A Closer Look at Complementary Colors www.segmation.com

"The Dance" by Matisse

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.

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20 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Complementary Colors www.segmation.com

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  5. Peter

    Argh! Color theory has always been the bane of my existence!

    I was never very subtle about color, but I LOVE color. And that, my friend, is about as far as my color theory goes. Great blog!

  6. jubileejourney

    I have not thought about this since art class decades ago. You spoke of the “pop” and I immediately thought of a photo I took of a red (red/orange) flower against some green leaves and a brilliant blue sky. The flower pops off the page. I will definately keep this in mind when I set up shots in the future.


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