Color Harmony . . .

 "Walk to the Lighthouse"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

"On Chimney Rock"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

The words "Color Harmony" are frequently spoken, but it is my concerted opinion that many painters simply miss the meaning of the words and, moreover, how to apply them to their paintings.

On a recent trip to teach a short Plein Air painting workshop at Point Reyes National Seashore, every day was overcast and foggy . . . . .and some of the painters were disappointed in the fact that there 'was no sun or shadow.'    I understand their disappointment.   When the sun is out, there are shadows and lots of predictable color.   But there is predictable and even beautiful color when us painters are faced with overcast or foggy days.   In fact, we can achieve wonderful color harmony in painting foggy or overcast conditions.

Eh?   Whaddya mean, Mike?   Simply this:  Gray is present in EVERY color.   Rich, saturated color simply is not present, for the most part, in overcast settings.  Granted, flowers seem to be of neon in those conditions, but the overall general dominant color is of the gray family.

Harmonies have to do with relatedness.   We can really affect harmony by selecting one characteristic of color and insuring that that one characteristic is present in every color in the painting.   For example, we can establish a temperature harmony where there is a cool or warm dominance through the painting.   Or, we can set a harmony by assuring that the dominant condition of all the colors in a painting are fully saturated, high chroma colors.   Indeed, when painting in overcast conditions, the gray sky color dominates the landscape.  There is a noticeable lack of shadow, so 'things' must be connected through their relatedness of color . . . . in this case, the presence of gray in every brush load of pigment.   

Gray is a relative term, actually.   Think of "gray" as toning down a color . . . . .add its compliment . . . . . . it isn't necessary to take the mix all the way to near black or neutral . . . . . . . . .just reduce the chroma of the color so that it is noticeably neutralized.   If every color has that characteristic, there is a distinct relatedness to all the colors in the painting . . . .a harmony.

A gentleman by the name of Faber Birren made his career in color harmony.  Google him and read up about how he set different painting harmonies (I call them painting strategies!).   You will see that there is something very worth your time (if you are a serious painter) by studying his work.

And if you ever get the chance, Point Reyes, in northern California, is a must visit sort of place.   It is a desolate, wind swept and exposed section of the coast that holds an enormous wildlife population and scenery worthy of your time.   Sir Francis Drake discovered the wonderful bay there and kept his ships from the ravages of weather on that coast by hiding in that bay.