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How to Get Color Harmony With 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, squeeze out several little dots of pure mother color, out of the tube, in your palette’s mixing surface.
Note: while this is a great way to proceed with oils, when using acrylics, since they dry much quicker, you may not want to squeeze out too much paint. The small dots might be dry by the time you need them.
Squeeze out just a couple, and preserve them as visual reminder that you are suppose to mix in some of that color every single time that you get paint from any tube.
Tone Your Canvas with the Mother Color
When using this technique, I always tone my canvas or board with the mother color. This gives 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.
Watch Out: Don’t Mix Too Much Mother Color into Everything
Only mix a small amount of much mother color in each paint color. Be careful not to overdo it.
The risk here is to obtain lots of color harmony, but loss of value contrast and temperature contrast between 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.
Thanks Joe Lombardo
The first time I heard about the mother color technique, I was taking a plein air workshop with Ohio artist Joseph Lombardo. He explained the technique in great detail and proceeded to paint a demo.
I was fascinated. I loved this technique so much that I ended up buying his demo painting, as a visual reminder of what to aim for, and because I liked it a lot.
Below are photos of Joe's mother color palette and painting. Every glob of paint includes some radiant magenta as mother color already mixed in, and several dots of radiant magenta are spread throughout the palette, as visual reminder and to make further mixing more convenient.
A Painting with Radiant Magenta as Mother Color, by Joe Lombardo
© 2015 Robie Benve