Color Theory - Lesson #6
There are just a
few more points I would like to make concerning color perspective then
we will move on to color perceptions. I know that this is the part of color
that is less attractive and can be a bit boring. However, this is the information
you must have in your head and this is the information that you must be
contemplating while you are painting.
IMPORTANCE OF VALUES IN COLOR PERSPECTIVE
In color perspective, grasping and perceiving
values is of the utmost significance. You may follow all the rules of linear
perspective but still make a mess of your painting by neglecting color
values. A shadow on a tree, on a house, on a road, or on any object isn't
merely darker than the rest; it's darker according to the
nearness or distance! The brightest light on a green lawn faraway
is not as brilliant as on the same kind of lawn near you. Not only are
colors less bright in the distance; they are also more bluish in tone.
Compare the tones farthest away with
the tones near you, and paint the shades between the two extremes proportionately.
It's an excellent method to start your painting by applying the very darkest,
and the very lightest first. Bear in mind that warm colors appear to advance,
while cool colors recede. The more intense the warm color, the closer it
comes to you; the less intense the cool color, the farther away it moves
from you. Add a touch of red, orange, or burnt sienna to any color, and
it will come forward. Add a touch of white, blue, or green to any hue,
and it will move backward. You have absolute control over colors.
AVOID HOLES AND JUMPING-OUT COLORS
Colors in the distance painted as bright
as the same hues nearer to you, seem to be "jumping out of the picture,"
as we say, or look as if someone had pasted bright pieces of paper on it,
perhaps mischievously. Even the casual onlooker feels that something is
wrong with the picture.
Dark sections, painted just as dark
in the distance as similar objects in the foreground, appear to be holes
or gashes in the picture. They're fine if you want to paint actual holes
or gashes; they're utterly wrong, however, if the dark hue is an accident,
based on an oversight or on lack of understanding. Art students often paint
tree trunks, and shadows under the trees in the same colors and values
in the farthest distance as nearby, and in-between. Such trees and shadows
appear to be standing in one row across the picture, rather than in depth
as the artist had planned. And even real holes in the distance must be
lighter in value than similar holes nearby.
Although these facts are most notable
and damaging in realistic subjects, they're just as disturbing in abstract
or nonobjective paintings. An artist working in any of these contemporary
styles may wish to suggest a big hole, or something sticking out of the
painting. Such color effects can then be utilized for esthetic purposes.
LIGHT AND SHADOW
Few fragments of Greek paintings survive,
but the Roman artists knew practically all about light and shadow effects,
as we can see in their often superb murals in Pompeii and Herculaneum,
and in their great mosaic pictures. Light and shadow have been an integral
feature of Western art for over two thousand years, and we can hardly imagine
truly three-dimensional appearance in any painting that has no light and
shadow. For perfect realism, we must have linear perspective, color perspective,
light and shadow. But not every part of the world agrees with us..............
A very talented Japanese girl - in
a watercolor class I taught - once had to paint geometric objects made
of natural wood. She made a perfect outline drawing of a cube and a pyramid,
then painted the visible sides of each, all exactly the same wood color;
she left the pencil lines between sides intact, which was quite an achievement
in patience and skill. I asked her why she hadn't painted the shadows.
"What shadows?" she asked. Why, the right-hand side of each of the two
objects was in shadow; therefore, it had to be darker than the other sides.
The girl declared she didn't know
what I was talking about. Surely, she said, I couldn't possibly be serious.
How can certain sides of these objects be darker than others, when they
are made of the same piece of wood? When I tried to convince her of the
existence of shadows, she became almost hysterical. She grabber both geometric
forms, one in each hand, waved them, turned them around in front of me,
and repeated loudly: "These things are made of the same wood; every side
is just like the others, and that's the way I paint them!"
Suddenly, I understood the Oriental
attitude. You must paint not what you see, but what you remember as the
truth. Surely, the wood was the same all round. Japanese pictures are done
in fine outlines, colored according to the artist's memory. This shows
how totally different viewpoints can, and do, exist. Later on, I managed
to convey to this Japanese girl the Western idea about light-and-shadow
by showing her photographs, including a Japanese travel folder, printed
in Japan, in which shadows could undeniably be seen.
There is a famous story about Earl
George Macartney, Britain's first envoy to China. When he reached the court
of the Chinese Emperor, about 1790, he presented a gift from King George
III: several portraits of the British Royal Family. The Emperor and the
Mandarins were shocked at the sight of the portraits. They asked if every
person in England really had one side of the face darker than the other.
They thought the shadow on the King's nose was either a natural, tragic
defect, or, perhaps, some paint spilled by accident.
STUDYING LIGHT AND SHADOW
Highlights Are Different. On a cylinder, the highlight
is one line along the cylindrical body. On a sphere, the highlight is just
a spot, the one nearest to the source of light. On a cone, the highlight
is a line from the tip to the bottom of the cone. On round surfaces, the
darkest shadow is not at the very edge, but slightly away from it, leaving
a reflected light. If you paint the shadow up to the edge, the object will
appear to be flat rather than curved.
Lights and shadows must be studied like
anything else. I know that we have covered some of this material in previous
lessons, and I will be brief this time, but you must train your eyes
to see what's in front of them visually. Study the color of highlights.
The assumption that the shadow on a red apple is a darker red, the highlight
on the same apple is a lighter red, is erroneous. When the light comes
from the sunny, blue sky, the lightest spot on the red apple may be a pale
blue! The highlight may be yellow when seen by artificial light! The shadows
may be any dark hue, depending on where the apple is, its background, the
table, and so forth. Neither the light part, nor the dark part of an article
is ever one large mass of a single color. Each of them has shades. On a
round surface, these shades blend into each other, and leave reflected
light near the edge. On a flat surface, the shadow or light has a sharp
edge, but its intensity varies from one corner to the other. The highlight
is a spot on a sphere; a straight line on a cylindrical or conical object.
The shape of a cast shadow is produced
by the shape of the object which throws the shadow and the surface upon
which the shadow is cast. Observe cast shadows; don't assume they are dark,
indefinite spots. The cast shadow of a cone, for example, is cone-shaped
on a flat surface, such as a table. On a wavy surface, such as wrinkled
drapery on the table, the shadow curves according to the shape of the drapery.
The only time there is absolutely
no shadow is when illumination comes from all possible angles. Public buildings
and monuments are often illuminated by hundreds of spotlights. Such structures
appear to be flat surfaces with some decorations. One of the weirdest of
these is the Parthenon in Athens. Perched on top of the Acropolis, the
ancient temple looks like a huge neon sign floating against the midnight-blue
sky. It is a splendid fantasy, rather than a three dimensional edifice.
One of the best ways to study light
and shadow is to look at black-and-white photographs. Or paint a monochromatic
painting. When a student applies to enter my tutelage I hand them a tube
of black paint, and a white one, and ask them to paint a picture using
just these two paints. I want to know their understanding of light and
shadow. By removing color from their palette, they have only light and
shadow with which to portray their subject.
Take a black-and-white photograph
and touch it up with light gray, wherever its actually dark; and with dark
gray, where its supposed to be light. Such spots stick out like sore thumbs.
Anyone can immediately tell that something is wrong with the picture. Learn
to notice such extraneous spots in your full color paintings as well. You
needn't be photographic. Be as bold as you wish. Apply heavy strokes, omit
small details, but don't forget the final, total effect.
COLOR AND PERCEPTION
Perception means an awareness of things,
obtained directly, through the senses, through keen observation, or by
intuition. Some people are naturally aware of color; others make an effort
to see and study color. Still others are perhaps capable of immediate cognition.
As in all fields, perceiving color is probably a combination of natural
talent, observing ability and, with the greatest artists, intuition.
Having dealt with many hundreds of art
students, I know that perception in art in general, and in color in particular,
doesn't come as fast as I would like. Time after time, I hear the exclamation:
"But this doesn't look right!" or "This looks wrong. It looks impossible!"
Invariably, what looks right to the average student is wrong to the experienced
artist, and vice-versa. One of the most difficult problems is to convince
art students that the world is full of optical illusions. Some of these
optical illusions are pleasant, some unpleasant, others puzzling or amusing;
a few are known to the general public, even to school children, while others
come up in art only - every type of art.
The perception of illusions, whether
they are illusions of lines, of forms, or of colors, is very significant
to all artists.
The ancient Greeks, with their incomparable
desire and ability to weigh, measure, and define everything, were past
masters of controlling optical illusions in their architecture. They used
their eyes and their minds. When they noticed that straight columns didn't
look straight, they changed the shapes of columns until they found a certain
curvature and a set of proportions of height and width, the right sizes
for top and bottom of a column, so that, the column looked
straight, even though it wasn't. When horizontal steps seemed to be caving
in, they built them in their large temples, such as the Parthenon in Athens,
in a convex shape, so that they looked straight. Optical
illusions were widely and most successfully practiced by the architects
of the Renaissance, including Leonardo da Vinci, after the discovery, in
the fifteenth century, of books by the classic Roman architect, Vitruvius.
In painting, more than in architecture,
we must recognize, observe, and utilize optical illusions. After all, painting
itself is a great illusion: an artist can create an illusion of depth on
a flat surface; he can depict sunshine, moonlight, rain, hurricane, the
waves of the sea, galloping horses, and anything else, on a mere sheet
of paper or canvas. This is no small achievement. It requires visual experience,
perception, and technical skill.
EXERCISES IN OPTICAL ILLUSIONS
Which Line Is Taller? Which Is Longer? We are
surrounded by optical illusions, some interesting, some odd, some puzzling;
but many of them fool you unless you know all about them. Which line is
taller? Which line is longer? They're exactly the same, but the vertical
line on the right, and horizontal line on the bottom appear to be
longer. This illusion is caused by the inverted arrows at the ends of these
two lines, in contrast with the regular arrows at the ends of the other
Practically everyone is familiar
with the optical illusion of two lines of equal length, one with regular
arrows at each end, the other with inverted arrows.
Notice that the vertical line on the
right looks taller; the lower one of the horizontal lines appears to be
longer. The same illusion prevails in two human figures:
If one wears a tophat, the other a flat
straw hat, the man with the tophat seems taller, even though he is of exactly
the same height as the other figure. The reason for the illusion is simple:
we perceive the total height, or length, including the upside down arrows,
and the tophat, instead of observing the lines or figures themselves.
Another well-known optical illusion
refers to two women, one of whom wears a vertical striped dress, the other
a dress with horizontal stripes. The woman with the horizontal stripes
looks fatter and shorter. The illusion lies in the fact that vertical lines
guide our eyes upward, whereas horizontal lines seem to be spreading, widening.
Who hasn't seen the optical trick
of a white square on a black background, and a black square on a white
background? The white square on black appears to be bigger, although it's
identical in size with the black square. The result is the same if you
work with a bright yellow or bright green, and a dark purple or a dark
blue combination of squares and backgrounds. A bright spot on a dark surface
always seems to expand, while the dark spot on a light backdrop is visually
compressed by the light color around it.
If you paint a night scene with a
house, in which one window is brightly illuminated by a lamp inside, make
the window smaller than you want it to appear. Otherwise, it will look
much too big on the dark wall of the house. Some portrait painters like
strong contrasts, but if you want to paint a light-complexioned, blond
girl against a very dark background, paint the face smaller than lifesize.
Otherwise, the head will look like a giant. A lifesize portrait looks lifesize
when painted against a fairly light background.
I am attempting to get caught up a
little as I have been a bit late getting the lessons on line. Look for
us to move on in the next few days.......
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