Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Colour Harmony

Out there yesterday it was obvious how much the colours have changed.  The mustard yellow of the rag weed is overpowering in some patches.  The soy beans are into the second stage yellows, soon to be oranges and russets.  So you know the fall colours are arriving over the next 6 weeks or so.

Stewart's Hangout,  11x14, Oil on Canvas

Out of the green dominance will come a multicolour plate.  How to obtain colour harmony?  Here I'll talk painting from life representationally where colour harmony arises from the qualities in light.  Harmony in what we might invent follow from this observation.  It seems Nature is the teacher.  You can make colour temperature reversals if and when they look convincing.  Observing life will show you where they actually occur.

It is easy to mess up colour harmony by using formulas.  For example, some premix a single (prevailing) colour into every colour on the palette.  Worse yet is mixing that colour into white.  However, true harmony requires different amounts of the prevailing colour for each and every mixture to be used, and there is no way to predict this.  Take an early morning warm light versus the light later in the morning.  Or a north light versus a south light on an overcast day.

To help you see these in life it is a good idea to mix colour charts.  These little gems are done for each colour on your palette showing them in combination with each other colour in 5 values.  Maybe a bit repetitive, but challenging and central to knowing your palette colours.

Cad Yellow Light

Ultramarine Blue

The colour in these photos is off.  Apologies.  Each chart is for one colour.  It is mixed in a column with each of the colours on your palette.  The colour for the chart dominates - so each mixture leans towards that colour.  For example, the first chart is for Cadmium Yellow light.  The first column is that colour by itself then mixed with white in equal steps to almost white at the bottom.  On the first chart, the last column consists of Cadmium Yellow Light plus Ultramarine - leaning towards the yellow, then mixed in lighter values to near white.  In between these two columns lie columns for each colour on your palette mixed with Cadmium Yellow Light.

If I was wandering what colours are in the general family as I stood there doing the painting above, I would see that these two families fit pretty well.  I could use a few outliers and get away with them, but as it happens, I stayed pretty much within these charts.  

With experience painting from life, and having done the colour scales (just like a musician) I tend to see most of the colour possibilities without using the charts.  But, when I have to, or when I need a tune up.......  

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