Color Harmony in Landscape Painting: 3-Part Series in Artists & Illustrators Magazine

A series of three articles I’ve written will be published in Artists & Illustrators, the UK’s largest and most popular magazine for artists. Beginning with the July 2011 issue (available in June), each article will explore a different color strategy for achieving harmony and unified light within landscape paintings. Each article is illustrated with diagrams and paintings by contemporary artists working with that particular strategy.

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Read an excerpt from the first article …

Artists & Illustrators

PART 1 – The Harmony of Analogy
July 2011 (Available June 1)
Analogous harmony is one of the most effective ways to create unity among colors and therefore a particularly valuable strategy for landscape painters who aspire to capture the unifying effects of natural light. Featuring works by Mitchell AlbalaJim LambRich Bowman, and Gavin Brooks.

PART 2 – The Harmony of Complements
August 2011 (Available July 1)
Explores the dual nature of complementary colors — harmony through opposition and harmony through neutrals. Also reviwed, how these two seemingly divergent aspects of complementary colors can work together within one painting. Featuring works by Mitchell AlbalaJoseph Paquet and Rodger Bechtold.

PART 3 – The Harmony of Neutrals
September 2011 (Available August 1)
A compelling case is made for neutral colors and how they may be considered a colour strategy in their own right. Learn how colors, as they become increasingly more neutral, begin to relate more and form harmonies that help suggest a unified light. Featuring works by Kurt Solmssen, Renato Muccillo and Andrzej Skorut.

Excerpt from Part 1 – The Harmony of Analogy

Harmony. All painters strive for it — the unmistakeable sense that all the colors within the painting cohere and work well together. Harmony is typically defined as a “pleasing arrangement of colors forming a consistent whole.” That definition is only qualitative, however; it tells us something about our destination, but very little about how to get there. How does an artist actually arrive at “pleasing”?

Reality always presents itself in complete harmony. When we look at nature we never say, That just doesn’t look harmonious! Because natural light is real, it never fails to be convincing. But for artists who paint not with sunlight, but pigments on canvas, harmony doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through the use of a structured color plan or strategy.

A strategy is like a recipe for harmony—a set of color relationships that are proven to work well and can be used as a formula for building our color composition. Like the musician who composes in a particular key, in order to maintain certain types of harmonic relationships, the colorist relies on a strategy to maintain a cohesive relationship among the colors. Which hues will be used? How will they relate? Which will dominate and which will be subordinate? What mood will they conjure? These are the questions a color strategy addresses. Some painters report that they follow a more intuitive approach and do not use a color strategy. That may be true, but in the end, if the painting is harmonious and successful, we will be able to find a strategy at work, whether it came about intuitively or by design.

Limited Colors, Expanded Possibilities
One of the reasons color strategies are so effective at creating harmony is because they  restrict the number of color groups. A smart color solution is never about a panoply of divergent colors. When a painting is organized around a few well coordinated groups — distinct from one another, yet related in specific ways — the overall color plan is simpler. Colors are able to integrate with one another more organically. This is the same idea behind the use of a limited palette. By working with just a few select pigments, color mixtures are simpler and the types of colors produced are more closely related.

About Mitchell Albala

Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). Now in its fifth printing, it has sold over 25,000 copies and has been called a "new classic of landscape." A respected teaching artist for more than 25 years, he currently teaches at Gage Academy of Art and Pacific Northwest Art School. He has also lectured at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artist & Illustrators magazines. He is represented by Lisa Harris Gallery. See his paintings at mitchalbala.com.