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pmpknmonochrome monochromatic

I spent some time working with the simple color combinations we talk about and use all the time.  I try to cover these in every beginning class I teach and then keep tossing out reminders in the advanced classes.  Sometimes, our paintings just aren’t what they could be.  We confuse our viewers with too much color or don’t provide enough contrast with our colors. We know we can paint anything! any color we choose! We can create a pink horse, a green person, and change the grass to black and the sky to purple if we want! But we do need to be mindful of our viewer if we want our work to have contrast and read well for a viewer.

I sat down with 6 x 9 inch pieces of 140 lb Arches watercolor paper and practiced painting this pumpkin in the five color combinations I talk about in classes.

The first combination is monochromatic. That means taking one color and rendering your entire painting in that color or variations of that color. I chose paynes grey for this one. There could be many versions of a monochromatic. It all depends on how much of the painting you decide to leave white and how much you make your darkest darks and how much midtone values you include. I will save that exercise for another day.

pmpknanalagous analagous

The above example is an analagous color scheme of orange and yellow. Analagous paintings are those that have colors next to each other on the color wheel and one of the colors is usually dominant. I believe the orange is the dominant in this and could have stretched my color range to include red, but opted for a neutral of burnt umber instead. This one stretched my value skills because I chose to paint more of the pumpkin than in the monochromatic example. I had to use varying amounts of water to get the value transitions in yellow and orange.

pmpkncompliment complimentary

Complimentary colors are those found opposite each other on the color wheel. Mixed together, they can cancel each other out to appear black. Next to each other and they enhance contrast. I used no other colors than one orange and one blue to create the pumpkin above. Had I chosen to paint an apple, I’d choose red and green. Had I chosen to paint a lemon, I’d choose yellow and purple.

pmpknsecondary  secondary triad

This is where it gets fun! I could use three colors!  The secondary triad is composed of the secondary colors orange, green and violet on the color wheel. I liked this one, because it looks the most believable for the subject of a pumpkin. I liked how these three colors produced varying shades for all the shadows in this. I found this painting  more soft and relaxing, in appearance, when compared to the next one I tried.

pmpknprimary primary triad

The last color combination I tried was the primary color triad of red, yellow and blue. Wow! This one became so vibrant because I could use bright yellow and red to create my oranges and even the blue came through as vibrant on this one. I would call this my festive pumpkin. There seems to be more energy in a primary color painting.

Try this one with a simple reference and see what you come up with. These are the only color combinations I teach. It does not mean I stick with only those colors. I add other colors to my paintings. BUT, if I squint at them and there is not a distinct look of one of the above color combinations in them, I go back in develop the painting more until there is.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Thank you to wet canvas for the image of the pumpkin I used for my reference.


  1. A valuable lesson and one to return to occasionally. I do like the analogous one!

    • Thank you, Kathy. I pay attention to my color choices when I paint but had never taken the time to try this with one simple reference. What it really caused me to think about was all the different variations of each color combination I could try, also. Art is just simply amazing and thank you for sharing that about the analagous one. It would be interesting to know the preferences of each who comment.

  2. Absolutely delightful examples, each one with its own beauty.Loved the primary triad a lot more!

    • Thank you, Padmaja! It is so interesting that the two comments I have received have listed a different color combination as their preference, so thank you for sharing that. I do think the primary one is the most colorful of the three.

  3. Great post Leslie. I’ve never had it broken down and explained to me before -explains some of my good, bad and indifferent choices. My fav is the analogous.

    • The analagous, really? So interesting. That one has two thumbs up, now. I don’t think there is anything set about any colors you choose. Obviously we can choose any colors we want and render anything we see or I would not be able to paint this same pumpkin and it still look like a pumpkin. Frank Eber has a color post up about how he uses the temperature of color in his paintings, Here: if you are interested in following up on some more ideas about color. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

  5. Informative and educational. You are the quintessential teacher. 🙂
    I like analogous but the others are great too. That primary triad pumpkin is ready for a party. LOL!

    • That’s the way I feel. I love that primary colored pumpkin for the bright color, the analagous for the bumpy feel of it and the secondary because it looks so fall-like. Thank you!

  6. Komos, a great lesson plan for teaching use of color. Use of color and values are one of the most difficult challenges painting. Thanks for the info.

    • Inese Poga Art Gallery
    • Posted November 21, 2014 at 9:00 pm
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    • Reply

    Genuinely fantastic playing, I have to admit!

    • Thank you, Inese! Painting these brought to mind all the different choices we get to have when we paint.

  7. Really good post. Shows that while color is important to create a mood, it is not what makes a painting. Many artists work is confusing and hard to read. It is so easy to get too involved and do too much when you want to convey a simple message! I always say in my workshops, if it doesn’t read within 30 seconds, your painting failed!

  8. Im drawn to the complimentary one myself!! I love painting with complimentary colors though! What a great post. Im going to have to try this project again soon it seems like a long time since ive done a color study like this :~)

    • Now, if I’d added some yellow 🙂 but I stayed true to blue and orange in it. Thank you, Jackie!

  9. They are all so fantastic! Color is another one of those things I should study up on, though maybe I’ll just use your tips! Seems like a great foundation. I bet your classes are the best. 😀

    • I just used tips from a good book on the topic for a long time, Cindy, and applied those tips to whatever I was working on. I did this to demonstrate to my students that you can paint anything any color and have it come out believable by following some easy combinations. Thank you! I always like your color choices! 🙂

  10. Such an interesting exercise. I think I like the triads the best. The complementary one didn’t have enough for me.

  11. What important information. Thank you for the reminder!

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  1. […] second class was devoted to learning the color wheel and the basic color combinations. I taught them how to crop and then grid a photo reference and […]

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