Find Color Courage With This Trick

Hi, Dina Wakley here. I’m excited to share a little tip with you from my new DVD, Art Journal Color Courage. People tell me all the time that I’m good with color. Here’s my secret … I’m good with color because I memorized the color wheel.

Yep! I’ve got the color wheel memorized. Having this info in my brain helps me:
• Choose a contrasting color when my work needs some pop or visual impact.
• Figure out why my work is turning muddy.
• Choose colors that I know will blend together well and make other pleasing colors when they mix.

Until you can commit the color wheel to your memory, you should buy one (or print one) and put it in the front of your journal and/or over your workspace so you can refer to it quickly and often. Once the colors become ingrained in your psyche, you’ll find you don’t have to think as much about color, and you’ll start making intuitive choices that are grounded on solid principles.

Here’s a little homework for you—I want you to memorize which colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Opposite colors are called complementary colors. Complementary colors look great together and give the most visual impact when they’re paired together. Complementary colors also make brown when they mix. By memorizing complements, you can save yourself mud-making trauma by not using them in the same wet layer. And, you can add a complement to your work if it seems a little safe or boring.

The basic color complements are:

Blue and orange. Try to find something you can associate with blue and orange to help you remember. For example, the uniforms for the Florida Gators are blue and orange.
Red and green. You can remember this one by associating it with Christmas colors. Also note that pink and green are complements, since pink is red plus white.
Purple and yellow. You can remember this one by associating it with Easter (think of purple and yellow eggs), or maybe the uniforms for the Lakers.

So now that you know what the complements are, how do you put the knowledge into practice? To avoid mud, avoid putting complements in the same wet layer. On the piece above (left), there’s a little bit of green in the background, along with lots of blues. The complement to green is red (or pink), so I added pink hearts to give this piece life and energy. I avoided mixing green and pink in the background layer because they would have turned muddy when they mixed.

To add visual pop to your work, evaluate what color you have the most of, and then add a little bit of that color’s complement somewhere on the page. On the page above (right), the dominant colors are blue and purple. I added bits of yellow (the complement to purple) to brighten it up and give it some energy. Easy peasy, right? What are your favorite color combinations?

You’ll find more of my color tips and methods in the video. You can find me at


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques