Take a close look at Matisse’s painting The Dance, shown above. What is it about this painting that makes it “pop”? The dancers seem like they’re almost floating on top of the background. Why is that?
Matisse was a master colorist, so he chose his colors carefully. He knew that when orange and blue are placed next to each other, they each appear brighter and more intense. Here’s why:
Orange and blue are complementary colors. Complementary colors have a special relationship because they are opposites on the color wheel. Take a look at the color wheel below:
You’ll notice that yellow and blue are also complementary colors. Red and green make up another complementary pair.
When complementary colors are placed next to each other in a painting or drawing, the artwork seems to vibrate. Complementary pairs can make an artwork more eye-catching and dynamic. For this reasons, many artists (like Matisse) make the conscious choice to use complementary colors in their compositions.
If you look closely at the color wheel, you’ll notice that the complement of each primary color is the combination of the other two primary colors. This means that:
- Yellow + Red = Orange, which is the complement of Blue.
- Red + Blue = Purple, which is the complement of Yellow.
- Blue + Yellow = Green, which is the complement of Red.
When you examine these colors on the color wheel, you can see how they are related. You will also note that the complements of the primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are all secondary colors (green, purple and orange).
The next time you make art, keep the complementary colors in mind to see if you can make your painting more dynamic.