I often enjoy painting with a limited palette. A while ago, I limited my palette to only complementary colors using the ancient 5000 year old Chinese philosophy, the ‘balance of opposites’ or yin/yang.
After reading a favorite book – The Yin Yang of Painting I was so inspired by the artist, Hongnian Zhang, I decided to give this approach a try. I was pleased with my first attempt and wrote a blog post about the process: A Unique Approach to Improve Paintings Using Color Harmony
Here’s a crash course:
Everything in nature has its opposite. For example:
Every color has its opposite too! Each ‘primary’ color or hue (red, yellow, blue) is directly opposite a ‘secondary’ color (green, purple, orange).
These complementary colors are always found opposite each other on the color wheel:
Red – Green
Yellow – Purple
Blue – Orange
In the chart below, you can see each primary color is opposite its complementary color.
I took this photograph near my home at the end of winter. It is May now, and I have to admit that I am tired of winter and because of that, really didn’t feel like painting a winter scene….but, the natural complimentary colors of this scene drew me in…
For this painting I could have chosen any of the three primary/complementary limited palettes, but for this experiment I chose, the natural compliments –yellow and purple.
For the yellow pigments I used:
cadmium yellow medium – warm
cadmium yellow light – true
cadmium yellow pale – cool
yellow ochre – softer yellow
raw umber – softer yellow
For the purple pigments I used:
magenta – warm
alizarine crimson – true
ultramarine blue – cool
dioxazine purple – softer purple
and ivory black & titanium white.
©2010 Lori McNee Winter up Trail Creek” 12×24 oil/board
You can vary the above colors with your own choices, but it is best to always have a warm, true & cool representative for each complementary color.
Believe it or not, I am able to achieve an incredible variety of rich colors and muted grays that are found in nature using the limited palette. I am happy with the results…
I started to get the hang of painting with this palette so while the paints were fresh, I painted another. You can read more about this painting here: Snow Flurries Above the Big Lost.
©2010 Lori McNee Snow Flurries Above the Big Lost” oil/board
The last of the three complementary yin/yang palettes I will tackle, is the red and green palette. I will let you know how that goes when it is complete!
If you enjoyed this article you might like to read:
A Unique Approach Using Color Harmony to Improve Your Paintings What do you think about this method of painting?