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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Understanding Colour

When it comes to colour there are a number of important things we need to be aware of.  Most elementary would probably be the colour wheel. The colour wheel is divided into Primary, Secondary and Tertiary colours.

Primary colours
The colours Red, Blue and Yellow are called primary colours in their purist form.  When studying the reactions of colours it has been discovered that essentially all colours can be mixed from a combination of these three colours.  When all three primary colours are mixed together a gray or neutralized colour is achieved.  (Some literature refer to the mixing of the three primary colours to form gray as tertiary colour).

Secondary colours
Secondary colours are mixed from two primary colours in equal amounts:
            Red + Blue = Violet
            Blue + Yellow = Green
            Yellow + Red = Orange

Tertiary colours
There is no general consensus as to what is meant by tertiary colours.  Some literature refers to the mixture of secondary and primary colours as tertiary colours.  Some call these mixtures intermediate colours.  Some literature suggests that tertiary colour is derived from the mixing of the three primary colours into a neutralized gray as tertiary colour.
A third school holds that tertiary colours consist of a mixture of secondary colours and are thus restricted to three colours, namely olive, citrine and russet.
In order to avoid confusion and so as not to get trapped in a battle over semantics it has been decided that for the purpose of this discussion we shall accept the mixture of 1 part primary colour and 1 part secondary colour as the group which we shall call tertiary colours:
            Red + Violet = Red-violet
            Violet + Blue = Blue-violet
            Blue + Green = Blue-green
            Green + Yellow = Yellow-green
            Yellow + Orange = Yellow-orange
            Orange + Red = Red-orange 

Another important aspect of colour is that it has a temperature.  Generally the more the colour leans toward the blue side of the colour wheel, the colder it is.  Also the more it leans toward red or yellow, the warmer it is.  It gets tricky when we get to mixes.  A blue with a mixture of red in it might be warmer than a blue with a mixture of green in it.  Just so, a yellow with some blue in it is colder than a yellow with some red in it.  However, we do not wish to get too technical.  It is merely important to know that humans attach a temperature value to colours and that it will play a role in our perception of, and emotional response to a painting when we view the final product.

It is important to know that warmer colours tend to advance to the foreground while cooler colours will recede further into the background.  However, this is merely a general rule since shape, value and context also has important roles to play in determining the foreground, middleground and background in the composition.

Semantic Theory
There are words which you are likely to encounter when dealing with people in the art industry.  A brief and simple explanation follows to attempt clarification of some very important terminology and key concepts..

A colour as it comes straight from the tube is at its most intense form.  We can add white, gray or black to alter the intensity of the colour.

Value simply refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour.  Getting the value of a painting right is the most important thing.  You can paint the sun green and as long as you get its value right, viewers will still be able to interpret it correctly.

Simply put hue is colour.  When we talk about any colour we use the word hue to refer to it.  It can therefore be called a synonym for the term colour.  For example, red is a hue, orange is a hue, green is a hue.  We can go on forever.
Adding white to any colour (hue) results in a tint of that colour.  The more white we add, the less intense the colour turns.  Pink can therefore be called a lighter tint of red.  When we add a lot of white to a painting we say that we are painting a high key painting and the result is a painting which is light and airy in feeling.  It also results in very soft value changes.
When we add gray to a colour we arrive at a tone of that colour.  This is called middle key painting.  We are quieting the intensity of the painting and changing it to a deeper value.
When we add black to a colour we arrive at a shade of that colour.  When we do this in a painting, it is called low key painting.  Our value range becomes even deeper and the intensity of our colour range becomes muted.
Full range
When we use the full value range in a painting, our painting will be a closer reflection of what we see in nature.  This means that we make use of the full range of white and black in our painting.  Greater realism can be achieved by using the full range.

When too much white is added, a picture might become lifeless.  When too much gray is added it mat turn drab and dreary.  When too much black is added the picture could be completely destroyed.  It is therefore prudent to mix in very small quantities and with great caution.

Transparent vs. opaque
Some paints are transparent and others are opaque.  It is important to take note of this quality of your paint when using it straight from the tube as well as for purposes of mixing colours.  Very bright and clear results can be achieved when a colour is transparent, such as when painting glass or water etc.  Opaque colours can achieve more solidity on the other hand, such as for structures or trees etc.

All water colours are transparent which would account for the light and airy feel one gets when viewing them.  Generally a lot of the paper is retained in water colours and allowed to remain untouched for this very purpose.

Gouache is essentially also a water colour paint which has been developed to counter this aspect of water colours.  Gouache is therefore an opaque paint which reacts in every other sense the same as traditional water colours.

When a paint colour is transparent, it simply means that light can travel through it.  The result is that the eye will be able to see through the colour to whatever is beneath it.  This can be compared to putting on a pair of dark tinted glasses (shades).  It changes the value of the objects around us, but they are still visible.
Transparent Watercolors

Transparent Acrylics

Opaque colours will not allow light to travel through it.  Instead the light will bounce off it and you will therefore not be able to see through it to what lies beneath.  Opaque colours are very useful for fixing mistakes.
Opaque Gouache

Opaque Acrylics
Mixing transparent and opaque paints
When two transparent paints are mixed together the resulting colour will still be transparent.  Likewise when two opaque colours are mixed together, the resulting colour will still be opaque.  However, when a transparent colour is mixed with an opaque colour, it will result in a translucent colour which will have properties of both groups.
Colour schemes
There are a number of colour schemes which have been tried and tested through the years and has been proven to be successful.  We shall look at some of the more common ones.

Monochromatic colour scheme
In a monochromatic colour scheme we make use of different values of one single colour.  In other words, we select a colour of our liking which we then mix with a full range of white and black (and gray as the mix of the two).

Analogous colour scheme
When using only colours which are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel, we say that we are doing an analogous painting.  These are also called harmonious colours.

Complimentary colour scheme
Complimentary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel.  We use direct opposites for greatest contrasts.  These colours show each other off the best.  Red and green are direct opposites, as are blue and orange.  Black and white are also direct opposites even though they do not appear on the colour wheel.  Black and white are not considered colours as black absorbs light and white reflects it.

Split-complimentary colour scheme
In a split-complementary colour scheme we make use of a colour and the two colours adjacent to its complimentary colour.  For instance: we select the colour red.  Its complimentary colour is green.  We do not use green, but rather the two colours right next to it, namely yellow-green and blue-green.

Double complimentary colour scheme
In a double compliment we make use of two pairs of complimentary colours, e.g. red and green as well as yellow and violet.

Tetradic colour scheme
In this colour scheme we make use of any four colours on the colour wheel which have a logical relationship to each other.  The double-complimentary colour scheme would therefore be an example of this.

Printing colours
Printers do not make use of the same principles as art for mixing colours.  In printing all colours are mixed from the three colours cyan, magenta and yellow.  Black is added as a fourth colour to prevent saturation of colours, in other words, to prevent using so much colour to create black that the paper will not be able to contain it.

Shadow and Light
A painting only comes into its own once you add light.  In other words, once you consider the source of light in the painting and shows where it illuminates and reflects in the picture that is when it comes into its own.  In that sense it is very much like all of us in our relation to our Source of light as well.

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