Oil Painting Techniques:  Secondary Color Harmony

What is Color Harmony?


Much of the pleasure from viewing a painting is derived to a large extent from the harmony of colors used in it. Creating this harmony is the key to beautiful color work and a major part of the music of the painting. This harmony is basically an orderly relationship of colors, just as a musical harmony is an orderly relationship of notes.

When is Secondary Color

Harmony used?

The secondary harmony uses the three secondary hues orange, green, and violet.


This harmony is sometimes used in landscape work.


As with the adulterated primary harmony the warm oranges occur in the foreground, the greens in the foreground and middle ground, and the violets in the distance. Like the adulterated primary harmony, this harmony it is not as flexible as the tertiary harmony.

Secondary Color Harmony

in practice

In this small Kasakh village in the province of Xinjiang in the far north western reaches of China, there are many of the original mud and straw buildings  still left.


This gives the village a warm and welcoming feeling. With the areas of grass to provide some green color spots, I included an area of the mountains in the distance to provide a violet color spot and complete a balanced color harmony composed of the secondary colors: orange, green, and violet


Note: To learn more about the concept of balanced color harmonies, see Workshop H of the Virtual Art Academy® Apprentice Program.

You can see the same color harmony in this painting of another nearby Mongol village.

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