I often enjoy painting with a limited palette. A while ago, I limited my palette to only complementary colors using the ancient 5000 year old Chinese philosophy, the ‘balance of opposites’ or Yin & Yang.

©2018 Lori McNee, A Bit of Summer 16×20

After reading  The Yin Yang of Painting I was so inspired by the artist, Hongnian Zhang, I decided to give this approach a try. I was pleased with my first attempt and wrote a blog post about the process: A Unique Approach to Improve Paintings Using Color Harmony

Here’s a crash course:

Everything in nature has its opposite. For example:

  • moon/sun
  • black/white
  • day/night
  • sunrise/sunset

Every color has its opposite too! Each ‘primary’ color or hue (red, yellow, blue) is directly opposite a ‘secondary’ color (green, purple, orange).
These complementary colors are always found opposite each other on the color wheel:

  • Red – Green
  • Yellow – Purple
  • Blue – Orange

In the chart below, you can see each primary color is opposite its complementary color.

"complementary color wheel"


In the painting above, “A Bit of Summer,” I used a palette with blues and oranges. This combination feels pleasing to me.

For my painting “Backyard Chicken,” I used a limited palette with complimentary yin/yang colors of Green and Red. Notice how the painting has a lot of variations of green tones with a pop of red! I intentionally used the complimentary red to accentuate the focal point of the chicken. I like how they both turned out!

©2021 Lori McNee, “Backyard Chicken,” oil on canvas

It actually easy to achieve an incredible variety of rich colors and muted grays that are found in nature using the limited palette. Give Yin/Yang painting a try!

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read:

Use the Hidden Meaning of Color to Improve Paintings

The Importance of Value & Tone in Painting

A Unique Approach Using Color Harmony to Improve Your Paintings

~ Lori

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