b r i a n  m a h i e u . c o m
home | bio | paintings | artist's statements | daylilies | hybridizer's statement | contact  

OPTICAL COMPLIMENTS VS PIGMENTARY COMPLIMENTS
and thoughts for using Optical Complimentaries in gardening and hybridizing

This page explores the difference between traditional complimentary colors based on the Red-Yellow-Blue color wheel and optical compliments based on visual phenomena that are a result of the effects of light on the human eye.  These optical compliments are illustrated by the Red Green Blue color wheel.
Red Yellow Blue triad
Red Yellow Blue color wheel (triad)
Image courtesy of www.color-wheel-pro.com
used by permission
Red Green Blue color wheel
Red Green Blue color wheel (triad)
Image courtesy of www.color-wheel-pro.com
used by permission


The first image below shows the Red-Yellow-Blue color wheel on the left.  Complimentary colors based on this system are found directly opposite one another on the color wheel.  This relationship is illustrated by the first row of paired color swatches.

The second set of color swatches shows the RYB hue on the top and its Optical Compliment on the bottom.  Optical Compliments are arrived at by staring at a particular color until the rods in one's eye are fatigued to that hue.  After this, the "optical compliment" will appear as a neon halo around the original hue.

pigmentary vs optical compliments


Larger versions of the two different color wheels and the complimentary color charts are found below.

I used web-safe colors to make these color wheels and arrived at the optical compliments by staring at a square of the RYB hue on my computer screen (with a white background)  and then picking a web-safe hue that was closest to the optical compliment I saw.  This first graphic will give you a good idea of the difference between Pigmentary and Optical Compliments.  To many artists, Optical Compliments are the true complimentary hues, and when maximum contrast is needed they seem to provide the most intense optical vibrations.  Bear in mind that actual optical compliments are more intense than those pictured below.
Red-Yellow-Blue color wheel
RGB color wheel based on light
If you stare at the dividing line between the RYB colors on the left and the optical compliments on the right you can see the true optical compliment appear as a neon glow between the two hues.  The websafe colors I used to create this image did not capture the chroma (intensity) of the optical compliments.

Applications in Garden Design and plant hybridizing

Optical Compliments form the basis for much of Impressionist art theory.  It is an exciting phenomena as it is actually based on how our eyes work, rather than an artificially imposed theory or system of seeing (like the RYB color wheel).  I believe that Garden Design and plant breeding programs could benefit by incorporating the use of optical complimentaries.

Color Theory and Daylilies

The below color wheel below based on Don Jusko's www.realcolorwheel.com shows the palette of hues that early daylily hybridizers  had to work with (naturally occurring species).  This The palette of the foundation stock was restricted to the yellow and orange portion of the spectrum with H. fulva rosea contributing some more pink shades and some blue pigment (delphinidin) in the eyezone.  In just over a century hybridizers have expanded this palette to include many purples and lavenders with varying degrees of blue in them.  In my breeding program, the best near whites come out of lines of purple breeding.  The theory is that if you breed out the fulvous orange pigments you allow the clarity of the blue and purple pigments to show through.  There is definitely blue pigment in daylilies, the challenge is isolating it from the other pigments.  This graphic illustrates the difficulty of that endeavor.  Some of my best white, purple and lavender seedlings are shown.

Daylily Color Wheel based on Don Jusko's real color wheel

home | bio | paintings | artist's statements | daylilies | hybridizer's statement | contact  

Copyright 2003 Brian Mahieu all rights reserved.