Saturday, August 04, 2012

Nerves of jelly

Here is why I am nervous about starting colour

This is a painting, in pastel, of a white thing on a white background.

How many colours are in this "white" painting?

How on earth do you begin to see this, and to make these kinds of decisions about colour?



Ingemar said...

Good question. Although I don't have an answer.

One thing that intimidates me about drawing people is getting creases, folds, and wrinkles in clothing right.

Mark S. Abeln said...

Yes, color is tough to characterize, despite the fact we are seeing it all of the time. Learning color theory should help you, although there are a lot of mistaken notions out there. Here are a few principles that may help you:

- The difference between additive color (where we mix colored lights together) and subtractive color (where me mix pigments together). Lots of color theory discussions tend to blur the distinction.

- Luminosity is more important than color. Worry more about tonality than color. In your example image, the colors are all over the place, which doesn’t matter much, because the light and dark tones are good. That’s why you learn monochrome first. While you can be very sloppy in choosing what particular color to use, coloring outside of the lines looks terrible even if trendy. You whatever color you want, but be sure color doesn’t stray beyond the object it is sitting on.

- Many artists put down the color first, and then build up dark and light tones on top of it. You may find this helpful because you won’t have to worry about color blending and gradations. Just do an outline drawing, fill it with solid color, and then add black or white on top of it. Can anything be simpler? Imagine doing a painting of an apple: create a solid red apple shape, and then paint in the shadows on top of it.

- The opponent color theory. Some colors are opposites, and mixing them together will merely get you a muddy or gray color. This is helpful because there is no need to mix pigments that are opponent to each other. If you look at a color wheel, only colors that are similar to each other should be mixed together to get another color.

- The most important color opponents are orange-yellow versus a cyanish blue, which just so happens to be precisely the colors of the sun and the blue sky. If you are coloring something in daylight, you color the stuff in full glaring sun slightly yellowish, and the stuff in full shadows slightly bluish, with a precisely neutral cast in-between the two.

- Color constancy. You eyes automatically adjust for the color of the light so that neutral objects appear neutral even under varying conditions. Objectively, the measured color varies enormously even though it looks hardly different to the eye, which is why cameras often deliver terrible color. The ability of the eyes to remove the color of the light becomes weak as light dims, which is why we experience yellow tones by candlelight and blue tones at dusk.

- The colors you select will determine the maximum gamut of colors that you can mix. At one time, it was believed that by using only three primary colors you could mix all of the rest, but this is not true. A good selection of primary colors can mix many colors, but those colors at the edge of human vision — in particular, the colors produced by the Murex shell famed in antiquity — cannot be mixed but instead require pure pigments. Six well chosen colors, of intense color and well-separated from each other on the color wheel, along with two blacks (one that mixes warm and the other that mixes cool) and two whites (likewise mixing warm and cool), can give you all the color you will likely ever need. With this system, you will only typically have to mix together adjacent colors, along with black and white if needed.

- The most basic palette that will give you a good range of color is yellow, magenta, cyan, and black. This is, however, assuming you are using pure, bright white paper. Color mixing here is predictable and easily understandable. If you start with these colors alone, and learn how they mix together, you will be well on your way to using color.