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~Color Against Color~

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Last month I discussed warming and cooling colors by adding other colors. Color is also transformed by its surrounding colors. This brings to mind an oil painting of a portrait I once saw - the mans face appeared a sickly greenish tone. Weeks later, I saw that same painting in a gallery. The green face now looked healthy and warm. What changed? The artist simply reworked the background color from a pinkish red to greens and blues which brought out the warm skin tone.

Complimentary colors, placed side by side, will intensify one another. Red placed next to green looks redder and the green looks greener. Blue and orange placed side by side will intensify one another as well, and so on.

Color does not exist in isolation in a painting. It is influenced by what is placed next to it as well as what you mix with it. Every color can be intensified, lightened, darkened, cooled or warmed by its surrounding colors.

  The phenomenon of color contrast exists in every painting.
  Here are some examples:

The distant mountain which you painted blue appears gray in contrast with the brighter sky color. The blue sky is actually adding the complimentary orange to the mountain, which neutralizes the blue, thus making it look gray. The solution is to introduce a touch of warm color, such as yellow along the horizon line; or by adding some warm low-lying clouds.

  Another Example:

You're painting a vibrantly green forest. The center of interest is a large mossy rock - but the rock fails to hold your viewers attention. It can't be painted any greener. The solution is to introduce warmer tones behind the mossy rock. Some of the surrounding plants can be painted a brownish-red, as seen in nature. This simple change will intensify the greens of the mossy rock and restore its dominance as the center-of-interest.

As you control these color contrasts, your pictures will be more successful and your compositions much stronger.

More Tips:
Introduction Page | Optical Mixing | Translucent Water
Hue, Value, Intensity, Color Temperature | Composition | Technical Tips | Value Scale
Red Power | Keeping Acrylics Moist | Brush Care | Color | Young/Helmholtz

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