Here is a demonstration from start to finish in which visual complements are used for color enhancement.
I juxtaposed the yellow lemons with their visual complement, blue, to make the lemons appear especially brilliant. This “Lemons on Blue” Study is easy for you to duplicate at home or in your studio. All you need are a dozen fresh lemons, a couple of blue cloths, possibly a lemon squeezer and a knife, and hey presto! You can paint along!
I used a quarter sheet (11″ x 15″) of Arches 140 lb cold pressed paper and the following Daniel Smith paints. Their pigment numbers are shown in parentheses:
• Hansa Yellow Light (PY3)
• Ultramarine Blue GS (PB29)
• Hansa Yellow (PY97)
• Cobalt Blue (PB28)
• French Ultramarine RS (PB29)
• Quinacridone Rose (PB19r)
After carefully arranging my lemons and cloths by a north-facing window, I made a credit card-sized value sketch by squinting to help me see the value. I then did a line drawing to scale on sketch paper which I subsequently transferred to my watercolor paper using a light table. I don’t like to photograph a subject and trace a drawing from it since I find this boring and feel it destroys creativity.
I next squeezed out blobs of paints in three separate palettes for my blues, yellows and grays. I mixed the grays from Cobalt Blue, Quinacridone Rose and Hansa Yellow Light. I put about a teaspoonful of water in each palette. To complete my preparations, I placed an absorbent cotton towel that was a little larger than my watercolor paper on a flat surface near by. You’ll see why soon!
I thoroughly wet my watercolor paper on the front and back surfaces and then placed it on a slick plexiglas board. I rewet the edges. I had to work rapidly to complete this stage before the shine left the paper surface.
I dropped in the shadows and blue stripes on the top left-hand cloth; then I laid in the blue underpainting for the glass lemon squeezer on the solid blue cloth. Making sure the paper still had a shine, I laid in the lemons’ form shadows and cast shadows using a purplish-gray mixed from Cobalt Blue, Quinacridone Rose and a touch of Hansa Yellow Light.
Once finished with that, I quickly transferred the wet paper to the flat towel to avoid backruns around the edges.
If the shine had left the surface before I completed the shadows, I would have had to thoroughly dry the paper to set the paint and then rewet it to prevent watermarks from forming. I could also use this procedure to restate values. It is important to have the values correct at the preliminary stage so the second stage is a cinch.
On completely dry paper, using a bamboo pen, I drew several dots of masking fluid on the blue paint on the lemon squeezer to preserve the white highlights. Then I placed my paper on a cotton cloth on my plexiglas board so I would avoid backrun watermarks around the edge.
Before painting the lemon yellow on each lemon, I placed a blob of clear water for the highlight. I rewet the solid blue cloth in sections and dropped on the first wash of blue paint. Occasionally, I lifted out paint with a damp sable brush. I left the lemon by the knife unpainted in the illustration to show the sequence.
Studying my set-up carefully, I worked in small areas as shown. If I wanted a soft edge, I made sure the paint was surrounded by clear water it could merge into. If I wanted a hard edge, I painted on dry paper. Sometimes I turned my painting upside down to gauge the underlying shapes. Finally, I added the dark accents and details.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this step-by-step study for visual complements. There are many more such demonstrations in my books Watercolor Right from the Start and Color Right from the Start, and as here, each one illustrates a different aspect of watercolor or color theory. Hilary Page’s Guide to Watercolor Paints identifies the very best paints now available to you for your own painting endeavors!