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Calming Complementary Colors in Art

calming complementary colors bulb field Van Gogh

Complementary colors in art are two colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel. When used together, these colors yield an artwork that is bold and energetic. However, sometimes I don’t want energy in my artwork, but rather a calm feeling. And I also want a certain amount of liveliness that generates the viewer’s interest.

Red and green are complementary colors. When placed side by side at full intensity, the feeling is energetic, sometimes jarring.

Calm Down Energetic Color Combinations With White

I calm down complementary colors by mixing in white. This produces pastel-like, colors. Rather than jarring, complementary colors appear pleasing and calming. And the artwork is high-key, bright and lively.

Here’s red and green, each mixed with white, and much more calming to look at.

Complementary colors of orange and blue, or yellow and purple mixed with white are tranquil and harmonious.

Here are examples of my watercolor art using complementary colors mixed with white:

spring colors trees landscape

Spring is Here Number 2, watercolor © Rhonda Roth, All Rights Reserved

Colorful Vases, watercolor. © Rhonda Roth, All Rights Reserved

In Spring is Here Number 2, green and magenta (red) dominate this scene with a touch of blue. All three colors have white mixed in. The scene is reminiscent of the spring season, light and airy. Colorful Vases has muted orange, blue and green working together for a tranquil feeling.

The Complementary Colors of Monet and Van Gogh

Monet and Van Gogh used muted complementary colors to great artistic advantage:

Entrance to the Port of Trouville, Monet
Impression Sunrise, Monet
Enclosed Field With Rising Sun, Van Gogh

Bulb Fields, Van Gogh

In Entrance to the Port of Trouville, Monet uses extremely pale orange and blue for a light and warm daytime feeling. For Impression Sunrise, he chose to desaturate the the blue and orange colors giving a quiet mood to the port at sunrise. In contrast, Van Gogh’s Enclosed Field With Rising Sun uses purple and yellow for sunrise colors. Except for the sun, his colors are medium to pale in intensity. Bulb Fields shows Van Gogh using orange and blue as his dominant complementary colors, with light yellow for some of the bulbs and the sky.

Complementary colors are extremely versatile. Use them for bold, energetic artwork or for a calm and peaceful feeling. The choice is yours.

See How to Choose a Color Scheme for a Drawing (or really anything) and My Favorite Color Schemes in Art, for a description of more useful color schemes.

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