VLQ: What is the Opponent to this?

VLQ: What is the Opponent to this?
VLQ: What is the Opponent to this?

So we learned here that, according to Traditional Color Theory and the color wheel, the Complement to Red is Green. Traditional Color Theory also tells us that mixing complements will make gray. Is that your experience?

Let’s test Traditional Color Theory with our Optical Mixing example…

Diagram 1: Mixed Complements
Diagram 1: Mixed Complements

What do we get on the far right? Mud, but why? Why not gray?

“A picture may easily become party-colored or motley, when the colours are placed next to each other in their full force, as it were only mechanically and according to uncertain impressions.” Johann von Goethe- Theory of Colors 1840.

Well, it was good advice… at the time.

How about another test. Focus on the star in the green square for about 30 seconds then focus on the star to the right…

Diagram 2
Diagram 2

Did you see see Red? Or, is it more like Magenta? Is it really there? What you just experienced is called an After Image and it’s the result of our brain compensating for the environment.

If you recall, from our friend Mr. Rood, Green is a Primary Color of light. When we mix the other two primaries of light (Red+Blue) we get Magenta. Try the above exercise again only this time shut your eyes after 30 seconds…

Did you see it?

Yes, it’s all in your head.

Now take a look at Diagram 3…

Diagram 3: Optical Opponents
Diagram 3: Optical Opponents

Do you see that the squares on the right all look similar? Kind of like gray? Are you beginning to understand what’s going on here? Goethe might.

Still think this only applies to light and has nothing to do with pigments? Well another video may be in order…

In the mean time, enjoy this.

Wayne Thiebaud: Cakes, National Gallery of Art
Wayne Thiebaud: Cakes, National Gallery of Art