Use Complements to Make Collage Art Pop

collage complementary colors
Dark red and olive green complement each other.
Art by Magaly Ohika.

cate pratoI once wrote a poem that used complementary colors as a metaphor a relationship. Something about how if you mix orange and blue together too quickly you get dirt brown, but if you blend them slowly and carefully, you get the sunset on the sea.

Please forgive me. I was very young. And the guy was very wrong for me.

But artistically speaking, there is some merit to my metaphor. On the color wheel, opposites do attract. The colors directly across from each other on the color wheel are called complementary, meaning they enhance each other.

When used in the right proportions they produce a lovely vividness of color, but mixing them together in paint form can make mud.

Most people with more than a passing interest in art making are aware of the basic complementary color sets: red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple.

The trick is in tweaking their saturation to get more sophisticated combinations. For example, red and green together right out of the bottle can scream "Christmas!"  But if you shift your colors to pink (a shade of red) and spring green, you get a classic combination that isn't so wintry.

interactive color wheel for collage
Interactive color wheel showing yellow-purple complements.
complementary colors in collage
Three examples of atypical complementary pairs.

Knowing color basics like this doesn't just work for painting; it can really help when you're creating a collage. Using a complementary color in your collage will help make other colors in your composition pop. If you had a collage with mostly lemon-yellow tones, adding just a touch of deep purple in the shadows or to the focal point of your piece can magically make the yellow come alive.

The new Cloth Paper Scissors eMag Collage in Color does a great job of illustrating how this works.

In the article Color Corner, Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason goes over the basics of complementary color theory. Then you can click on the interactive color wheel to see which colors complement which and zoom in on the examples of how to use complementary colors in the gallery.

You can download Collage in Color to your PC or Mac right now and play with complementary colors all day!

P.S. My favorite complementary combination is periwinkle and persimmon. What's yours? Share in the comments section below.

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