See, the full meal deal is; You want to have a funky painting with lots of eye-popping creativity, and yet you want harmony in there too. How do you achieve this without your work being disjointed? What you are trying to do in your painting is achieve variety and still have a balance at the same time. This is generally known as asymmetrical balance. There are many paths to achieving this but here are a few sure-fire ones to get you on the level.
Picture 1 is symmetrically balanced.
Picture 2 is also balanced but in a more interesting way. This is an asymmetrical balance. This is where we want to head.
One of the fastest ways to get HARMONY (alias UNITY) in a painting is to use an underpainting or preliminary wash. Putting one unifying colour down, to begin with, and allowing that wash to peep through in small areas brings a real sense of harmony to a work. If you want the painting to be sensitive, use a wash of something similar to the overall sense of the piece. If you want the painting to be loud and proud, use a colour that is opposite to the overall painting for a little pop and zip! For example, if you want a quiet pastoral scene, the use of a blue wash will create a calming effect and bring a balanced sense of calm throughout. If you’re doing a mostly green tree painting and you want it to sing from the top of the hill, use a rose-coloured wash to start. This will give an overall zippiness to the work. Painting monochromatically can hit the mark in getting balance in a painting. Sticking to basically one colour in a work will help you achieve harmony. This Carol Marine painting is all about red. Everything in this smashing piece has a degree of red in it.
We have variety in the brush strokes, variety in the apple size, variety in the foreground, middle-ground and background yet we have harmony in the thread of red that runs throughout.
Using a “mother colour” creates harmony. You can achieve this by selecting one dominant colour that runs through the painting and using that main colour in all the other colours. This is generally produced by ‘puddle painting’. Making a large puddle of a dominant colour, and then mixing all the other colours using the main puddle colour as a base and all other colours as off-shoots from this puddle will help achieve harmony in your work.
This Sargent work was painted primarily from one main colour - a blue-grey. All the other colours came from that main colour.
The purples, yellow and greens here are all made from the same initial puddle of colour.
Expanding from the central dark, all the colours in this painting were made from the main puddle of purple.
Use a limited palette. Keep it simple by using fewer colours…Using fewer colours will mean more of each of the same colours are being used. Each colour will have some of the other colours mixed in them. It’s kinda like a family reunion. Everyone has a bit of the same DNA. The more colours you have on the palette the more you’re tempted to use those colours. The more colours you put in a painting the more disjointed your painting can become.
Don’t always wipe your brushes:
Harmony can be achieved by using different colours with the same brush. … Again this makes all the colours have some of the same DNA in them.
Don’t over mix your colours:
Having slightly under mixed puddles or “broken colour” will allow each colour in the mix to retain some of its personality and make for harmonious spots of colour within your shapes.
Glazing is kind of like doing a wash underneath but you do it near the end of the painting and it goes over the top. By painting a transparent wash in the same colour over the whole piece, you bring a sense of unity to all the areas. Here is a mini-vid of wiping back a red glaze on a figure:
Shape and Size:
Experimenting with shapes and marks is key for any painter. Describing forms and making brush marks that are harmonious is often a matter of taking into consideration how the eye itself sees. For example, directing your gaze means that certain things come into focus and other things are left blurred and hazy. The human eye does not see everything in detail all at once. Painters often chase this phenomenon with a harmony of edges, both lost and found, hard and soft, rather than relying on delineated lines or cut-out forms.
Soft edges recede and are often used to indicate distance or a form turning. Hard edges bring forms, patterns and texture into focus and pop toward the viewer. Lost edges are key to giving your painting life. An excess of “found” edges leads you to hyperrealism–an appealing style of art all on its own but not realistic.
Proportion and direction:
Shapes that have similar characteristics are visually read as harmonious. It is introducing contrasting shapes that lead to visual discord: jagged-edged lines against curves for example. Proportion is a slightly different case. The same sizes repeated in a painting may be too similar for true harmony. Instead, shapes that differ in shape by consistent ratios achieve a good balance. Having shapes run in the same direction can aid in balance. When you have shapes contradicting each other you run into discord.
Photo straight from the camera.
Here is how this photo lines up.
By changing the height of the trees we can gain unity within the photo.
Work across the whole canvas...
Patchwork painting can be the death of a work. Use some of the same colours in some of the different shapes. When you paint the dark shadows in a set of trees use that same colour for the darks in the grasses in the front of the painting. Put some of the warm yellows that are in your field up into your trees to unify them. Put some of the greens from your tree into the field. Everybody is mingling with everybody.
Add a little drawing to the work near the end…
You can bring unity to a work by adding some linear qualities to it near the end. Lots of painting with a little bit of drawing will package the whole thing up for you.
In this charcoal drawing, I added some lines near the end to pull it all together.
James Bartholomew used brushy scribbles to bring harmony to this painting. The scribbles are very similar to the fur on Rover and help bring consistency.
There are a hundred more ways to achieve variety and balance in a painting. These are just a few quick ways to toggle your brush and keep the flow on the go.
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