Complementary color scheme in watercolours

Recently, I have been working on a series of watercolour paintings of the Moai heads on Easter Island, Chile.  my wife and I visited the island on our honeymoon (I know, not the most romantic place- but we continued onward to tropical Tahiti).

We stayed on Easter Island for five days, and loved it.  We visited the ruins at sunrise, sunset, saw a white scorpion, ate at a restaurant run by the Easter Island version of Pauly Shore, and (potentially) saw a UFO.

As an artist, and an artist who has been painting a short time, my goat is to create fresh, and different looking paintings every time I touch my brushes.  Monochromatic color schemes, hi-key, low-key, poured paint, mouth atomizers- the possibilities are endless.  I often look through books and magazines, facebook, or flickr to get ideas for color schemes and styles too.

Somehow, I decided my next painting would be a limited palette piece of complementary colors.  I am partial to blue, so orange would be my complement.

Unfortunately, I suck at making orange!  Not sure why.  Probably because it is a color I do not use much.

To plan my colors, I created a color chart of different Winsor Newton blues in my collection.  A few of these colors are standards on my palette:  Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean, and Cobalt Blue.  Winsor Blue (Green shade) and Indranthrene Blue are colors I rarely use, but I included them anyways.

For my orange selection, I decided to use Naples Yellow, a paint I NEVER use- too opaque for my tastes.  Naples Yellow, when used in light washes, appears yellowish, but when applied thickly has more of a yellow-orange appearance.

Naples Yellow is a color that looks different fresh out-of-the-tube in contrast to dry on a painting.  When squeezed from a tube, it is a pale yellow.  On a painting, it takes a yellow-orange cast.

The chart at the top shows my blues surrounded by a field of Naples Yellow.  Based on the outcome, I selected indanthrene blue to be it’s complement.

Where the silhouette of the Moai appeared in the sky, I decided to use swatches of Indian Yellow in the preliminary sketch at the bottom.

Below is the (mostly) finished 14×20″ piece, based on my watercolor studies:

This is a quick photograph I shot this evening-there is a hot spot from the overhead light.  Otherwise, the blue sky remains the same value throughout.

I am happy with this watercolor painting.  I have never worked in a style this graphic, and am now reminded of works by Jonathan Frank.

My travel photography collection can be viewed online at:

My paintings can be found on facebook,  and my website.

Lately, I have been experimenting with YUPO.  And I love it.  I’ll post those pieces soon.

Happy painting


Ryan Fox

(919) 645-8345






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