Color Theory - Lesson #5
The first thing
to do in learning the language of color is to learn all the definitions.
I won't bore you with all of those again. If you have not studied my lesson
on color terms go to Wetcanvas.com
and read the lesson on that subject. Then come back and complete this lesson.
We know that looking at objects, scenery,
political or historical events in perspective helps us determine the total,
over-all image and importance of whatever we are observing. In the pictorial
arts, perspective is the optical, visual appearance of whatever we're planning
to depict. We speak of two kinds of perspective: linear perspective and
color perspective. Color perspective used to be called aerial perspective.
The term aerial means everything pertaining to the air, the
atmosphere. One might easily think that aerial perspective refers to the
often staggeringly beautiful views we have from high flying airplanes.
In art, therefore, it is better to speak of color perspective,
unless you are referring to a bird's-eye view.
In reality, everything around us is
three dimensional; in drawing and painting, however, we work on a two dimensional
surface. We have to observe objects as if they were flat, like our paper
or canvas. This isn't easy, because people have so-called "memory pictures"
about which we have already talked at length; that is, they think of objects
as they are in a diagrammatic form, straight in front of their eyes, like
a building in an architectural drawing. In reality, we usually see things
from an angle, rather than from straight ahead. From an angle, a round
chair or plate looks elliptical; a square appears to lose all its right
angles. Horizontal lines appear to slant upward or downward; all forms
look smaller and smaller the farther away they are. By this time in our
education, you should be keenly aware of these facts. If you are the slightest
bit vague on this issue go back to the Basic Drawing series and study again.
This linear perspective was understood,
theoretically at least, by the ancient Greeks. In practice, the Romans
were the first to leave us murals in which perspective was employed with
remarkable eye-catching effects. Then, as now, some artists knew more about
perspective than others. The knowledge was lost during the Dark Ages, but,
by the fourteenth century, Western artists had rediscovered the rules of
linear perspective, and were able to render three dimensional space in
Color perspective, which refers to
changes caused by distance and atmospheric conditions, doesn't seem to
have been grasped by artists until the late Middle Ages, when we first
see an attempt at indicating distance by employing blue tones in the far
background of paintings. Even then, the blue was the same all over a small
section of the picture, with every tiny detail carefully drawn and painted.
All around this small segment of bluish scenery, the painting was always
equally strong in color, without any gradual diminishing of values towards
the far background.
IS COLOR PERSPECTIVE IMPORTANT?
It may be interesting to note that
even though a few basic principles of linear perspective were known to
Far Eastern artists a long time ago, they never tried to go beyond them.
Color perspective remained unnoticed in the greatest Oriental art until
recent times, when artists of the East began to have access to Western
art. Does this suggest that perspective in general, and color perspective
in particular, can be of no real significance? Not at all!!
Oriental art differs from Western
art just as Oriental music, manners, food, drama, and way of life do. In
fact, color perspective may be more vital to the three dimensional
kind of painting developed in the West than linear perspective, because,
in the last analysis, it is the colors, the tonal values, that create the
illusion of depth. This illusion of space is dear to the hearts of many
abstract and nonobjective painters, as well as realistic artists.
The biggest role of color perspective
is generally in landscape painting, because greater distances and spatial
problems are encountered in these subjects than in figure painting. Nonetheless,
even in figures and portraits, the background is important, whether it
is a plain backdrop of color, such as a wall or curtain, or a more definite
and complex background, such as the interior of a room, a garden, or the
kind of romantic scenery Leonardo da Vinci painted behind the Mona
Lisa. A background, whatever its nature, must look like something
in back of the figure - not as if the figure were pasted on a sheet of
cardboard, or, worse yet, as if the figure were merely looking through
a hole in a wall or in a curtain.
DISTANCE AFFECTS ALL COLORS
Colors change as much as lines and shapes
do, according to distance. Faraway
hills and objects are not only smaller than similar objects closer to us,
but they are also bluish. Very bright hues, such as orange and red, seem
bright in the distance, too, but they are invariably lighter and hazier
the farther away they are. An orange colored poster on a gray wall two
hundred feet away may seem just as bright against the gray of the masonry
as the same poster on the same kind of wall ten feet from you. Comparison,
however, proves that both the gray wall and the orange colored poster in
the distance are much hazier than the wall and poster nearby.
WEATHER AFFECTS ALL COLORS
On a cloudy, rainy day, all colors become
grayish. Yet a red barn still appears to be red and grass still looks green,
as long as there's enough light for you to see, and as long as you know
what you're seeing. This is important to realize.
Beginners usually paint colors equally
bright, no matter how far or how near they may be, and no matter what kind
of weather they are painting. They simply go by the name of a hue and not
by its actual appearance, its value. They'll paint the red barn, the green
grass and foliage, as seen from close-by, in bright sunlight. Beginners
merely paint the sky blue on a sunny day, gray on a rainy day, dark blue
STUDYING COLOR PERSPECTIVE
The mental approach toward color perspective
is identical with the approach to learning linear perspective. A beginner
in painting sees a newspaper as re remembers it: a rectangular object.
Remember that in earlier lessons we learned that one of the difficulties
is that we KNOW too much about our subject, or THINK we do. At first it's
difficult for him/her to believe that the rectangular paper looks different
when you see it from an angle on a table. Artists must learn to see colors
- as well as forms - from diverse viewpoints, in various lights, in different
A distance of a few feet doesn't change
colors in a noticeable manner. You need the outdoors for observing color
differences. A view from the top of a hill over a vast panorama is the
most striking proof of how hues are affected by distance and by weather.
If at all possible, try to observe the same panorama on two different days:
once on a bright, sunny day, and again on a gray, cloudy day. Take photographs
of the same view on the two different occasions or, better yet, make color
sketches, concentrating on shades of colors, rather than fine details.
Each row of hills or mountains is
lighter in tone the farther it is from you, on any day. The last hill may
be just a shade or two darker than the sky on a bright day; on an overcast
day, it may literally blend into the sky. Details of rocks, meadows, houses,
trees become vaguer and vaguer the farther away they are, and so do their
colors. Each color brcomes bluish, sometimes almost violet. You can still
distinguish between a medow and a wooded area, or between a winding road
and a winding river, but distant scenery resembles something covered by
smoke on a rainy day, covered by a light blue veil on a sunny day.
In a city, the differences in hues
and values can best be appreciated on a straight avenue, where you notice
that houses diminish in size and their colors diminish in intensity toward
the opposite end. Buildings, however, are in so many colors - red, yellow,
buff, gray, white, brown, in the United States, and many more in southern
European towns - that comparison is not easy for the untrained eye. A brown
house in the distance looks darker than a white house nearby. You must
compare a red, brown, or gray house in the distance with a house of the
same color closer to where you stand.
EXERCISE IN COLOR PERSPECTIVE
Remember what I have often said: "A large
part of the job of an art teacher is to teach the student to SEE." So,
if there is any way you can, carry out the next exercise. Take three or
four sheets each of red, yellow, medium blue, and black cardboard or posterboard,
28" by 44", or 30" by 40" in size, and set up one of each next to the other,
close to where you are standing, in a garden, a medow, or on a fairly straight
country road. Set up another group, in the same order, fifty feet away;
another group a hundred feet away, and so forth. You might lean them against
rocks, or stakes, in such a manner that you can see all the cards clearly
from where you are.
Now observe them honestly. By this,
I mean forget that they are exactly the same sets. Don't listen to your
memory (left hemisphere) telling you: "They're the same....they're the
same...." Use your eyes. All the information you need is right before your
eyes. The colors are identical in fact, but not visually. They are lighter
and hazier, the farther away they are. The degree of brightness between
objects of the same hue decreases with distance in the same proportion
as sizes do. This is vital knowledge.
COLOR PERSPECTIVE IN HOUSES AND FIGURES
If you know anything about linear perspective,
you won't paint a house and a figure as large in the background as you
would in the middleground or foreground. You know that if a figure can
walk through the door of a house nearby, the figure farther back can also
walk through the door of the house in front of which it is supposed to
be standing. The house, the door, and the figure are equally smaller in
The differences in colors are
as great as the differences in size. If both houses are pink, and
the doors and shutters of both are green, and both figures are dressed
in red jackets and blue slacks, you must observe, and paint the perspective
in colors as well. In other words, each color will be lighter the farther
it is from you.
COLOR PERSPECTIVE IN FOLIAGE
Probably the most difficult subject from
the viewpoint of color perspective seems to be a forest, or any scenery
with a great deal of trees and foliage. Green foliage and green grass look
plain green to the untrained eye; lighter where the sun hits them, darker
in the shade. It's easy to see the color differences in unusually light-and-bright-hued
young trees, and, of course, you can distinguish trees with maroon or reddish
foliage. But there's much more difference between greens than you realize.
You must learn to render the diverse shades of green not only lighter and
darker, but reddish, yellowish, whitish, bluish, and grayish greens as
well. If you don't learn these nuances, your forest will resemble a piece
of material, a curtain, hanging straigh down, instead of going back deep
into the distance; your trees will look like green drapery thrown over
Take what we have studied today and try
to put it to practice in your art or practice paintings. I will try to
"catch up" a little in time as I was rather late getting this lesson on
line. Look for me again soon. Till then.....
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