Broken Color Techniques

Broken color is a wonderful technique. Done well and your colors will vibrate and shimmer. It can transform even the most basic of subjects. Take Monet’s haystack series for example.

Claude Monet, Haystack, 1891
Claude Monet, Haystack, 1891

Let’s take a look at some of the techniques you can use to convey broken color.

The Multicoloured Brush Strokes

How to perform: Pick up a few colors with your brush and leave them particularly unmixed. This will create a dynamic, multicoloured stroke. Make sure your brush is fully loaded.

Perfect for: Nature and capturing the illusion of detail with minimal effort.

Downsides: Hard to predict the outcome of each stroke; potential for muddy colors; and hard to fix mistakes.

Broken Color Painting 1 (4)

The Multicoloured Palette Knife Strokes

How to perform: Pick up a few colors with your knife and leave them particularly unmixed. Make sure the knife is well loaded with paint before each stroke.

Perfect for: Crisp strokes; reworking; and scraping.

Downsides: Can have a blunt appearance and requires a lot of paint.

Broken Color Painting 2 (3)
Broken Color Painting 2 (8)

The Scumble

How to perform: Pick up a small amount of paint with a dry brush and gently “scumble” the color over the surface. Monet did this in many of his paintings. You can also perform this with a palette knife, though it requires more care.

Perfect for: Highlights and atmospheric effects.

Downsides: Only effective in the later stages of a painting and hard to fix mistakes.

Broken Color Painting 2 (5)
Broken Color Painting 3 (5)

The Pointillist Approach

How to perform: Use a brush to apply small dabs of distinct color. You can use multicolored dabs for a more dramatic effect.

Perfect for: Optical color mixing; leaves and grass; easing the transition between different areas through the use of overlapping colors; and capturing the illusion of detail.

Downside: Comes at the expense of intricate drawing and fine rendering.

Broken Color Painting 3 (4)
Broken Color Painting 4 (5)
Broken Color Painting 4 (3)

The Varied Approach

How to perform: Incorporate several of the above approaches together.

Perfect for: Large paintings that can accommodate a more varied approach.

Downside: Can make the painting appear disjointed.

Broken Color Painting 2 (9)
Broken Color Painting 2 (7)

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