Monday, April 24, 2017

8. About harmony and proportions

The term harmony derives from the Greek, meaning „to fit together, to join“. It was originally applied for music, while „music“ referred to the arts in general. Current dictionary definitions often highlight the ambiguity of the term especially in aesthetic considerations: one view is, that only „pleasing“ elements maybe harmonious. Regarding modern arts, this view became untenable. Visual tension is a necessary formal tool and colour can express this tension.
One problem is, that certain colour combinations are considered „fashionable“ or others „tasty“. Forget about them. The first is like fashion: changing with the wind, the second is convention.
It is much more productive to think about the qualities of concordance (unity) and discordance (disunity) without making a value judgement. In broad understanding colour harmony is a tool to tailor your colours effectively to support your work. Colour relationships work best when they underline and match the purpose they are intended to serve.
 We saw it in the first few posts that certain colour compositions we perceive as interdependent or unified (e.g. a composition with reduced value scales). The less your chosen colours have in common (not only in hue but also in value and saturation), the more they „claim“ their independence and suggest disunity. As we saw unity suggests tranquility and concordance. Disunity can appear vivid, or in higher degrees evoke tension and discord.

I love this painting from Paul Klee, called Underwater Garden. There is a very little value difference what gives the impression of a calm, slightly subdued but harmonious atmosphere. Little more happens on the level of saturation. The very saturated royal blue appears four times and guides the eyes around the picture. What catches your eyes is the one single, significant hue difference: the red fish. This is what you see first, this is what captures your attention, invites you to come and explore.
Such a small spot, almost a dot compared to the whole. Is it enough to make the painting „interesting“? Is it enough to catch your attention and to make you really look at it, exploring the details?
Each of us has to answer this question individually but it brings us to another significant factor, to proportion. To round up the former posts, I’d like to examine how proportion influences the composition. If you followed me this month i’m certain you can answer my questions connected to the exercise below.

I prepared a grid of nine disparate colours in equal proportions. This is a really incohesive collection of „individualists“. The have differences in hues, values and in saturation and sincerely, nothing holds them together.
I will aim to create two different compositions with the same nine colours just by using different proportions. This technique places greater emphasis on certain colours while minimizes the effect of others.

Have a look at these two compositions and ask yourself : which is the „stronger“, more dynamic one? Why? What makes the difference? Think in terms of value, hue, saturation combined with the given proportions.



  1. Beth, I am learning a lot about color and design from your posts. For me, the red composition provides more interest and cohesiveness and unity. You have given me some ideas about how to look at color in my own work. I am enjoying your lessons.

  2. The red appears more dynamic, but I like the second composition better. The first one almost makes my eyes hurt! I'm enjoying going back through all of your posts.

  3. Can anyone tell me what is the best way to save all these posts on color so that I will be able to study and use these posts in the future? Should I try to print all of them or???? Would really like to know as I find them so interesting and informative.
    Thanks, Ruth


We would love to hear from you and even better have some links to your work!