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Complementary colors and seasons

When you are look at the color wheel, you see there are colors next to each other and there are colors across from each other. These colors across from each other are the ones I want to direct your attention to now. They are called complementary colors.

For example, across from yellow is violet, and across from green is red. There is something very harmonious about complementary colors, and once you know this secret, I think it will help you put colors together, whether for your wardrobe, jewelry, interior design, or whatever you want to add color to.
Remember back in the day when we got our colors analyzed? You sat with a "color consultant", paid them a fee for their expertise, and got draped with a sheet while she held various swatches of fabric up to your face. It was a fun and fascinating experience, unless you found out you were a Spring and all along you had thought you were a Summer and that you would now have to completely change your wardrobe! Then you were handed a pack of colors and sent out to shop for new clothes and make up.
The premise behind color analysis was that you look your absolute best in the color palette of one of the four seasons. What were those palettes? Spring was anything on the warm side of the color wheel, plus tints of those colors. Yellow, orange, red, yellow-green and green are the colors of Spring. A Spring can also wear pink, peach, baby blue, mint green and ivory because those are all tints of the warm colors. If you are a Winter, your best colors are on the cool side of the color wheel. That means red, red-violet, violet, blue and blue-green. So what about summer and autumn? Where do those palettes come from?
Start with the yellow at the top of the color wheel. Now go directly across the wheel and you get to violet. If that yellow and violet were wet paint and you added a touch of violet to yellow, what would you get? You get a nice mustard, autumnal version of yellow. What about red?Directly across from red on the color wheel is green. Again, if that red and green were wet paint, and you mixed a bit of green in with the red, you would get the earthy version of red that is completely fall-ish. That's because complementary colors gray each other down. The autumn colors are the warm colors from the color wheel, with their complementary color added.
Now if you were to get a little carried away with the wet paint and add too much violet to the yellow, guess what you would have? A Summer violet, which is a nice grayed mauve version of violet. Same thing with green. Add more red to the green and you get a dusky grayed down version of green that looks great on all those Summer colored women! The Summer palette is the cool side of the color wheel with the complementary color added.
Years ago when the whole color analysis trend was popular, a dear friend of mine hired me to make a chart of all the colors for each season. I thought to myself, oh this will be simple, it's just the colors from the color wheel, and I got to work, painting little squares of a million colors on a big chart. This is where I really saw how it is the complementary colors that mute each other and offer beautiful harmonious blends. I would mix a bright yellow green for the spring section, then add a bit of red- violet to it to make the autumn yellow green. Then I would add more red violet to this mix and use that for the summer violet.
This secret of complementary color mixing comes in handy when you want to make gray. A lot of times beginner painting students will mix black and white, after all, that does make gray. But the beauty of gray is there are blue grays, reddish grays, yellow grays, and so on. And how are they made? Not with black and white I promise you! Add any two complementary colors together and add those to white and you will come up with a rich and varied array of grays.
One day a friend of mine asked me if I would come over and help her decide what color to paint her living room. All the way to her house I was drilling my mind on everything I knew about color. I got to her house and do you know what she wanted help with? What color of white to use. White!! I mean what difference does it make?! We went to the paint store and started looking at all those paint samples and I was amazed. There are so many kinds of white! Now I know that you can gray a white down by adding two complementary colors and adding it to white. And what a difference it can make! The white we finally chose for my friend's living room was some of the biggest learning I have ever had in color. The room painted in that warm, buff, grayed down white was so peaceful, so inviting, so un-demanding. I just wanted to sit in that room and soak in all the peacefulness. If it had been straight white it would have been too clinical, too cold. If it had been a cool white it would have not been as welcoming. The white we chose had been muted with a nice mix of red and green, and it was ohh so lovely. Harmonious blends, I love you.


  1. This is a fascinating post, Sandy--as are all your recent posts about color, varied lines in composition, and related fun things. And I always love to see your jewelry!

    I also use color complements to tone down tube colors for my landscape painting to represent the endless, subtle variations of color and shade in our amazing world. Your comments and analysis are right on target!


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