Going back to Sorolla as our master of color, we can see he knew the value of using more than just 3 colors in his paintings.
There are 2 “chords” that use 4 colors instead of 3. The first combination consists of rotating every 3rd color around the wheel. (thirds again) This effectively gives 4 colors which are directly opposite of each other. (make sure your color wheel has all 12 colors) So there are two sets of complements. In the painting below, blue-green dominates the painting which strikes a nice balance to the red-orange in the flesh, on the lit side and in the shadows. No bright version of red-orange is used, just low-chroma in both the lit and non-lit sides. Then there is that low-chroma yellow again along with a few barely scumbled, yet very important dashes of violet. Sorolla had a way of making a figure appear to breathe even though there are no detailed features in the face. This painting is more about color and application.
This painting below uses a split-quad chord. The colors are still opposite each other, but they are jumping around the wheel differently. The oranges take center stage here (yellow-orange and red-orange) Yes, the pose is cute, and the composition is very solid, but it is the oranges that make the painting work. They run through the entire painting, including the water, linking the color everywhere. The brightest chroma of red-orange? The half-shielded face and spot on her knee. He wanted us to look there. The red-orange runs though the child and into water as well, but no where else is the color that strong. Notice against these two red-orange spots that he runs soft blue-green right next to it. The blues in the painting run to blue-green and blue-violet. “True blue” is skipped.
So sometimes you can learn so much by just finding a painting that you love and then taking the color wheel to the image. What colors were used? Was a chord used? Could an addition of a single color change the image into using a chord?
Here is a painting from a mentoree … what four colors were used? Which chord?
Answer below …
So try it! Less can be more. And don’t forget to make one color dominant to “set the tone” for the painting. My favorite chord- the “5-Chord”, is featured next week!