Art is an Expression of the Soul
of Color Harmony
Color Harmony is essential to good landscape painting. As mentioned, many colors can be created by
mixing of other colors. Doing this instead of using another tube contributes to color harmony, which is an essential element
of a good landscape painting. For instance, green can be mixed using blue and yellow and if done with the same blue and yellow that
is used in the rest of the painting, results in greater color harmony than if a tube green color is used.
Using these same colors
throughout the painting gives it a harmonious look. For example, look at the Bryce Canyon painting. Figure 2. For this
painting I used only five tube colors: Perylene Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Dioxin Purple and White.
This is essentially the three primary colors - red, yellow, and blue plus purple and white. Note that purple could be created
from the red and blue hues but, in the case, dioxin purple works better. In addition to using limited tube colors, color
harmony is achieved by mixing each tube color in most of the elements of the painting. For instance, dioxin purple is in every element
of the painting. The same is true for Cadmium Yellow Deep and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Perylene Crimson and Ultramarine
Blue. The geens were created using ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Deep, tinted to varying degrees with the other colors.
another example, look at Appalachian White Water. In this case, I used the same colors as in Bryce Canyon, except that I used
Burnt Umber instead of Dioxin Purple. Note the dramatic difference in the brilliance and feel of the painting which results
primarily form the degree to which is tube color is used. In this case, crimson and yellow were used only to tint the
other colors rather than as dominant colors. Note the atmospheric feeling of this painting which is achieved by using toned-down
basic understanding of color is essential to art. Since this information is so readily available in numerous sources, I will
not discuss this topic in detail. However, I begin with the color wheel and make a few fundamental and key points about
color before covering what I consider to be two important and perhaps not initially obvious principles regarding the use of color
in oil painting. I conclude by making some comments about my palette and the colors that I particularly like.
are many terms in use today that pertain to the subject of color and it can get confusing. In my articles I use the following
The topic of color can be complex and today there are many versions of the color wheel with varying terms for each
hue. However, the traditional color wheel suffices for our purposes.(See Footnote I.)
It is helpful to look at the color
wheel when learning about color. The three basic colors, or Primary colors, are yellow, red, and blue. In theory, all other
colors can be made by mixing these three. Mixing Yellow and Red produces Orange: mixing Red and Blue produces Violet: and mixing
Blue and Yellow produces Green. Orange, Violet, and Green, are secondary Colors. Mixing Primary colors, with adjacent Secondary Colors
produces the Tertiary Colors. Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are called Complementary Colors because
they look good together or complement each other.
In a perfect world then, artists would only need three tubes of paint: yellow, blue and red and we could mix every other color we
wanted, including white. While this is not the case, the fact is that, with experience, the artist can learn to mix most of the colors
that are needed for a particular painting and in so doing will create a more harmonious painting than by using a different tube color
for each color that is used.
For a more advanced discussion of color I suggest reading Color and Light - A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney
published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. This is an excellent book that includes many well-presented topics in addition
to the topic of color.
In theory, white is the combination of all colors, and black is the absence of any color. Theory may be reality when working with
light but when working with oil colors one cannot produce white by mixing all of the colors. In fact, the opposite is closer
to what happens: mixing all the colors almost produces black, not white.
Hue - The "color" from the color wheel. For instance, red, blue, etc.
Value - The degree of lightness or darkness of the "color".
- A combination of the Hue and Value.
Tube color - a color as it comes from a tube of paint
Figure 3 - Appalachian Whitewater
Some Comments Specific Colors
Gray Grays can be created by mixing a color with its complement: Red with Green; Yellow with
Violet; or Blue with Orange. The degree to which the color appears gray depends upon amount of the complement that is mixed with
the basic color. With just a little, one gets a "grayed down" or "cut" primary color. As more of the complement is added, the color
moves toward a perfect gray. Note that colors and their complements are always a warm and a cool color. Therefore, one can mix warm,
neutral, or cool grays, depending upon the balance of the warm and cool colors. Grays should always be mixed rather than used from
a tube, for the same reason that tube black should not be used.
Figure 4 - Yellowstone National Park
The following are the tube colors that I primarily use:
Chromium Green Oxide
Cadmium Yellow Deep
In addition, I use these these on occasion:
Pthalo Yellow Green
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Green Green is the most difficult color to deal with in painting. Gurnery has an excellent chapter on The Green Problem
in his Color and Light book (see the footnote). My approach to greens has evolved over the years. At this point I use two
greens: one that is mixed using Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Deep and the second is the tube color Chromium Green Oxide. I
primarily use the first but in a painting where I need more variety than I can satisfactorily create with the first method, I use
Chromium Green Oxide but, even though though it is not overly intense, I usually tint it to tone it down. The Yellowstone National
Park painting, Figure 4, is one such example where I used Chromium Green Oxide in the middle ground hills on the left. (This can probably
best been seen in the Western Album. view.)
Figure 1 - Basic Color
Yellowstone National Park, figure 4, is an example where I used Perylene Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Dioxin Purple but Cerulean
Blue, rather than Ultramarine. But I also used Chromium Green Oxide (see my comments on greens below.)
A common technique
for achieving color harmony is to mix one of the earth tones, such as Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna, into all of the colors. This is
a very effective technique, but it tends to "tone down" or mute the colors, so I do not use this when wanting a pure and deep look
to my colors. This is especially true in skies, where I generally prefer pure colors.
Black Don't use a tube black! It is much better to mix a black that can be tinted slightly towards one of the mixing
colors. A pure tube black is simply not harmonious. Perylene Crimson and Pthalo Green created a wonderful dark "black" that can
be tined a bit toward the red or the green. It can also be mixed to provide a pure black in unusual cases where a pure black is needed.
Ultramine Blue and Burnt Umber also produces a nice dark, almost black color. This combination was used extensively Appalachian Whitewater.