Improve Color Harmony – Use Yin Yang in Painting

Most great paintings use the principles of color harmony with the use of complementary colors

COLOR HARMONY, or yin yang in painting, is the overall tone of the piece of art.

This can be seen in many important works of art throughout the centuries.

©2015 Lori McNee, A Bit of Summer 16×20 (example of blue and orange color harmony)


When I grasped the concept of color harmony and color temperature, as well as how to use the hidden meaning of color yin yang  in painting I was able to push my paintings to a new level!

Yin (the moon, female) colors are considered to be cool, while yang (the sun, male) colors are warm.  Again, it is the balance of opposites which attract to create the harmonic tone of the painting.

Interestingly enough, color harmony is another example of yin yang  in painting. Yin (the moon, female) colors are considered to be cool, while yang (the sun, male) colors are warm.  Again, it is the balance of opposites which attract to create the harmonic tone of the painting.

Most of you know that the primary colors on the wheel are obviously red, yellow and blue – from there, the complementary colors on the color wheel are actually opposite colors and temperatures.   The first diagram illustrates primary colors.  The second diagram illustrates secondary colors.  The colors opposite of each other are called complimentary colors.

(primary color wheel)

For example:
Red + Blue = Purple
Blue + Yellow = Green
Red + Yellow = Orange

Purple, green and orange are called secondary colors.  From there you can keep mixing and creating beautiful tones and grays of different values.

Red and yellow are considered warm while blue is cool.  That seems easy enough, but it becomes a bit complicated after that…

Cool colors (yin) recede while warm colors (yang) come forward.  Look at any good landscape painting to see examples of this.  The trees or grasses in the background will be cooler and will warm as they advance to the foreground of the painting.

But, wait there is more…

Within each color family, there is a myriad of warm and cool tones.  Alizarin Crimson is a cool red, while Cadmium Red is warm.  Cadmium Yellow is warm and Naples Yellow is cool.  Cobalt Blue is cool and Ultramarine Blue is warm.  When you study your own palette and play with the paint, you will begin to see these subtle color variations that will help the overall feeling of harmony in your paintings.

This is just a quick tutorial about complimentary colors.  There is so much more, but I won’t overwhelm you with that right now.  Enjoy taking some  time studying and painting until and you understand the power of using yin yang color harmony.

You might like to read:

The Importance of Value & Tone in Painting

A Unique Approach Using Color Harmony to Improve Your Paintings



  1. Tequitia April 18, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for this!

    • Lori McNee April 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

      You are welcome, Tequitia! Thanks for the visit.
      Lori 🙂

  2. Arthur August 10, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I also have this and find it to be a wonderful tool

    • Lori McNee April 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Arthur – thanks for the feedback. I appreciate you taking time to comment.
      Best – Lori

  3. Evaldas April 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Sorry, but I think ultramarine blue is a cool, not warm, color 🙂

    • Lori McNee April 4, 2010 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Evaldas, thanks for your comment.

      Ultramarine Blue might be cool to you when compared to the other blues on your individual palette. For me, the brand of Ultramarine Blue that I use is warmer than cooler Cobalt Blue…of course we all know that blue is a cool color anyway…the temperature of all colors can change when used next to different pigments.

      Take care – Lori

  4. Elizabeth March 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Could you expand on the idea of color familys Please?
    Thank you

  5. Priyadarshi Gautam January 26, 2014 at 12:12 am

    enjoyed reading all the art information shared by you , thanks much Lori

    • Lori McNee February 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Thank you Priyadarshi!

  6. Mashael Khalifa September 18, 2014 at 2:40 am

    Hi Lori,
    Just stumbled upon your page looking for blogging tips. Lucky me! Your posts are very informative and quite motivating in tone!
    You’re a very inspirational woman 😀
    Thanks so much! and Good Luck!

  7. Philip December 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Can u write something abt how colors represent the human emotions, please

  8. Diana Lakes January 24, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Dear Lori,

    Do you list your green/ red yin yang palette of colors anywhere?


    Your paintings are beautiful!

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you Diana! I have not listed the other palettes, but plan to do so…thanks for the nudge.

Comments are closed.