COLOR THEORY -
A WHEEL OF COLOR
Starting with rock-bottom basics, make a color wheel. The though of this
probably takes you back to sixth grade. But, let me tell you that I have
often had very advanced students who could not even explain to me the elements
of the color wheel! This is insane. After all, some of the best minds in
human history have delved into color wheels -- for example, the great English
physicist and mathematician Issac Newton and the German poet and scholar
is the purpose of constructing a color wheel? Simply put, to set in your
mind the structure of color. The three primary hues -- yellow, red, and
blue -- are the basic building blocks of color. Theoretically, all other
colors are derived from these three. Next come the three secondary hues
-- orange, violet, an green -- born of primary colors. And then follows
the third generation, the six tertiary (level three) hues -- yellow-orange,
red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green. The
color wheel has a total of twelve hues, arranged like the numbers on the
face of a clock.
Use your colored pencils to match the color wheel above.(you will likely
need to follow the colors according to the ones listed in the small wheel
. The colors are not accurate on the web). Bear down hard with your colored
pencils to produce the most intense hues possible.
Those of you who know color wheels will se that I have used the usual order
for colors on the color wheel. I believe this is the correct placement
in terms of the complicated crossover system of the brain, the visual system,
and the language of art. The left side of an image is addressed
by the dominant right eye, which is controlled by the left hemisphere (stay
with me on this one; it is complicated!) In the language
of art, the left side of an image carries the connotations of dominance,
aggression, and forward movement. The right side, scanned
after the left side, is addressed by the left eye, controlled
by the right brain. The right side of an image, in the language of art,
carries the connotations of passivity, defensiveness, and blocked movement.
In this zig-zag fashion, the left hemisphere, right eye, and the left side
of the color wheel are linked to the sun, daylight, and warmth -- and also
to dominance, aggression, and forward movement. Conversely, the right hemisphere,
left eye, and right side of the wheel are linked to the moon, nighttime,
and coolness -- and thus also to passivity, defensiveness, and distance.
Most color wheels are oriented in this fashion, apparently purely on intuition.
purpose, then, of constructing the color wheel is to set in your mind which
colors are opposite each other on the wheel. Blue is opposite
orange, red is opposite green, yellow-green is opposite red-violet. These
opposites are called complements. The root of the word "complement"
is "complete." Perceived in proper relationship, complements seem to satisfy
the needs of the right hemisphere and the visual system for completion.
You can use your color wheel to practice determining which hues are complements.
This knowledge should be learned so thoroughly that it becomes as automatic
as 2+2 = 4.
IMPORTANT POINT: have confidence in your color choices! Guided by some
basic left-hemisphere knowledge of the structure of color (for example,
the use of complements), your right hemisphere mode will know
when the color is right. Within the guidelines, follow your intuition.
Try out hues on a scrap piece of paper. Then say to yourself, "Does this
feel right?" and listen to what you feel. Don't argue with yourself.
Bear in mind that color most often "goes wrong" when students without knowledge
of color use too many hues. They often throw together
a variety of hues, chosen at random from the color wheel. Such combinations
are difficult -- if not impossible -- to balance and unify, and even beginning
students sense that something isn't working. I encourage you to use a limited
palette until you have a wider experience with color.
Having said that, I will reverse the thought and suggest that at some point,
you may want to go wild with color, throwing everything together to see
what happens. Buy a sheet of brightly colored paper and use every color
you have on it. Create discordant color. You may be able
to make it work -- or you may like it in its discordant state! Much of
contemporary art uses discordant color in very inventive ways. Let me emphasize,
however, that you should attempt discordant color by design and not by
mistake. Your right hemisphere will always perceive the difference, perhaps
not immediately, but over a period of time. Ugly color is not the same
as discordant color. Discordant color is not the same as harmonious color.
LET'S DO AN UGLY
CORNER IN A CITYSCAPE
Now let us try a cityscape. Go out and find a truly ugly corner. (Regrettably,
ugly corners are all too easy to find in most of our cities.) Using the
perceptual skills of seeing edges, spaces, and relationship of angles and
proportions, draw exactly what you see -- including signs, lettering, everything
-- placing great emphasis on negative space. One of the great paradoxes
of art is that subject matter is not of prime importance in creating beauty.
Read the following
directions before you start:
LET'S EXPAND A
We have explored complementary color schemes. Two additional
ways of arranging harmonious color are monochromatic schemes
and analogous schemes.
Find your corner, the
uglier the better.
Sit in your car to do
the drawing, or use a folding stool to sit on the sidewalk.
You will need an 18" X
24" board to draw on, and an 18" X 24" piece of ordinary white paper. Draw
a format edge about an inch from the edges of the paper. Use a pencil to
draw the cityscape. A viewfinder and a transparent grid will help in sighting
angles and proportions.
Draw negative space almost
exclusively to construct the drawing. All details, such as telephone lines,
lettering, street signs, and girders, are to be drawn in negative space.
This is the key to success in this drawing. Remember that negative space,
clearly observed and drawn, reminds the viewer of that for which we all
long -- unity, the most basic requirement of a work of art.
When you have finished
the drawing, return home and choose a piece of 18" X 24" colored paper
or colored cardboard. Transfer your on-site drawing to the colored paper,
using carbon paper or graphite transfer paper, available in art supply
stores. Be sure to transfer your format edge to the colored ground.
Now color it with a complementary
arrangement. Choose two colored pencils that harmonize with your colored
paper, one dark and one light. Allow the tone of the paper to be the mid-tones.
This will provide a satisfying color scheme because the color is balanced.
Monochromatic color, meaning variations of a single hue,
is an interesting experiment with color. Choose a colored paper and use
all the pencils you have in hues related to that color.
Analogous color is an arrangement of hues close to one another
on the color wheel -- red, orange, and yellow; blue, blue-green, and green,
MOVING ON TO A
Your next purchase should be a set of pastels, which are
pure pigments pressed into round or square chalks using a minimum of binder.
You can buy a basic set of twelve chalks (ten hues plus black and white)
or a larger set of up to one hundred hues. But be assured that the small
basic set is sufficient for the exercises we will do here.
So run out and buy a set of pastels and I will meet you back here in a
few days. We are now beginning to move into the really fun part of learning
color. It will be exciting. See you...
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