Michael Chesley Johnson: Color Harmony in a Landscape Painting

Using a clear acrylic painting ground is a wonderful way to add color harmony to an oil landscape painting. This is what I did with the painting Summer’s End (below).

Summer's End (oil, 9x12) by Michael Chesley Johnson

Summer’s End (oil, 9×12) by Michael Chesley Johnson exhibits color harmony.

The reason using a clear acrylic ground in a landscape painting (or any oil painting) adds color harmony is because the color of the substrate shows through and acts like a toned surface. See how this works with this step-by-step painting demo. For my surface I used PVA-sized hardboard with two coats of Golden Matte Medium.

 

Painting demo step 1: Sketch scene with burnt sienna.

Step 1: Sketch scene with burnt sienna.

Step 1: Whenever you use a toned surface, try to let its value stand for one of the values you’ll use in the painting. For example, as a landscape painter, I try to simplify the landscape into shapes of four values: dark, mid-dark, mid-light and light. So for this step-by-step pianting, I made one of the values I used match the board’s warm midvalue. I’ve lightly sketched in my scene with thinned burnt sienna.

 

Painting demo step 2: Establish darks and lights.

Step 2: Establish darks and lights.

Step 2: I established my dark and light masses, leaving the middle values untouched.

 

Painting demo caption: Step 3: Let surface show.

Step 3: Let surface show.

Step 3: I decided that the meadow grasses would be the same value as the surface. As I painted the grasses, I made sure to leave a lot of the surface showing, which helps to create color harmony throughout the painting. Since I’ve planned for the painting to be dominantly cool in color, the warmth of the surface will add warmth to the final piece.

 

Finished painting: Summer's End (oil, 9x12) by Michael Chesley Johnson

Finished painting: Summer’s End (oil, 9×12) by Michael Chesley Johnson

Step 4: Here’s the finished piece. Although I’ve put quite a bit of red in the foreground grasses to add warmth, the bits of surface showing through elsewhere in the painting add tiny amounts of warm in the sky, water, trees and distant grasses. See the detail below.

 

Detail: Summer's End (oil, 9x12) by Michael Chesley Johnson

Detail: Summer’s End (oil, 9×12) by Michael Chesley Johnson

Detail: You can see the surface showing through near the blue-gray of the water. In this way, using a clear acrylic ground on a toned surface helps create color harmony throughout the painting.

Michael Chesley Johnson is a longtime contributor to The Artist’s Magazine. Visit his website at www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com. Also, click here to view a free preview of his video workshop Backpacker Painting with Michael Chesley Johnson: Oil on Location.

For a thorough discussion on how to use grounds in oil paintings, see Michael Chesley Johnson’s Brushing Up column “Grounded for Life” in the March 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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