Color Studies for Painters; Complementary Color chart

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In our first oil color study, we are using a monochromatic (one color) harmony. We need to  prepare colors and values ahead of time, so that we know exactly what we will be painting with.

Our dominant color will be cobalt blue, which will be the overall scheme of the painting. To neutralize and deepen the values of the cobalt, we will mix proportions of it’s complement with it, in this case burnt sienna – a nice earthy, warm, dark orange color. This mixture will create richer darks instead of using black, which will dull the color.

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First we mark off a 5 x 5 inch grid. The chart will be painted within the grid in a blended method, going from dark to light and complement to complement.

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The top row is pure cobalt with additions of titanium white added gradually to create lighter tints. The same with the bottom row, with the burnt sienna. The middle row is 50% blue with  50% burnt sienna mixed pure in the left with gradual additions of titanium white. This mixture creates a beautiful grey that will be mixed with the cobalt blue to neutralize and create darker values.

The second and fourth rows have different proportional mixtures of each. Row 2 is roughly 75% blue/25% sienna, while row 4 is 75% sienna/25% blue.

Here’s the beginning sketch of my bird painting with light to dark values of the blue and sienna mixtures, being careful to keep the harmony’s appearance blue:

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I like to paint on wood panels treated with a pecan tinted polyurethane finish – a nice golden color that harmonizes well with any palette, any temperature. Now for the background and the bird stand:

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This is painted loosely in an alla prima technique – values and color are painted all at once, in one session, not layered or glazed. It’s amazing how much richer a darker value will be when it’s created with a combination of complementary colors, instead of just adding black.


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