Artist Palette Profiles: Dr. Oto Kano’s Complementary Color Wheel

I’ve learned so much about paint from Oto Kano’s Youtube channel, including comparing similar colors to each other, and finding my favorite version of such-and-such a color with their Colossal Color Showdown series. Recently, I became a patron, so I’m receiving a steady stream of multi-brand dot cards to feed my color curiosity!

Oto lays out their palette in a really unusual way: it’s a circular palette laid out in a color wheel. Colors are chosen in complementary pairs so that the colors opposite each other on the wheel are always complementary. It’s an incredibly systematic way to keep track of color theory information!

Oto Kano inspired palette


There’s a lot less wiggle room than there normally is here to choose colors, since each variation from Oto’s color choice requires a corresponding tweak on its opposite. Instead of providing individual variations on each color, I’ll go through general complementary pairs from my color library.

Bruce MacEvoy’s Complementary Mixing Table is a useful cheatsheet.

Yellow + Blue-Violet

Oto Kano has:

  • Holbein – Permanent Yellow Deep (PY74/PY83)
  • Schmincke – Ultramarine Violet (PV15)


It’s hard to find a good complement for a primary yellow, which is why Oto Kano chose to include the somewhat unusual color of Ultramarine Violet.

Ultramarine Violet + Lemon Yellow
WN Ultramarine Violet (PV15) + WN Winsor Lemon (PY175) on Arches cold press

The yellow Oto chose is a midway point between a cool/middle (e.g. Lemon Yellow (PY175), Pure Yellow (PY154), Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150)) and a deep orangey yellow (e.g. Isoindolinone Yellow Deep (PY110), Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)). While Ultramarine Violet isn’t really a direct complement to any of these single pigment yellows (which I think is why Oto chose a mix), it would work okay with any of them, as well as with earth yellows like Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, or MANS.

Orange + Violet-Blue

Oto Kano has:


Personally I think the best complement with Ultramarine is an earth orange like a Burnt Sienna (PBr7), Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), or Quin Burnt Orange (PO48).

Transparent Red Oxide + Ultramarine
Daniel Smith Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) + Holbein Ultramarine Deep (PB29) in a Wonder Forest sketchbook

Transparent Orange (PO71) also tends to work quite well.

Ultramarine Blue + Transparent Pyrrol Orange
Holbein Ultramarine Deep (PB29) + DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) on Stilman & Birn Alpha paper

Oto Kano’s choice of orange is yellower, which makes me think that some of the orangey or earthy yellows I listed in the previous category might work here as well.

Monte Amiata Natural Sienna + Ultramarine Blue
Daniel Smith Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7) + Holbein Ultramarine Deep (PB29) in a Wonder Forest sketchbook

This is also an opportunity to swap Ultramarine Blue for my favorite, Indanthrone Blue (PB60). The DS version is quite purple-toned so has the same mixing complements, though if using another brand, most of them are greener, so you’d have to make the complement more scarlet-ish.

Transparent Pyrrol Orange + Indanthrone Blue
Daniel Smith Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) + Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue (PB60)

Red-Orange + Cyan

Oto Kano has:


There are plenty of vermilions, such as Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255) and Scarlet Lake (PR188), that complement Phthalo Blue GS quite well. You could also get into earthier scarlets such as Deep Scarlet (PR175) and Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206). I wouldn’t use Quin Coral (PR209), as much as I like that color, because it goes purple with blue, not gray.

Deep Scarlet + Phthalo Blue Green Shade
DS Deep Scarlet (PR175) + Holbein Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3) on Arches

I like the idea of keeping the Phthalo Blue constant here because it’s quite a useful color. However, if you choose to go with a more greenish color, such as Phthalo Turquoise, then consider going a bit more on the red side with your red color. If you choose a more middle blue, such as Phthalo Blue Red Shade, consider going a bit more orangey, such as Pyrrol Orange (PO73) or Transparent Orange (PO71).

Transparent Pyrrol Orange + Phthalo Blue Red Shade
DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) + DS Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15:6) on Canson XL paper

Scarlet + Turquoise

Oto Kano has:

  • Holbein – Scarlet Lake (PO73/PV19/PR254)
  • Daniel Smith – Phthalo Turquoise (PG36/PB15:3)


I find this pair pretty reduplicative with the above and would consider it an alternative version rather than a second set you must have, but YMMV. If you’ve chosen transparent colors above, it might be neat to use Pyrrol Scarlet and Cobalt Turquoise here as a sort of opaque alternative.

Cobalt Turquoise + Pyrrol Scarlet
Schmincke Horadam Cobalt Turquoise (PG50) + Daniel Smith Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255) on Wonder Forest paper

Rose + Green

Oto Kano has:


I love Quin Rose so I’m not eager to replace it, though if you go with a more bluey primary magenta like Quin Magenta (PR122), Quin Fuchsia (PR202), or Opera Pink, you might need to make the green even more yellowy. Consider Phthalo Yellow Green or a Spring Green, or going earthy with a Sap Green.

For Quin Rose, I think Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG36) would also work as a complement, though Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7) tends to be too blue and to make purples. PG7 might work if you use more of a middle red here such as Pyrrol Red (PR254).

Da Vinci Red Rose Deep (PV19) + WN WInsor Green Yellow Shade (PG36) on Wonder Forest paper

Red-Violet + Green

Oto Kano has:


I find it interesting that Oto continues to use the same green to contrast a red-violet! I would probably omit this slot since I don’t really use Quin Violet, or I might substitute DS Bordeaux (PV32) or DS Quin Magenta (PR202), also with the same green from my Quin Rose slot.

Another dark option is to go with a pairing of Perylene Violet and Perylene Green, which together make a very striking black.

Perylene Green + Perylene Violet
Holbein Shadow Green (PBk31) + Daniel Smith Perylene Violet (PV29) in a Wonder Forest sketchbook


This is a truly interesting way to set up a palette.

I’m still not entirely sold on the idea. Do I need to be able to neutralize every color on my palette with a complement? And is it important that I be able to do so with one (1) other color? Many of the colors I often use are not quite direct complements, but if I want to make gray, I can add a bit of a third color.

The difficulty of this exercise is enhanced when you combine it with a preference for single pigment colors. Many single pigment colors simply don’t have a single pigment complement. Oto Kano has a number of mixed colors on their palette which are clearly carefully chosen with complementariness in mind. I could also use tube paints to make my own mixes, e.g. if I find the perfect mix of Ultramarine and Dioxazine Violet (or whatever) to be a complement of yellow, I could put it on my palette. But is that really more crucial to me than having both of the components, which can be mixed and match at will?

Not all complements are created equal: each of the complements I explored created a different type of gray or black. Some were dark and some were light; some granulating and some smooth; some had color separation and others didn’t. So it’s not like this color wheel setup saves you from having to think or memorize the specifics of color pairs.

Still, I think selecting this palette was a fun exercise and I like that I was able to get in some practice on neutralizing colors. It’s a series of rabbit holes, for sure, but it’s always good to learn more color theory!