Why Broken Color Is So Effective for Painting the Landscape


​I often write about the broken color technique. Which basically refers to using a brush or palette knife to create a patchwork of distinct, interwoven colors. You’ll see it up close in many of the top Impressionist paintings. Like Claude Monet’s Haystacks. Or Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Chestnut Tree in Bloom.

Claude Monet, Haystacks, 1891
Claude Monet, Haystacks, 1891
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1881
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1881

Broken color is one of my go-to techniques for landscape painting. There are few techniques so well equipped to handle all of nature’s complexity and detail without spending countless hours with a fine liner brush rendering every single detail.

I took a few photos yesterday to show you what I mean. I was out running and couldn’t help but stop and appreciate nature’s detail and activity. The greens were particularly rich and lush after a week of heavy rain.

These photos are a perfect example of why broken color is such an effective technique for painting the landscape. Look at all the detail, highlights, shadows, textures, lines, shapes, and colors. You might not see all this from afar, but it’s there. A patch of grass isn’t just a patch of grass. There are also rocks, dirt, insects, fallen leaves, twigs, and flowers. Broken color allows you to capture the idea of all this detail without actually painting it.

Of course, these photos are an extreme example. Most of the time, you will not be painting the landscape up close and personal like this. So broken color won’t always be effective. Sometimes a flat color shape is all that’s needed to convey the background areas of a landscape. And you can also use varying levels of complexity with broken color. Chirun Ilya’s work is a great example of this (featured in my Exploring the Masters series). He often paints whole works with distinct dabs of color. But for the focal points, he uses more complex color patterns and brushwork.

Thanks for reading! If you found this email helpful, you might be interested in my Landscape Painting Masterclass. Enrollment closes in 5 days.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott


PS. You might also find this previous email newsletter helpful where I discuss some of the different broken color techniques and how to execute them.

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