with the theme of these lessons on color I have decided to make the pages
quite colorful. Seems appropriate, doesn't it? While I am generally opposed
to colorful backgrounds on web pages, I want you to begin to think of color
even as you view the pages. Let us go forward with renewed vigor.
an age like ours, color is not the luxury it was in past centuries. We
are inundated by manufactured color -- surrounded, immersed, swimming in
a sea of color. Because of sheer quantity, color is perhaps in danger of
losing some of its magic. I believe that using color in drawing and painting
helps us to recapture the beauty of color and to experience once again
the almost hypnotic fascination it once had for us.
Human beings have made colored objects since the earliest times, but never
in such great quantities as now. In past centuries, colored objects
were most often owned by only a few wealthy or powerful people. For ordinary
people, color was not available, except as found in the natural world and
as seen in churches and cathedrals. Cottages and their furnishings were
made of natural materials -- mud, wood, and stone. Homespun cloth usually
retained the neutral colors of the original fibers or, if dyed with vegetable
dyes, was often quick to soften and fade. For most people, a bit of bright
ribbon, a beaded hatband, or a brightly embroidered belt was a treasure
to guard and cherish.
we turn, we encounter human-made color: television and movies in color,
buildings painted brilliant colors inside and out, flashing colored lights,
highway billboards, magazines and books in full color, even newspapers
with full-page color displays. Intensely colored fabrics that would have
been valued like jewels and reserved for royalty in times past are now
available to nearly everyone, wealthy or not. Thus, we have largely lost
our former sense of the wondrous specialness of color. Nevertheless, as
humans we can't seem to get enough color. No amount seems to be too
much -- at least not yet.
But what is all this color for? In the natural world of animals,
birds, and plants, color always has a purpose -- to attract, repel, conceal,
communicate, warn, or assure survival. For present-day humans, has color
even begun to lose its purpose and meaning? Now that we have this huge
bulk of manufactured color, is its use mostly indiscriminate? Or is purpose
and meaning still subliminally inherent in color as a remnant of our biological
heritage? Is the pencil I write with painted yellow for a purpose? Did
you choose to wear blue today for a reason?
And what is color? Is it merely, as scientists tells us, a subjective
experience, a mental sensation that can only occur if three requirements
are fulfilled: that there is an observer, an object, and sufficient light
in the narrow band of wavelengths called the "visible spectrum"? It certainly
is true that at twilight the world turns to shades of gray. Is the
world really colorless, only seeming to become full of color again when
we turn the lights on?
If color is a mental sensation, how does it happen? Scientists tell us
that when light falls on an object -- for example, an orange -- the surface
of the orange has the particular property of absorbing all of the wavelengths
of the spectrum except that which, when reflected back to our eyes and
processed through the visual system, causes the mental sensation we have
named the color "orange". My writing pencil is coated with a chemical substance
(paint) that absorbs all the wavelengths except that which, when reflected
back to the eyes, is "yellow". Is the orange really orange? Is the pencil
really yellow? We cannot know, because we cannot get outside of our
own eye/brain/mind system to find out. What we do know is that when
the sun goes down, color disappears.
PUTTING COLOR IN THE BRAIN
Given sufficient light to perceive colors, scientists also tell us that
the brain's reaction to colors seem to depend on the differences in thinking
modes of the various sections of the brain.
Very bright, intense colors ( and colors that shine and glitter) draw a
response from the so-called "primitive" brain, the limbic system. This
response is an emotional one, perhaps connected to our biological heritage
of color as communication. For example, many people say, "When I get mad,
I see red!" The inverse of this exclamation perhaps describes the
situation whereby an intense red elicits an emotional, aggressive response.
The main role of the left hemisphere of the brain , is to tag colors with
names and attributes, such as "bright blue", "lemon yellow", or "burnt
umber", and to translate into words or emotional reactions to color.
Additionally, the left hemisphere is specialized for designating sequenced
steps in mixing colors -- for example, "to mix orange, add yellow to red,"
or "to darken blue, add black."
The right hemisphere is specialized for the perception of relationships
of hues, particularly for subtle linkages of one hue to another. Right
hemisphere is biased toward discovering patterns of coherence, specifically
toward combinations of hues that balance opposites -- for example, red/green,
blue/orange, dark/light, dull/bright.
Right hemisphere has another important role in color: seeing which combination
of colors has produced a particular color. Given a range of grays, for
example, the right hemisphere sees which one is warmed with red, which
one is cooled with blue.
Nearly everyone is interested in color, yet most people have surprisingly
little comprehensive knowledge about it. We often take it for granted that
we know enough about color to know what we like, and we feel that's sufficient.
Yet pleasure in color, as in almost every subject, is increased by knowing
something of the enormous body of knowledge about color.
Something odd happens when a student of drawing begins to add color to
the gray, black, and white of drawing. No matter how satiated by our modern
color-loaded surroundings, students focus on color as though seeing it
for the first time, almost with the naive pleasure of children. And color
in drawing does indeed add a tremendous emotional charge to drawing.
For the basic exercises we will begin next time we meet, you will need
to buy a few new drawing supplies. I will add to the list of supplies as
each technique is introduced.
First, buy a set of colored pencils. "Prismacolor" is a good brand, but
there are many others. I suggest the following colors;
sienna brown vermilion
blue burnt umber
green yellow ochre
warm gray light
canary yellow lemon yellow
warm gray medium
buy six sheets of colored paper at least 9" X 12" or larger. Construction
paper is fine, or you may prefer another type of paper. Any colored paper
that is not too smooth or shiny will do. Avoid bright, intense colors.
Choose instead soft green, gray, sand, blue, or brown. you will need a
plastic eraser and a kneaded eraser. Buy a hand-held pencil sharpener,
or a small knife if you prefer to hand-sharpen your pencils.
to have some great fun with color and to perhaps, understand it for the
very first time....see you again...in just a couple of days. This will
give you time to get the necessary supplies. Then we can move on...