Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Complimentary colors - what you may not know

This is quite rudimentary, today, but interesting, I think.  I had to substitute teach today for 4th grade and they had to work on an art project that involved complimentary colors.  Of course, that reminded me of somethings that I had taught before.  First of all-you all know what they are, opposite colors on the color wheel-if you mix them together by pairs, like orange and blue, you will get gray.  Why does that happen?  There's are terrific book called, I believe, "Yellow and Blue Don't Make Green".  It's not that the colors mix and cause that to happen-it's more like their color rays fight each other.  Blue won't allow the yellow to show up and yellow won't let blue show up.  So you are left with the absence of color - gray.

Now, the grays will be different, of course, because the colors are not the same.  You'll get different results.  If you want a warm gray then combine red and green.  Orange and blue will make a cooler gray-which is great for the shadows in the snow.

Let's try something fun.  I can't tell you why this works but it DOES and every time, at least, for me.  If you take a pure color, like red, and stare at only that, close up, for about 30 seconds-then quickly look at white you will see the complimentary color!  It's a great exercise for children.  They love it but adults get a kick out of it, also.  Ever noticed when you are gazing on a shadow that is kind of colored-like one off a blind-when you look away you won't see that shadow color anymore?  I bet you saw the complimentary color and didn't even realize it!  Try it.
the last supper leonardo davinci
Art History Moment - The reason why Leonardo Da Vinci's fresco's, such as "The Last Supper" are in such disrepair is that Leonardo did not take the right time with his frescoes.  To rush the process he painted in tempura on a dry wall.  This is not actually a true fresco-there can be no corrections as the painting moves forward this way.  Because of this short cut method much of his work was already in disrepair by the 16th century. If he had used the true fresco method of painting into the wet plaster it  would be in a lot better shape today-for us to enjoy!  Luckily we have clever art restorers that have painstakingly tried to recreate Da Vinci's original intent.  Thank goodness for the modern science (and I say "science" because it is) of restoration.  These guys really do make miracles happen.


  1. Hi Julie!

    I love color theory, and was really interested in your post, thanks for sharing! I took a color theory class at the NY botanical garden and my teacher pointed out something that sounds picky at first, but then when you think about it, really makes sense. She said she never calls colors 'warm' or 'cool' because there are so many variations with each color. For instance most people would say that red is a warm color and blue a cool color. As you probably know, you can have a red with more blue in it or a red with more yellow in it. So she would call these color 'biases'. We made these extensive color wheels with it, it was really interesting. Anyway you probably knew that, which most artists do at heart, but just label them warm and cool anyway! At any rate it was interesting.

    I have done the complimentary eye exercise, it's fascinating.

    Thanks for the fresco lesson, I didn't realize Leo cheated - Harumpf!

  2. Hey, there! Well, I'm glad you got something out of my post. That's a good way to look at how colors appear and it sounds like you learned a lot. I think that book I mentioned, "Yellow and Blue Don't Make Green" (North Light Books) mentions maybe something about that. But what he did say that really made sense is that sometimes you try so hard to mix a color but the reason why it's not turning out right is that you're not using the right "biase" (good word, Susan!). So if you mix up a green with a blue that tends to be more towards the green side and a yellow that tends more towards the red side it will turn out muddy. When I read that I thought, "Aha! No wonder it doesn't work sometimes!" Thanks so much for stopping by.

    Yeah, Leo was kind of a scrimper on materials and prep. Too bad but those geniuses, you know, they just can't keep up with their thoughts.