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  • Elizabeth Reich

There is More Than One Way to Compliment

Updated: Jul 25

One is taught to pick up a color wheel and select the color opposite to find the mixing compliment. But, what happens when you have three blues?

You need to learn the biases of each blue:

  • Indanthrone (PB60) – blue violet

  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) – violet blue

  • Phthalocyanine (phthalo) Blue (PB15:3) – is Blue

In watercolor you have a challenge – the bias of the pigment

Blue can be biased to red or green. Yellow can be biased to green or red. Red can be biased to yellow or blue.

Why does this matter?

It matters because if you mix a Yellow biased to red with a Blue biased towards green – you can end up with a muddy green, which might work for an organic painting. To get a pure green you need a blue biased towards green and a yellow biased towards green. Like Phthalo Blue and a Lemon Yellow.

A beautiful pure Purple mix occurs when you mix Ultramarine Blue – a pigment biased to red, with PV19 a Rose color biased towards blue. Notice how you are consistently mixing red and blue?

What about orange? Seek out a Red-Orange and a Yellow-Orange or Yellow with no bias. I like Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) and either Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65) or Benzimidazolone Yellow (PY154) or Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97) mixed with it. Each of these choices will yield a different hue of pure orange.

So what's this chart?

My visual interpretation of one I read by Bruce MacEvoy of Visual vs Mixing Complements chart that expresses how he reaches neutral mixtures, and so much more.

Elizabeth's color swatch chart uses pigment codes found on the side of watercolor tubes of paint.

To gain further insight please visit the original source at:

After all of this, thinking you want to simplify?

You can! With just 3 tubes of paint! Lots of water to pigment ratio and mixing practice can lead to 3 colors creating 144 colors, plus black and earth tones.

My 3 CMY primaries used in the chart pictured:

  • Benzimidazolone Yellow (Joe's Yellow PY154)

  • Permanent Rose (Winsor & Newton PV19) or use a PR 122 Magenta

  • Phthalocyanine Blue (PB15:3)

I learned this from Emma from Black Chalk Co Colour Theory 101 class, which was part of The Watercolour Academy. While this no longer exists you can find her sharing tips for beginners at Wild Colours .

There is still more to Decoding Color

For this I created an infographic, using a dark value color - Dioxazine and a Mid-Value, a color I seldom use, Organic Vermillion. This chart defines and explains Hue, Tint, Tone, Shade, as well as Value and Saturation.

This brings up a debate about using white in watercolor. Usually one tints with white, but in traditional watercolor water is added to the color. My take? If the color you are trying for just doesn't appear with water, and does with white – go for the white.

My reasoning: I am finding plenty of convenience colors (colors with more than one pigment) that include white. However, if you are entering a contest be sure to read the rules, I have found some where the use of white is not allowed.

The infographic shows the tint of the two colors I used with water and with white, see the difference for yourself.

While you can mix your own black, you can also purchase black watercolor to shade. Just know mixing your own black (from 3 primaries, or 2 compliments) then shading a color with this mix, sometimes gives your painting a little more life, same goes for gray. Just watch out for muddy colors that dry dull.

Have fun mixing and discovering new colors, or as I say:

"creating colorful puddles"
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