View Full Version : Visual complements

01-30-2002, 10:47 PM
I ran across an interesting article on "visual" complementary colors by Hilary Page. The idea is that the visual complement to a color is not the same as the mixing complement. For example blue and orange mix to make gray, but blue is visually complemented by a warm yellow. The article can be found at
I was wondering if anyone new where I could read more about this concept. She gives a list of pigments by number along with the visual complement. I wonder how these "visual" complements are selected for each pigment. I can't wait to try using this concept in my paintings.


01-31-2002, 02:49 AM
use colors that look good to YOU.

ie,,,she likes blue/yellow. i think it's a HORRID combination that is almost impossible to resolve. so what does this all prove. nothing,,,,,

if you make judgement blindly by ANY formula, you're bound to go wrong. with all the subtle nuances and issues that you have to resolve in a painting of 1000's of brush strokes, formulas are ill equipped to serve you well..........unless all you paint are colored squares for color effect.....{M}

01-31-2002, 05:33 AM
The concept of "mixing complement" is connected to the "subtractive" colour mixing model, that means the reflective properties of two light absorbng dyes can (in appropriate mixture) combine to give us the experience of a neutral gray (whereas the real reflectance spectrum is different from a "real" neutral grey). This concept can help you mix the colours you want with the pigments (paints) you have.

The concept of "visual complement", in its pure form, is two monochromatic light emitters that can be combined to give us the experience of white light (while their combined spectrum is not "really" white), that means additive colour mixing. Translated to paint, you can combine (neighbour) two colours that look like two monochromatic complements and you get the experience of an intense chromatic contrast. Tis can help you to find color combinations that give a 'nice pop out', but you have still to take care for value etc. (you can experience strange things with a bright red and a bright green of the same value), and have to take care that your work does not look schematic or "just for the effect" if you cling to that concept too close too extensively, imho.

For a summarizing table of visual and mixing complemets the following link may be of some use:




01-31-2002, 07:56 AM
Cary, that was an interesting article. But while two colours may be defined as visual complements, it doesn't necessarily mean theyr'e the best choice in a painting. They might be, but don't take the theory as the 'final word'. Personally I find ultramarine blue and light yellow too garish. As Milt said, use your own sense of aesthetics as the final judgement.

But that being said, it's good that you're interested in visual complements...you're going beyond the trite colour wheels that we're all taught. That handprint page Martin recommended says it well:

"The mixing color wheel, at best, shows an artist
how to mix gray colors -- if he hasn't figured that out already -- and it doesn't even do that job very well. The visual color wheel shows us the true color harmonies, the color harmonies of the eye, and so unlocks the esthetic impact of a color

I too will try out some paintings using more the visual complements rather than the mixing complements, which are often (perhaps erroniously) used in the same vein. I think it'll give more visual impact, but whether or not it'll be more pleasant or harmonious-looking, I'll have to see.

01-31-2002, 02:03 PM
Thanks for all the feedback. Martin,that article was exactly what was looking for. I suspected that there was a lot of science behind the theory. The advise not to use it as a strict formula is well taken. It's like any techniqe, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.


02-01-2002, 07:52 AM
When Bruin70 speaks I listen.

02-01-2002, 10:09 PM
I'm with Milt on this one, I don't find a yellow like PY3 and a blue like PB29 to be good visual complements at all. Much as I respect Ms. Page's work this has more to do with her personal experience of colour than any science, despite her claims about the spun disc or pointillist effects, as the true subtractive colour complement works either way in my book. As the Handprint site puts it "The currently most accurate pairings of visual complementary colors are: yellow vs. blue violet, red orange vs. cyan, and magenta vs. green." She surrounds the lemon yellow with a violet that in no way represents an accurate complement, apart from anything the hue is not quite right and complements should also have the same value as well - Complementary Colour 101. She also makes no mention of saturation or chroma either, a major snafu in my book if she wants to get down to brass tacks.

The correct opposite to a green-yellow is a blue-violet of the same value and chroma. Since matching chroma is impossible in real terms we have to ignore it but getting the value and hue correct are pretty simple and one must realise you can't do it with a single-pigment colour, which is where part of the problem here lies I think as she's trying to give as simple an example as possible. In real terms the best complement for PY3 could be mixed, for example, from Ultramarine and a little Quinacridone Violet, lightened with Titanium White.

Visual complements of this type are necessarily objective, "the most popular complementary color pairings have actually varied over the past two centuries." In other words colour is a very personal thing - judge for yourself, I find both a and b to be more pleasing than the original (in each example the other principle hue remains completely unaltered).