Mixing Color Scales and Chords: Secrets of A Modern Painter
Secrets of A Modern Painter: Mixing Color Scales and Chords

Mixing Color Scales and Chords

Venice Passage, 20 x 24, Oil, 2010
Singers and musicians practice scales every day. They tune up, preparing their body and instrument to perform in harmony. Without this daily practice, their technique would falter, their harmony weaken, and their ability to express themselves through the medium would diminish.

There are many ways to come at the practice of mixing and understanding color and value, here we will look at painting as music, colors as stepwise tones, like a musical scale.

Imagine a piano keyboard with each note spaced apart to create a scale. For example, starting on the note C, the C Major scale is CDEFGABC. Now, in music, and on the piano, there are whole and half-steps and there are many types of scales with varying intervals that in and of themselves can affect a sense of the dominant theme, but we're just going to take the basic concept of steps to look at progression and momentum.

If you sit at the piano and play C,D,E in sequence, your ears and mind expect the scale to continue, Do, Re, Mi.... This expectation and momentum has an inherent emotional component. Creating color steps or tones in this way is both functional and symbolic and can serve you in any style or subject.

This is an exercise in thinking metaphorically: Create for yourself a seven tone scale and paint something with only those notes, keeping in mind the importance of your focal points relative to the building of tension and momentum. Sometimes focus on single note melodies, other times group notes into chords, for example, the I chord of the C Major scale would be C, E, and G, the II chord would be D, F, and A, and so on (The main chords are made with every other note). If you have a piano play the C chord then the D chord. The C is Major, the D is minor, and they sound very different and trigger different emotions and expectations. try to see and feel the grouping of your colors like this. Of course, chords can be made up of different note groupings and more than three notes, but for the purposes of this exercise, start with these three note chords.

Watch what happens when the color notes switch their placement in chords and feel how they relate. Try to build up a sense of momentum and 'hear' the color, and aim for a situation where, just like music, the melodic notes pass over the chords allowing the subtle harmonies to be heard.

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