On April 21, I chatted with on her Artistically Speaking Talk Show about the “Art of Color Harmony”, based on the work of Michel Eugène (M.E.) Chevreul. Chevreul was a contemporary of the painter Eugène Delacroix, and he penned “The Principles Of Harmony And Contrast Of Colors: And Their Applications To The Arts” in 1855. He was a chemist, Chevreul’s color principles influenced great European art movements including Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Orphism.
Rebecca’s interview guest on the program that day was Rachel Rockwell, of Bubbly Nature Creations. They discussed food photography, and Rachel generously offered tips for the novice, and aspiring photographer. Rebecca suggested I use Rachel’s images to illustrate this post, and I discovered something in common to these two, separated by over 150 years..soap! Chevreul’s research “enabled him to elucidate the true nature of soap…which led to important improvements in the processes of candle-manufacture.” Rachel started her blog as a way to document her soap-making! Such… synchronicity! But onward…to The Art of Color Harmony, illustrated by Rachel Rockwell, and Rebecca E. Parsons.
We discussed six ways of creating color harmony, three “Harmonies of Analogy”, based on similarity, or relatedness, and three “Harmonies of Contrast”, based on differences. Interesting to note that “harmony” can be achieved by what would seem to be opposite principles…read on! (A word of advice: have your meal first..these images may have a mouth-watering effect!)
What Chevreul called the “harmony of scale” involves putting together colors closely related in value (lightness/darkness) and hue (the pure color itself). Above the chocolate browns create a most delicious tone-on-tone effect, relieved by the complementary (opposite each other on the color wheel) red and green of the strawberries.
Here we see a similar “harmony of scale” effect, with a gradation of color in the cake’s frosting, going from darker, brighter and more intense/concentrated at the bottom, becoming almost white at the top. Earthy and colorful touches break up the harmony of scale, to add “the harmony of contrast of colors”…but we will get to that!
Not food photography above, but a lovely example of harmony of scale…pink on pink, with just a slight shift in value to the darker on the embellishment!
Analogous colors (those next to each other on the color wheel, of similar value create the “harmony of hues” when put together, such as the oranges, golds and orange-browns above. They are beautifully offset by the complimentary blue box behind, which makes the whole composition pop.
Photo by Rebecca E. Parsons
The third “Harmony of Analogy” described by Chevreul as “harmony of a dominant colored light” relates to, as I understand it, the harmonious effect of a “dominant tinted light” on varying hues and values. Above we see, gratis Rebecca, an assortment of variously flavored cupcakes of different hue, some darker, some lighter, illuminated by a warm light. The color of the light is a unifying factor in the grouping, composition, and harmonious effect.
We now come to Chevreul’s three “Harmonies of Contrast” in which color harmony is achieved through differences, IE, contrasts. We begin to see how many different paths there can be to harmony…is there a lesson beyond color theory in all this…?
I am not sure what the delicious-looking drink above above consists of as far as ingredients go, but it can be seen as an example of what Chevreul terms, “harmony of a contrast of scale”. One basic hue, speckled with much darker value of that hue creates a kind of tone-on-tone texture. or, so it looks to be in the photo. In any event, the effect is that of unified harmony, and titillates our taste-buds!
By contrast (no pun intended) the “harmony of contrast of hues” is illustrated above. Related colors (red plus white equals pink) in highly differentiated values (white the lightest, the pink the mid-tone, and the red, though bright, the darkest) set each other off by virtue of their difference…not only in value, but also in purity, and chroma.
Finally, we arrive at one of my favorites, the “harmony of contrast of colors“. Here is where the ideas of “the attraction of opposites” comes into play. We see how colors far apart in value and hue can be combined to create relationships that are dynamic and visually arresting, yet harmonious nonetheless. In the image above, we see aspects of the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue represented and cooled by white. The colors have a great deal of contrast, yet create a harmonious whole.
Harmony can also be created by the presence of two complimentary colors, (again, colors which are opposite each other on the color wheel) such as red and green! Notice how the green garnish sets off the reds of the tomato, and focuses the composition? Still harmonious, but powerful!
And, what can be more powerful at last, than harmony?
Here’s wishing YOU the peacefulness and power of harmony; in Art, in Work, in Life.
Here’s to a harmonious world.