An artist, inspired to paint the Gothic and Florentine architecture outdoors in Prague, must choose between an almost limitless range of subtle colors to use. In this medieval city there are cooler hued buildings of stone with grayed lavenders, greens and blue browns. There are also warmer toned surfaces with ochre, yellows and oranges. Add to this an eclectic, no-rules range of color on many of the building's newly renovated surfaces, and you have a genuine, full palate field day! An artist needs to decide how to achieve color harmony in the shapes and nuances depicting these historic treasures if their next best painting is going to be a success.
Rod Cameron reveals the secrets behind his choices of color in the painting titled, "St. Michelos Cathedral - Prague". Notice how he breaks down color into groups of "warm" and "cool".
He tells students, "I saw the two towers in the sun as "warmer" mixtures: the thinner, taller steeple a mixture of cerulean blue and burnt sienna with white, and the main domed building a mixture of yellow ochre and burnt sienna with white."
Using these warm hues as a reference point, Cameron uses a split complementary, which indicated blues, lavenders with touches of viridian green for the shadows and in the street buildings on either side. These cooler shadow colors frame the scene and provide exact compliments to the warm Hues of the Cathedral in the sunlight.
To further enhance the warm atmosphere in the sunny part of this painting, the artist mixed cerulean blue into the sky. Cerulean blue, being the "warmer blue", supported the warm, sunny part of the composition and harmonized with the cerulean mixtures in the architecture.
To see how easy it is to find and select complementary, split complementary and other color combinations, Rod Cameron suggests to artists to make or get a hold of a simple color wheel, found at any art supplier, and just dial up a color. In the case of Rod Cameron's painting of St. Michelos in Prague, he pointed to orange on the color wheel as his initial reference point, for the sunny surfaces of the Cathedral. The compliment of orange is ultramarine blue, but Cameron chooses the split complimentary; the colors that you find on either side of blue. The color wheel beautifully illustrates, lavenders on one side, and blues with a touch of viridian green on the other side; the split complimentary colors that Rod Cameron uses in the painting.
Touches of your warm mixtures in your cool colors, and visa versa, will slightly gray things down, and go further to create great color harmony in your painting. The use of split complementary colors adds a greater range of color and more variety in your painting without sacrificing harmony.
Color wheels are inexpensive and give the artist a better understanding of the color families and how they relate to each other. Even after you've memorized all the color combinations, it still fun to refer to now and then, plus, the wheel just looks cool hanging on the wall. Every studio should have one!