Free Video Lesson on Color Strategies in Plein Air Painting

This short video is excerpted from a demonstration I gave at my annual plein air painting workshop in Skagit Valley, Washington. (Gage Academy of Art, July, 2010.) The video talks about painting strategies in general and gives specific examples of the analogous harmony and complementary color methods.

When working outdoors (and in the studio) landscape painters often treat color as a matching exercise. While it is certainly true that working from nature involves following nature's lead, and borrowing from what we see, successful color also involves the application of a strategy.

A color 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. 


Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). He also hosts an educational blog about landscape painting. Find him on Facebook and YouTube.

Additional Resources:

From Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice:

Chapter 8, Light and Color – "Real Light and the Limitations of Paint", p. 104; "Use of Color Strategies", p. 105



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