So last week I touched on how to use color harmonies in a painting. Since then I have had requests asking to talk about color harmonies some more, so this week I thought I would take a break from mentorship pieces to show how a true color master, Sorolla, used color harmonies.

The best way to get a grip on using color harmonies is to recognize them when you see them in paintings. This awareness will help when deciding on how to implement them in your own work. You have heard me say that it is not WHAT you paint, but HOW you paint. Controlling and planning out relationships with color can give you the “wow” factor.

Color harmonies work because the colors in a chord help each other to work together harmoniously, but if all the colors used in a chord were all the same chroma, (think intensity – like think straight out of a tube or bright crayons) and if the colors were all in the same percentage across the painting, they can cancel each other out. (Too much yelling for attention…) I tell attendees in my workshop to at least make a decision to make one color dominant (as in the biggest percentage across the painting- the “Papa” color) and one color as an accent (smallest percentage of the painting, or the “baby” color). Other colors will fall into the “Mama” percentage.  And there are different ways to make that work.

The 3-Color Chords

This is a very easy chord to spot.  And what most people think of when it comes to the color wheel. This painting by Sorolla below is in a limited, 3-color primary chord. It is a very limited palette, but very effective. The red is the strongest accent (the strongest chroma) and the blues and low-chroma yellow support that red. This is what makes a painting stand out in a gallery up against lots of other paintings. Cover up the yellow-ochre strip of beach at the bottom and her hat, and you are left with a rather boring image with only blue and red. The yellow completes the chord. Why do they go well together? The colors bounce every fourth color around the wheel. Remember how fourths are important to music? Here too. The visual musicality of it shines through. And the red is used as a high intensity on purpose. The artist is saying. “Look here!” If the blue in the water was just as bright and saturated in chroma, the red and blue would cancel each other out. (And the painting would be harder to look at) The blue is knocked back just a bit along with touches of the yellow in the water in order to make that red pop. At first glance it may seem as though the yellow used here is in the yellow-orange family, but no, it is in the true-yellow family, just a very dirty and low-chroma version of yellow. Almost green. (Notice the hat-  it is true yellow).

This painting below also uses only 3 colors but in a slightly different way.  There is still a 3-color chord, but it is a split-triad. The high chroma dashes of red-orange are deliberately “popped” against the lush blues. Yum. Not true orange like in the fruit, but warmer. Even in the skin tones, the color has more red in it so they belong in the red-orange family. Then see the very muted, tiny dashes of true-green in the water and on the child? The accent color here is green and is instead muted and in a supporting role. Blue is the dominant color of the painting. (biggest percentage and “Papa” color) So an accent color does not have to be bright.

So if you rotate the colors to get the same 3-color chords above to get different colors they will work well together too.

Next week I will talk about 4-color chords…