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Introduction to Shading with Complementary Colors


Figure modellers generally use one of two schools of shading: complement shading and what I term hue shading, when you use a violet to shade crimson or brown to shade orange for example. The later is quite easy to use and can give acceptable results but the former is regarded as providing a closer approximation to what is observed in the real world - shadows are not only darker, they typically also show a loss in chroma, which hue shading does not accurately replicate but complement shading does. These two methods do not have to be mutually exclusive however - since one provides subdued, more realistic shadows and the other provides brighter, more intense shadows you can pick and choose between them depending on personal preference and circumstances and even use both principles together. The underlying principle of complement shading is very simple but there can be little doubt that it is tricky to implement for most people; the basic rules take only a few minutes to learn but a more complete appreciation can take quite a while longer. I hope this will help speed up this process, with a fairly comprehensive explanation of the rules and a large number of specific examples. If you approach this methodically and above all practice there is no reason why the hobbyist cannot soon match or exceed the mixing abilities of professional artists.

In addition to their use in shading, complements used sparingly are the best way to slightly dull a colour, for example if you want a brick-red for a Colonial-era British coatee Cadmium Red Medium is a good start but is far too intense straight from the tube; if you mix in a little green however it will be a much more acceptable match. This guide is aimed primarily at oil painters who on the whole have bright, intense colours in their palettes that really need to be subdued for modelling purposes; any discussion of complements I feel should additionally include recommendations on colour for the palette and these will all be artists' colours. Those using hobby colours can apply the underlying principles set out here to their chosen range with a little study and experimentation.


2002 Einion Rees - All Rights Reserved. Used with his permission and reprinted from HMForum with the permission of Chito Faustino.
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