A most common way to practice complementary colors is simple choose a pair and limited your palette to those two (plus tints, shades, mixtures maybe). Like this:
Whichever pair of colors we choose, it is most likely one warm and one cool. In a painting lesson I took years back, we used the complementaries a bit differently. We create a painting in cool colors, and paint the warm complementaries on top. Here’s the result:
Unfortunately I failed to take a picture of the cool painting underneath, though I did let the cool colors showed through here and there. The colors were not strictly restricted to one pair of complementary colors, but it is within certain range.
I’d say the result is quite different than if I started with these topical colors. There’s a solidity and unity unique to this method.
A couple of years ago, I went to Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade exhibition at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Among the 40 Impressionist paintings and drawings about French fashion, American artist Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926)’s pastel drawing made quite an impression on me. The gentle and soft gradation on the face of the little kid is surrounded by quick and dynamic lines, showcasing of the caring nature of a woman and the expressiveness of an artist.
I believe if there’s a shortcut in learning art, that would be copying masters. It forces me to look at each piece so closely, I start to see not just their composition, color or value choices, but also the procedures in execution. It helps a lot in thinking through and carrying out my own work. I just wish I could do more and more often. [*Most of the copies in this series were done a while ago and the link to the “original” was not necessarily the reference I used at the time.]
The first one is an assignment from a years ago drawing class. Courbet’s (French painter leading the 19th century Realism movement) original is an oil painting, and my copy is done with soft pastel.
What I learned is that pastel is a powerful and versatile painting tool, but it takes patience to build it up. Secondly, it’s not easy to “let it go.” Certain things meant to fade into the background or merge with the environment, but it takes skill and vision to achieve that.