This past weekend I was feeling unmotivated in the studio. I have just finished painting still lifes for the winter season and now must  make the switch to painting landscapes for my summer shows. I enjoy bouncing between the two disciplines, but lately nothing seemed to inspire me.

So, here is what I did…

  • I decided to have some fun and experiment with color harmony or complimentary colors.
  • Pairs of colors that share no common elements with each other are called, ‘complimentary colors’.
  • Instead of my traditional palette, I chose to experiment with a revolutionary idea of painting using the 5000 year old yin/yang approach.
  • The ancient Chinese understood our world in terms of a balance of opposites. Everything in nature has its opposite.

For example:

  • moon/sun
  • black/white
  • day/night
  • sunrise/sunset

Every color has its opposite too! Each ‘primary’ color or hue (red, yellow, blue) is directly opposite a ‘secondary’ color (green, purple, orange).

These complimentary colors are always found opposite each other on the color wheel:

  • Red – Green
  • Yellow – Purple
  • Blue – Orange

When opposite colors are mixed they create beautiful, chromatic neutral grays. Using this technique, I limited my palette to the family of complimentary colors I felt were best suited for the subject being painted.

Out of the three yin/yang palette possibilities, I chose the blue and orange palette.

This is the landscape reference photo:

“Mountain Gold – Adam’s Gulch”© 2010 Lori McNee

For the ‘orange’ pigments I used:

  • cadmium red light – warm orange
  • cadmium orange – true orange
  • cadmium yellow medium – cool orange
  • burnt sienna – softer orange

For the ‘blue’ pigments I used:

  • ultramarine blue – warm blue
  • cobalt blue – true blue
  • phthalo blue – cool blue

and ivory black & titanium white

You can vary the above colors with your own choices, but it is best to always have a warm, true & cool representative for each opposite color. These complimentary colors vibrate when painted next to each other and are beautifully muted when mixed. A broad range of colors can be mixed from this limited palette. The results are harmonious and color intensity can be controlled.

I was able to mix luscious greens, rich browns and vibrant autumn colors next to quieter grays. I am please with the results and plan to try painting a series of landscapes using the yin/yang palettes – I’ll keep you posted!

For more information I suggest reading The Yin/Yang of Painting Also, using the color wheel can help you determine color schemes balance and harmony in your artwork, web-pages, designs or home decorating.

Happy Painting – Lori

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