View Full Version : Discords?

08-30-2002, 06:17 AM
Can someone please explain the concept of discords to me in PLAIN SIMPLE ENGLISH. I'm reading a colour theory book and have read this chapter several times and it just doesn't make sense (either that or I'm stupid . . mmmmm . . nah . . couldn't be that!!:D :D )

08-30-2002, 07:13 AM
Say you select a color scheme in which to render your picture. Perhaps a triad like yellow/blue-violet/red. All the colors in your pix will be some mixture of these three hues; with perhaps white or black for value control. As such they will appear to be harmonious. Now if you use a color that is not one of these mixtures, like green, it would be a dischord.

Another way to see this is to select your three hues on a color wheel. Then draw straight lines between them, thus forming a triangle. All colors within the triangle are your set of hues allowed. Any color outside the triangle is a dischord.

Hope this helps, and it is what you are actually asking about.

08-30-2002, 10:08 AM
Thanks for trying TPS but I think we might be using different definitions or I didn't ask clearly. I can "define" a discord but I'm not sure of the significance nor proper usage of them . . I suppose I should clarify . . .

The values of each hue on the colour wheel are different . .yellow being a lighter value than say the red which is quite dark and the violet which is darker in value again. The definition of a discord, paraphrased in my own words is the value of a particular hue which is opposite to its "natural" value. For example, Red, being a naturally dark valued hue would have, as it's discord, a very light value of the same hue. . . . pink. Whilst yellow being a naturally light valued hue would have, as it's discord, a very dark value of the same hue. . . . an olive colour.

That's the definition . . .what I don't understand particularly well is their proper use . . .the book I'm reading suggests that large amounts of light discords (such as lavenders from the dark hue of violet together with light pinks ec) should not be overly used as they tend to give a washed out feeling with no depth (which I guess is often the case with many pastel paintings I've seen . . I do pastels btw). These washed out discords are apparently easily overpowered by hues which are not discorded

BUT light discords such as light red (pink) and light violet (lavender) supposedly provide THE best highlights and that the discord chosen should be based on the PRIMARY color which is both closest to the object featuring the highlight and which will provide a light discord. For example, the highlight on an orange should not be a pale orange but be a light discord. The closest primary hues to orange are red and yellow . .well you can't have a light discord of yellow since it is already naturally light in value (and it's discord is therefore darker) so you have to choose a very pale red (i.e. pink) as the highlight. (This is the books theory . . not mine btw)

The book also says that traid colour schemes are more pleasing when discorded hues rather than pure hues are used and that more vibrant combinations are the result of the use of discords with the same value.

Then they don't give any bloody examples of what seems to be an important concept!!!

Sorry if I led anyone astray . . . but can anyone post a painting or graphic which shows what the hell their talking about??
I've studied quite a few paintings since reading this and can't really find any good examples.

08-30-2002, 10:51 AM
OUCH! My brain hurts, reading all that! For heaven's sake - how can the author of the book possibly spout all that complicated stuff and not show examples? And what on earth book have you found ... I have a huge library of books here (having painted in pastels for 20 years, and taught, and made videos about light and colour) and not one of my five books on colour mentions colour discords at all!

Perhaps colour theory of this kind really turns you on. If you need to know all this stuff because you are having to write some huge treatise on colour - well, that's fine too. But frankly, I doubt it will make you a much better painter, than looking really hard at the work of the masters. Not just the old masters, but excellent contemporary artists too. You say you have studied quite a few pictures since reading your book, and cannot find examples which fall in line with the author's theories. There could be a very good reason for this ...............!

Established principles about colour theory, and colour behaviour, need not be so complicated. Have you really "got" colour harmony, complementary colours, colour key, colour temperature and colour tone down to a fine art yet? Are you aware how colours (and highlights) alter, depending on the light source? My advice is (for what it's worth)- stick with the simple basics, experiment further, and then do what works for you.

do visit my ebay page and auctions (http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/jackie4art/.) or visit my website by clicking on the www button below.

08-30-2002, 11:09 AM
Hi Jackie,
Yep, your'e absolutely correct in assuming I haven't really "got" colour harmony, complementary colours, colour key, colour temperature and colour tone down to a fine art yet (who has?)

That's what I'm trying to learn by reading. Don't get me wrong, I am reading/studying about all of those concepts you mentioned and I feel each new painting of mine is coming together better than the last as I'm now coming to grips with some of the basic principles. I just came across a section I couldn't understand well. You'll have to forgive me . . I'm a scientist/engineer, and when I read something, it annoys me when I don't understand what seemed to be a fundamental concept.

Yes there's much more to learn.

08-30-2002, 11:11 AM
Sorry, forgot to post the name of the book.

"Colour (How to use colour in Art and Design)"
by Edith Anderson Feisner

08-30-2002, 02:00 PM
I hope you don't think I was being a bit rude ... I didn't mean to do that at all - you are right, who has "got" everything there is to know about painting! I was just feeling a little irritated, on your behalf, with the author of the book you were reading, because I felt he was blinding you with science ! And to avoid giving examples is completely unacceptable. It could have had the effect of making you feel inadequate because you couldn't understand. Also completely unacceptable for a teacher to do.

There are some lovely books about colour, which are well worth reading. I have several, which I have learned a lot from, and it was all easy reading. Dont know if you can find any of these in your library, but I will recommend them anyway:

COLOUR LIGHT AND FORM, by Angela Gair. Published by Studio Vista.

Exploring Color. Nita Leland. North Light Books.

Choosing and Mixing Colours for Painting. Jeremy Galton. Studio Vista.

Colour - How to See It, How to Paint It. Judy Martin. HarperCollins.

and .... there is a whole chapter on colour, very simply and easily explained, I think, in a book by some female called Jackie Simmonds. It's called Pastels Workshop. Published by HarperCollins. Out of print at the moment, but will be newly available from next Feb. Can be found in libraries!!!

The first book I mentioned, by Angela Gair, really helped me more than most, I do recommend it very much, she is an excellent writer and teacher. Also, colour is only a part of her book. I do think that sometimes, when an author has to write a whole book on one subject, everything including the kitchen sink gets put into that book, and it is hard to filter out the essentials. Angie Gair sums up the basic, simple principles of colour beautifully in just one or two chapters .

Sometimes a light snack can be more satisfying than a huge banquet. AND you don't suffer from indigestion afterwards.


08-30-2002, 06:43 PM
Well, it sounds to me that this author is using 'discord' with their own personal definition. The visual conditions they describe are normally referred to as value contrast or relative value. While it may be said that too much tinting will make the colors look washed out, or too much shading make them look dull, the proper handling of color relationships can temper this affect.

As to highlights, there are different thoughts on how to handle it. One would say lighten the local color, another might say move to an adjacent hue, another may say use the complementary hue. In any event, I think one must take into consideration the color of the light source to obtain a highlight color that will 'work'. Leaving out this factor will likely result in a sterile or scientific look. While being sensitive to this ambient hue will provide unity to your picture.

I too would agree that painting experience and critical seeing of your subject and painting will lead to satisfactory results whether you understand the theory or not. Good luck in your creative efforts!

08-30-2002, 07:10 PM
Thanks for looking again Jackie and David.

Jackie: you were not being rude at all . . I didn't take it that way even if you were! lol I can understand you're frustration since this seems to be the only book in the world that mentions discords in this manner as David points out . . . . and I happened to pick it up!! LOL I'll certainly try and get the references you gave me . . . . Thanks again for taking the time

David: Thanks to you also for taking the time. I agree that she's talikng about value contrast and relative value ('cept I'm not bright enough to put it so well). As for highlights . . there seems to be a number of theories around and again you're right in that the lighting conditions, the mood one wants to convey, etc. are more important than the theory.

Thnaks again guys!

08-30-2002, 10:32 PM
Crumby, here's a different take on it.

A lot of color physics is partly about how your eyes process color. There's a lot more to it than red/green/blue and blends, because there's a lot of image processing between you and and your retina. (There are for instance various hard-wired FFT's doing all sorts of things in the very early stages of visual information processing.)

And that processing evolved in a world where light and surfaces mostly behave in certain ways... like, if there are certain color values in the scene you're seeing, then reflection and atmospherics and luminance mean they'll be spread around. The real world, in other words, is a place where there are seldom discords to be seen. If there's a certain tone somewhere, it's always modulated by the light and atmosphere and reflectance of other things, and it casts it's effect outward also. So there's always some degree of unity in a real scene, unless you go to great lengths to contrive an artificial situation.

So one way of understanding why discords have significance is that they are colors that surprise your brain, given the overall image it's dealing with. So they look unexpected and out of place and sometimes out of kilter. And carefully done, you can use that as a tool to create unease or tension in an image. But it's easy to make unhappy pictures that way, because they draw attention to themselves too much - a great deal of your low-level brain is devoted to bringing your attention to things it doesn't expect.

08-31-2002, 01:48 AM
Crumbed, TPS's explanation of what discords are is the generally-accepted one and if I read what the book says about it correctly it seems a bit vague about the relationship between hue and value, and while the idea of the primary highlight can work it is far too simplistic to apply globally. As for the pink highlight on the lemon thing? Well that's just daft.

I think part of the problem is the book might be written more with the designer in mind and perhaps the author is not making a clear enough distinction between design colour relationships and observable lighting effects for pictorial purposes.


08-31-2002, 03:47 AM
Puzlinon - your name belies your obvious inteligence! You dont seem to me to be puzzlin-on at all, you are very clear indeed, and have summed up EXACTLY what I understand discords to be all about - uncomfortable colour combinations and jarring surprises.

For what it's worth, Crumbed, (conjours up wonderful image, that), my studies of master paintings have shown that the vast majority manipulate their scene, and in so doing, their paintings, in order to make use of COLOUR HARMONY- based on adjacent colours on the colour wheel in its simplest terms - and they also understand fully about the impact of complementary colours too, and use them to draw attention to certain areas of the picture. Others deliberately choose to use one pair of COMPLEMENTARY COLOURS in a picture. This is a huge simplification, but I come across it time and time again. This is leaving out issues about tone, and atmosphere etc etc I know, but just run through some good books, and look at the pictures, and you will find plenty of evidence of the "unity" so well described by Puzzlinon, and little evidence of "discordant colours" EXCEPT in paintings which are meant to be smewhat disturbing.


do visit my ebay "about me" page and auctions (http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/jackie4art/.)

09-01-2002, 07:24 PM
Hi Crumb,

I mind is swimming here with all this....so I won't ever go there I think everyone is helping you more in this area than I could...but I have tip for you..;) I have found that when I come across something that I have trouble getting in this new art world I have found myself in...I read and read again and then I rest and let my brain work it out...I have found that it starts to show in my work without any effect or struggle on my part or I will read it again or hear someone state the samething in a little different way and I get....You might know this already or have found it for yourself so I hope you don't mind my popping in here.

It nice to know what you do, now I understand where your need for perfection comes from and the drive...I have no dought you will have this all figured out in no time..


09-02-2002, 03:44 AM
Birdie's comments are very interesting. I have always thought that there is a kind of filter between your brain, and your hand. New ideas sit in your brain ... you read the words, you even think you understand them , - and yet it won't come out on the paper or canvas! I believe that this is because there is some kind of filtering system going on, all the way down your arm!! Suddenly, at some point in time when you aren't expecting it - you "get" the point! someone at art school explained "composition" to me, in simple words, making herself quite clear - or so she thought. I thought I "got" what she was saying. However, it wasn't until three years later, that the penny dropped, as we say over here! It's one of the fun things about painting.


09-02-2002, 10:13 PM

Maybe this is what you are referring to.

A picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes. Here is an example of a painting by Harley Brown, one of my favorite pastellists. He talks about discords in his book.

The overall feel of the painting is warm and orangish red. You go to the triadic colors on the wheel- 2/3 of the way around from the primary color orange-red and choose a color - here violet and aqua and incorporate them into the painting to add relief to the warmness. When correcly placed they add drama and support the overall theme.

Now if only I could understand how to do it and when. ;)

cobalt fingers
09-03-2002, 08:11 AM
In representational painting a discord is the wrong clor-a color that won't stay in the design. Artists that work from life -say paint plein air get those colors from nature. The light temp and the atmosphere unify the scene and thus the paintings.

Much of color theory is meant to be deep and complex. I don't think it needs to be.

09-05-2002, 03:20 PM
Crumbed, if you ever reach a conceptual understanding of application please be sure to share it!!! I have read and re-read the posts here and have gone off to research it on the net but still haven't found any really good examples. I come from a computer science background and also need to know the answers to these questions or it will keep buggin the $%&* out of me and others I am sure!!

Thanks, Colleen:)

09-06-2002, 12:32 AM
Originally posted by dollardays
Now if only I could understand how to do it and when. ;)

Hello dollardays,

Here is a painting I did years ago using colors I thought were in dischord. I wanted the viewer to be a bit on edge and very uncomfortable so I thought I should use colors and images that were not harmonious in the traditional sense. The shinny metal surface also helps support the uncomfotable feeling, as the glare from the gallery lights really scream at the viewer.

09-06-2002, 12:33 AM
the image quality isnt very good. Here is a detail

09-07-2002, 11:45 AM
I see what you mean, Mike. But I don't think you have used discords in the traditional "painting" sense of the term, which is what I think Puzlinon was asking about. Contrasting color, etc. But I am still unsure....

I like your painting though- you seem to have used a limited palette but it grabbed and held my attention right away... it doesn't seem to need any discords as it is not bland in ways that most of my paintings seem to be.

I always thought "discords" were a way to enliven a painting that was too analagous. A kind of quick "fix". :D

09-07-2002, 12:45 PM
Hi Dollar,

The image I posted isnt very accurate its far too warm. I am looking at the original right now and can see it is much cooler. The pointing figure's shirt color is actually more magenta.

My guess is that when your referring to the "traditional" use of dischord you mean sort of an unexpected, unpredictable use of color that can bring attention or intrigue to a work. I think that is a good use for dischord. IMHO, things that have too much harmony or predictablility can seem too perfect and unchallenging.

If thats what you meant then yes my intent was different then that. In this painting I was trying to create emotional tension in the viewer. I tried making the shirt colors dischordent with each other to support this idea of unpleasentness. The thing that was sticking in my mind when painting it was dischord in music. Erie music kind of like Arnold Schoenberg. When I posted earlier I thought Id give an example of how and why some people use dischord.

I would love to see some examples of the traditional dischord if someone wanted to post some.

Thanks for your reply Dollar, I think this is an interesting topic.

09-07-2002, 02:45 PM
Hooray! I have found an explanation of Color Discord in one of my books. Here goes, a slightly edited version:

"Color discord is the opposite of color harmony. A combination of discordant colors is visually disturbing; the colors seem to clash, to be pulling away in opposing directions, rather than relating harmoniously to each other. Mild discord results in exciting, eye-catching colour combinations.....a poster, for instance, could attract attention by its startling colours.

At one time, rules were taught about just which color combinations were harmonious and which were definitely to be avoided. For example, a combination of pink and orange was thought to be suspect, as was orange and yellow-green. Today of course these rules seem silly, and we approach color more freely, seeking out unexpected combinations."

(I am not going into the technical bit here which bangs on about the colour wheel, primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, but if anyone wants more info, the book is called Design Basics by David A Lauer. It is pretty old, however.)

"Colors widely separated on the colour wheel - but not complementaries - were generally seen as discordant combinations."

Interesting, the use of past tense. Clearly, the rules which used to exist, are not so important to modern painters. However, that very last sentence could be useful, if you were determined to produce a painting with exciting colours, rather than harmonious colours which are easy on the eye.

I do hope this dispells the fog a bit!

09-07-2002, 02:50 PM
Litttle note for MikeN .... your painting is not, I feel, about color discords - in fact, it offers very harmonious colours, which sit alongside each other on the colour wheel. However, the muted, , greyed-down tones of those colours are what is visually "disturbing" to me, and they perfectly complement the expressions on the faces, which are also disturbing. Imagine if you had used crisp, clean, jolly primary or pastel colours - it would never have had the same impact. Terrific piece of work

09-07-2002, 04:05 PM
Hello Jackie,

I really appreciate your feedback. It looks as though I may have been unsuccessful in my attempt. I would like to hear from more people about this issue. Are these colors dischordant in my painting? Something that doesnt read well on the attatched image is the purple figure and prussian blue figure on the right side. Like I also mentioned earlier the pic is too warm and a bit too dark. Ill try and rescan on monday.

I suspect the color book mentioned in the comment above yours is where I was headed anyway. Some of the dischordant colors given in the that example are even in my painting. Pink, although its a cool red hue in mine, orange and yellow green. When I originally painting this I referred to some books on color and took note of their dischord examples. Once such book was Design Basics by Ralph Lauer. Of course the edition was old and it could be these colors are no longer seen this way. "?" Now Im really curious!

Here is another idea, maybe its like unity through variety. Anybody familiar with that concept? The fact that nothing relates makes them all relate. Maybe true dischord can only happen when there is something harmonious to contrast with. Im interested in hearing what you all think.

Thanks again for the feedback I hope to get more.


09-07-2002, 05:29 PM
here are the rescanned images. I still cant get the purple and blue to show much though

09-07-2002, 05:31 PM
the detail, Hey how do I post more then one pic at once?

09-07-2002, 09:47 PM
Jackie: "Color discord is the opposite of color harmony. A combination of discordant colors is visually disturbing; the colors seem to clash, to be pulling away in opposing directions, rather than relating harmoniously to each other. Mild discord results in exciting, eye-catching colour combinations.....a poster, for instance, could attract attention by its startling colours.

Jackie: "Colors widely separated on the colour wheel - but not complementaries - were generally seen as discordant combinations."

Thank you Jackie, for taking the time to look this up and find a clear, understandable definition. :)

I have recently been trying to incorporate discords into my paintings and haven't met with a lot of success. I did a quick study (below) in acrylics to see if I could build on my understanding.

The painting is based on a viridian-rose contrast and the discords are the blue-violet and warmish red colors. Although the discords are not a local color on the rose or stem, they seem to add visual interest to what would otherwise be a pretty bland painting.

Simplistic, but it seems to work, at least in this case.

Keith Russell
09-09-2002, 01:19 PM

Am I right in understanding that 'discord' in visual art is akin to 'dissonance' in music?

I've even heard visual artists speak of 'dissonance' in their work.

In music, some dissonance is acceptable, even interesting.

Of course, the same is true for visual art.


09-09-2002, 03:56 PM
in music its discord or dat chord....in painting its probably something that tugs or yanks at you,something throws you off doesnt work but works maybe it would be if you had something out of place.sorry this place is a mess id find a dictionary..........