful as skin color (for figurative paintings)
  • I have a better sense of visual colour perception, impact of background and juxtaposed colours.
  • Exaggerating differences though applying complementary colours (what artist of the impressionism did) or reducing chroma by juxtaposition of either close colours (in colour wheel or in time) or by selective use of a background colour (white enforces, neutral grey eliminates such simultaneous phenomena).
  • Using neutral backgrounds could be beneficial when I want to enforce luminosity and light effect.
  • I am still struggling at times with finding a consistent tonal value across hues. I do think that I approximated this well, but there is still a slight difference. Mostly when it comes to bright blues and yellows as they still impact my tone perception (even with the ‘closest’ eye). However I do believe that in observing real things around me I would detect the main tonal value right (considering an incremental scale and not a continuum).

Next time:

  • Investigating grey hues and how to mix them effectively. Elaborating my learnings from Ex3 and Ex4.
  • Investigating scale from violet to red.
  • Training tonal value visualisation by observation of things around me.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: