Book Excerpts, New Thoughts about Painting

Color Theory – Complementary Colors

Ellen's Color Wheel - Ellen Jean Diederich

Complementary colors are important and the theory is endlessly helpful. The word complement is based on the fact that these colors complete each other. Go straight across the color wheel to find each color’s complement. Memorize the basics: red and green, orange and blue, violet and yellow. As opposites, complements can be very effective for contrasting and developing an interest area. Next to each other they vibrate by bring each other out. Complementary colors magically tone each other down when you mix the. A limited palette painting with two complements is a great exercise.



Ellen's Color Wheel - Ellen Jean Diederich


One time I did an oil painting and was working on a brown roof. The roof turned green when I got my knife in the Pthalo Blue. My teacher said, “So your roof has too much green—use the complement—red.” It worked. You can also use split complements. A split complementary color is where you go straight across the wheel adding not only the complement but also two colors on each side of it. I think of this as flavoring with what I call near complements. Since they are a little closer on the wheel they are  less dramatic but still vibrate beautifully.


Two fascinating complementary colors are yellow-green and red-violet. Both colors are either warm or cool depending on what they are next to. They take on an opposite stance of the dominant temperature surrounding them. They make playful highlights but it seems a little goes a long way. I’ve seen a lot of paintings with too much purple.


Jubilee 14″ x 22″

In Jubilee, I primarily used two “cool” complementary colors, Rose Madder Genuine, and Viridian. See how greens were often used to tone down or accent the dominant pinks. In the upper right corner the complements blend into beautiful darks.

Excerpt from Progressive Painting: Your Creative Journey © Ellen Jean DiederichGivinity Press


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