Summertime is a great season to get out and paint the landscape on site. But one of the challenges about the summer landscape, when you reside on the east coast, is the predominance of the color green. There is no avoiding it. During other seasons the dominant color can approach a neutral which allows for a change in key for each composition. Winter snow and its whiteness is a good example.
So if every summer landscape must have green in it the question becomes, how can I add variety to my images in the Key of green. When I refer to a Key, I am referring to an analogy in color. What is an analogy? An analogy occurs when one focuses the colors on their palette in a certain area of the color spectrum. An example of an analogy in the Key of Yellow would be to border the color Yellow with those colors that bracket Yellow on the palette. So my palette would be laid out as OY-Y-YG or O-OY-Y-YG-G. So if these are the dominant colors of my composition how do I balance an analogy like this so that the eye can find relief? The most common way would be to add the complement, which in this case would be Violet.
Robert Henri reflected on these types of analogies by painting many compositions in a certain Key as above. But one aspect that he added was a more subtle variety and range to the complement side that still allowed for the Key to dominate but also find a balance of colors harmonious with the Key. The examples I will use will reflect on Green as the dominate Key. The Key of Green looks like this:
Henri took this analogy and added a range of more neutralized colors to act as a foil to the higher intensity of the Key that dominates the analogy. Henri created mixtures between the dominant analogy and the complement. Here is an example of an analogy in the Key of Green:
The more neutralized colors are RObi, Rhue, VRbi. These colors are the mixes achieved by mixing an analogous color with the complement. Note that the Rhue must maintain its redness and is not completely neutralized. Another way to mix Rhue is with P+O. This gives one a clearer idea of its quality as a subdued red and less as a brown neutral. In this analogy, I found the VRbi the perfect color (a gray violet) to bridge the edge of green tree foliage against its’ background and also as a neutralizer on the ground plane. Rhue also came in handy for packed earth in the foreground of a field. These semi-neutralized colors reinforced the red complement without being too overt.
Here are some other analogies I have been using in the Key of GB or the Key of YG:
Note that in most cases, I used 3 colors set against the complement. But it is also possible to use 5 colors set against the complement. In these cases it is important to only mix the 3 core colors of the analogy because by mixing more than that you will lose the character of the analogy. The palette will begin to contain the missing colors that make a Key a strong statement. If I were to take the Key of Green and extend it beyond the GB to B, I could not take the blue and mix it with the red because I would then have purple and this would take it out of Key. Hence on the other side, I would end up with orange. Keeping purple and orange off the palette gives the Key of Green its character. But also note that these colors or near colors do appear as neutralized tones. When these colors are added to the composition one can feel the underlying energy they provide as a foil to the more intense colors of the dominant key.