|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 aesthetic 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 grabbed 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 two lines.
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.... See you then!