Complementary Colors - A LOVE story

Every color has a soulmate who brings out the best in them.

February is the month when we celebrate romantic love.


What I’ve learned in my search for true partnership is that your soulmate is not someone who comes to complete you, to make things easy or to wrap your life up in a perfect “happily ever after” bow.


A soulmate is someone who brings out your best self by acting as your transformer. They lovingly see directly into your soul and call you forward by exposing you to the flaws that keep you from achieving your highest potential, so you can heal yourself.


Elizabeth Gilbert says “a soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. From this, something beautiful happens, and the real “You” is revealed, acknowledged, and finally celebrated".


Ideally, both participants reciprocate this role for each other.


In the early 1800s Michel Eugene Chevreul, the chief chemist and director of color quality at the dye house for Gobelin’s Tapestries, observed that a single fiber would look different in different parts of the tapestry.


He thought, at first, that his dyes had faded or were somehow defective. Yet carefully mixed and dyed colors frequently failed to achieve the desired effect…when the tapestry was woven, the color looked different….but why?


He discovered that the color changes were not caused by faulty pigments, but by the influence of neighboring color tones. Chevreul found out, among other things, that when two colors touch, the edge where they touch seems to be slightly brighter. He defined this interaction as “simultaneous contrast” because our mind alters the two adjacent colors, when seen by the eye, to appear as dissimilar as possible.


Chevreul used the color wheel to explain this simultaneous interaction noting that “the contrast of the most opposite colors is most agreeable…the complementary assortment is superior to every other.


Complementary colors used in large quantities will make each other more brilliant because the muted background color will repel the color of the object’s color field. They reciprocate by strengthening the best qualities in their mate.




Science explains this effect on our eyes. The retina of the eye contains three types of rods and cones which are each specialized in detecting one primary color - red, green, and blue. When one set of detectors, for example, red gets overloaded they rest, and then the opposite color, green, becomes stronger to our perception. With extended looking the mind strengthens both colors and the effect is brilliant, vibrating color.


You were probably first introduced to the color wheel in elementary school. Each complementary pair is placed opposite the other around the wheel. When mixed together these two complementary colors cancel each other out to form a supportive neutral gray or brown color. When placed next to each other they create the strongest possible contrast. On the six slice color wheel, one color is a primary (red, yellow, or blue meaning it cannot be mixed from the other colors) and its opposite (complement) is created by combining the other pair of primary colors; red/green, yellow/violet, blue/orange.


Painters began applying this knowledge of simultaneous contrast of complements during the early 1900s. Van Gogh, Seurat, Monet, Cassatt, and Turner, all studied Chevreul and employed complementary color to great effect in their work.


You can make your own color planning much less stressful by basing your artwork on a complementary pair of colors. Mixed together each complementary pair provides hundreds of beautiful neutral supporting chords for showing off your brilliant passages of pure color. When you are stuck with too much “mud” in your painting, consider bringing in a brilliant complement, or if you have too much brilliance, you can mix up a neutral complement in the background that will strengthen the areas you like best.


l use this concept of color soulmates when teaching the more subtle applications of the color wheel. Knowing that red will be its best and most brilliant self in the presence of green makes my color games more playful and more fun. It also helps me and my students to step away from reliance on the dull colors in our photographs into more inventive color harmonies. If you would like to explore color interaction in more depth please reach out to me. I welcome the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the years in private classes, group settings, and/or workshops.


My wish for you this year is that you discover your complement: a reciprocal match who helps you to uncover, polish, and shine your own brilliance and allows you to show them off in their best light as well.


I am here to support you in your artistic evolution. I invite you to allow me to lovingly guide, and accompany you in your artistic growth.

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