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Introduction to Shading with Complementary Colors

Earth colours
The natural pigments these colours are based on are getting rarer and more expensive and will slowly be replaced with synthetic replacements. These should be as lightfast but they may not be able to match the exact character of each colour so it might be worth locating and purchasing stocks of any colour you are very fond of for the future, if you are not already too late.

Yellow Ochre (PY43)
A slightly neutralised medium yellow probably with an orange bias.
Mars Yellow (PY42) is very similar but usually more opaque and a touch darker.
Complement: would be a dull blue-violet, Ultramarine Violet and white will work fine or you could mix a closer match from Phthalo Blue and Cadmium Red Medium plus white.

Raw Sienna (PBr7)
This pigment has sadly almost completely vanished already, replaced with a mix of Mars Yellow (PY42) and Mars Red (PR101) typically. The good news is that Winsor & Newton's Quinacridone Gold (PO49) is a nearly perfect match in hue and transparency. Other manufacturers offer this pigment as well but you might want to check its character before you buy.
Complement: Cobalt Blue should be nearly perfect.

Burnt Sienna (PBr7)
A fairly dark, slightly neutralised red-orange noted for its transparency. As with Raw Sienna this is almost unavailable today. By reputation the replacements, usually PR101 or a mix of this with a yellow, can be very similar but I would check if possible before you buy.
Complement: Cobalt Blue also works quite well here, illustrating the point that you don't need an exact complement.

Red Oxide (PR101)
Light Red, English Red, English Red Oxide, Venetian Red and Indian Red are all quite similar.
An opaque, slightly neutralised, medium valued, red-orange. Mars Red has the same number and can be almost identical in hue and many Red Oxides are now made from this synthetic pigment.
Complement: Cobalt Blue works for this too, but Phthalo Blue works okay, giving a less neutral, cooler result.

Raw Umber (PBr7)
Apparently this can vary quite a bit from a dark yellowish olive-green to the more typical green-brown shade I prefer. I like it for warming up whites and as the basis of a good earth colour.
Complement: Quinacridone Violet should work well to neutralise this colour but you would need to add a touch of white to see the result.

Burnt Umber (PBr7)
This is usually the darkest of the earth colours, a deep chocolate brown sometimes with a slight violet look. Noted for producing 'chalky' mixtures with white, this can vary with the manufacturer.
Complement: because of the variety available an exact complement is impossible to advise, but Ultramarine usually works very well and you could try Viridian as well.

This final diagram shows examples of the hue positions listed above with representations of their direct complement. I have concentrated on the twin-primaries with a selected secondary in each case.

For anyone interested in knowing more, I highly recommend Blue And Yellow Don't Make Green by Michael Wilcox, ISBN 0891346228. This book presents the first fundamental analysis of practical colour mixing that experiment will bear out, with clear explanations of the technical issues, many colour mixing examples and recommendations for the palette.

If you can locate a copy, I have also found Liquitex's small booklet How To Mix & Use Colour useful, primarily for its colour table at the back (although it uses the Munsell hue positions which don't quite gel with Wilcox's theory) with a unique and very useful guide to colour relationships and matching. It also lists the pigments used in all the Liquitex colours, including their mixes, allowing you to easily make your own Sap Green, Parchment, Payne's Grey etc.

Please bear in mind that colours in all diagrams are only approximate as monitors vary enormously. If in doubt refer back to the text.

About the Author



That is the good old way to learn about colors and how to use contrast. Long time ago. We had multiple colors on our pallets to create forms with exciting lines....(I studied Art) Cool! RJ
JAN 20, 2020 - 03:26 AM