Paint with Color Harmony Using the Mother Color Technique
What Is Color Harmony?
Like notes of a good music, harmonious colors work well together, are pleasant to look at, and create a beautiful and enjoyable painting composition.
Harmonious colors are somehow related to each other, they are usually next to each other in the color wheel.
What Does Mother Color Mean?
Using the mother color technique implies that you pick a color and mix it in every paint color you use in that particular painting, including white.
This unifies the color scheme of your painting and creates color harmony.
How Do You Choose What Color to Use as Mother Color?
The color you pick as your mother color is very important because it will determine the mood of your painting.
In theory you can choose any color. Some artists scrape their palette, and mix together the remaining of a previous painting getting some kind of a grayish color, and use that as mother color for the next painting.
Personally I prefer brighter colors. My recommendation is to pick the mother color so that it works for you for that particular painting. I suggest you pick an important element in your composition (i.e. focal point) and make its color the mother color.
Since you are also toning your canvas with it, you can let little specks of mother color come through all around your paintings, tying it all together. Also, having the ground color already painted, can simplify quite a bit the painting of objects that are that color.
What is your favorite painting medium?
Prepare Your Palette Pre-Mixing Mother Color into Every color
This technique requires some work ahead of time to pre-mix your palette.
- Squeeze out your regular paint colors.
- Pick your mother color.
- Add to each color a small amount of mother color.
- Mix with a palette knife.
Spread Mother Color Dots of paint throughout your Palette
As a visual reminder of your painting goal and also to make future mixing easier, spread little dots of mother color throughout your palette’s mixing surface.
Tone Your Canvas with the Mother Color
Use the mother color to tone your canvas or support. This will give you huge heads up on unifying the look of the painting.
I like to wipe off the lightest areas of my composition with a rag, to start a very lose drawing.
These wiped areas will still retain some of the toning but will be much lighter in value.
James Gurney is a master painter. He's books are full of great painting advice, especially when it comes to creating harmonious compositions. Check it out!
Watch Out: Don’t Mix Too Much Mother Color into Everything
Be careful not to mix too much mother color in the paint colors.
The risk here is to obtain great color harmony, but losing value contrast and temperature contrast of the different paint colors. Those contrasts are critical for good results in any painting.
When I Think of Mother Color I Think of Monet
Since the first time I've heard about the Mother Color thechnique, it always reminded me of Monet's paintings.
In particular the Haystacks (or wheat stacks) series, in which Monet painted the same subject at different times of the day and/or different seasons. In these paintings Monet's goal was showing how the color and direction of light and the atmospheric conditions influence color and light of the subject.
Though I have never come across this information in writing, I am pretty sure Monet used the mother color technique in his paintings.
Look at the images below. You can clearly see the color harmony created by the unifying effect the color of light has on the whole painting. That unified effect is exactly what you aim for when using the mother color technique.
© 2015 Robie Benve