View Full Version : The Progression of REGRESSION in color and values

08-22-2005, 02:16 PM
*Note- Another thread I'm salvaging from my Partner Artist's Helps Forum to the Plein Air forum in hopes that it will be found informative, instructional...useful! :D
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Thought since I often talk about in throughout the Wetcanvas forums, I'd make one thread that discusses changes in color as the eye sees it...that is the eye from the perspective of one that paints outdoors on location.

I hope this will prove itself of interest particularly to those that paint indoors. Perhaps it will help you see your photo references a bit better, or become disappointed in using them at all...perhaps leading you to paint outdoors.

To begin with...amongst my many books is one by John Carlson written in 1929 called, "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting"..

Carlson a storied past where he learned and later taught with Frank DuMond at the New York Art Students League school. A friend and contemporary to Emil Gruppe, actually working and teaching together at Gloucester later in life.

While it is easily explained and I have often thought that color simply cools as it goes back further into the distance...John taught in essence that various colors break down, diminishing until its presence is lesser felt to none at all. The first color to lose its strength going back is yellow...then red, leaving blue.

Now...funny thing is...some resent an idea put in their head to look for a particular thing because they'll argue it might not really be true...its just that its been put in your head. You know...the mind has some unique capabilities and one is definitely selective seeing.

When you are in a crowd...a large noisy, moving shifting crowd and need to find one particular person, the mind can image that individual and elect to ignore the sea of faces around you. It learns to tune out and hone in.

Whether or not philosophically it is there...if you choose to believe a particular artistic belief and look for it and find it...it may well be a useful tool.

Case in point...I have had high school students react with surprise to hear that one can sense purples and bluish hue in shadows. While painting, it is fun to watch and see students helping each other...and little by little they learn to see, then seem to huddle around another not seeing it until they too exclaim with great surprise...."OOOOhh...YEAH..NOW I see it!!!!""

Knowing it might well be there...you then tend to look for it, and are likely to see what many others may not.

Back to Carlson...

He is suggesting that yellow will slowly leave the mix...fade out. So let's consider the color green and put Carlson's suggestion to the test. Green is a mix of yellow plus blue...in its various forms of yellows....various forms of blues. If what John Carlson is saying is true...green will have more sense of its yellow contributer in the mix nearest to the viewer. As that mass or object has further distance from our eyes...the yellow will fade and allow the blue in the mix to begin to dominate more changing the nature of that green.

In addition...values change, and I will demonstrate. Darks are darker nearer to the viewer...but fade and become lighter as distance comes between you and those darks.

This past weekend, I drove to the western side of the state to perform a bit of music with my band, "Beggar's Joy"...and on the way...was a marvelous light. Crazy as it seems...I took some digital pictures holding the camera up, which probably wasn't too smart at 65-70 mph...fortunately, the camera does the focusing! :p

Also...while on location staying with a friend in the band, I took time to take some pictures...let's look at a few of those first.

Here is a reference by the side of the road. I parked for this one...



Compare the first top two images side by side to the reference....and compare the strength of the greens, the intensity, the presence of yellow.

Then compare the bottom two images...and see how much that intensity has fallen off. Much less of the yellow is seen. It is the same green if we were to walk up to that distant mass, but its appearance from a distant vantage point shows a much reduced level of yellows...and a hint of blue.

Now...standing in a nearby field...I point my camera out over the distance.


Note the far mass that appears bluish. It is a wooded hill possessing the same trees and colors of green were we to visit that hill closeup, but from the distance it is bluish...note the greens of the trees, the darks being darker than that of the distance...but....


note the strength of the presence of yellow in this green of the grass about 5 feet away from me when I point the camera down. Note the overall intensity and purity of color period and compare it to the picture above.

Okay...let's look at another scene down the highway from this field...



Look at the rich dark darks as compared to the distance...look for signs of greater intense greens enriched by the presence of more yellow as compared to greens in the distance. See how green loses its intensity going back slowly changing to bluish hues. See how the darks change...

Okay...here's where I was the highway drivin' crazy man...one picture I took that I found interesting...this mass of near trees contrasted against the distant scenery...excuse the fuzziness as again I was holding up a digital in a vehicle traveling at near 70 mph...


Note how in the right near side tree mass alone that the greens are noticeably greener to the nearest right side I am approaching while less intense to the farther tree...note the change in darker values as well. See how much everything appears bluer in the distance...

Okay...last comparison....I thought this one was cool...

Here is a farm that I am approaching. The image of the farm far away is quite bluish...the trees lacking intensity, yellow faded...


now that same farm as I am about to pass it by...


I hope you find this of interest.

Now...in keeping with Carlson's thoughts....the next color to be affected is red.

So...if you can picture this...a large orange wall or mass up close would appear quite orange. From a particular distance the yellow would lose its strength of presence, and that mass would begin to appear redder...but, also lighter in value. Why redder? Logic...yellow + red = orange ....

substract some of that yellow....you have more red or a reddish orange.

Now...as that red begins to lose its strength of presence it will begin to lean toward blue.

Now...interestingly, if the yellow presence is still felt at the time that blue begins to make its influence (as it does on all distant masses) on the color orange, it may even feel a bit brown. That makes sense since red + yellow + a little blue = brown...

A pure red color fades off to start appearing violet...but as its value lightens it appears a grayer violet. I noticed this a great deal with old barns driving back home yesterday.

Other properties that add to just how much this affect will be seen or felt has to do with shifting prevailing amounts of humidy in the air as the barometric pressure indicator shows us. More water molecules in the air captures light from the sky/sun and holds a measure of it. Greater distances of course have greater density of such molecules between our eye and the distance mass we are looking at, and a haze is seen or felt. Such lightens the values of course.

Now...the artist can of course look for these things to occur, and like looking for the face in the crowd if you are conscious to look for it you will be more likely to see it and more often. These things noticed will serve to create greater atmospheric depth in your paintings...leading to greater three-dimensionality, greater dynamic "pop" as I like to call it.

Now...sadly, in our image saturated culture where the news provides us the truth of things as it is happening around the world...so many have come to accept the photograph as a reliable truthful source. So many artists have resolved to simply copy photographs and then want a reaction to what is thought of them as an artist, their capabilities.

Your work is only as strong as your resources and your combined experiences and understanding that go to bat for you. The less you understand what happens with atmospheric light and color, the less you observe and learn the more the photograph will dictate and take over the outcome of the work of art in question.

Thru the lens metering of typical cameras are designed by film sensitivity and shutter speeds, aperature openings (size of lens hole that opens and closes) to gather in light. In favoring light, the shadows and darks are pushed to exaggerations. Painters that paint on location have much greater reliability in eyes that are able to see into the shadows denied to film within a camera's body. Such sensitivities are rarely experienced in photographs.

Even these photos I share in this thread...(taken with a digital camera), required photoshop enhancement and a lot of past photoshop experience to adjust and bring them to appear as best I remember that image being to a natural a state as possible.

If you want to improve as a painter, you need to reconcile with the fact that painting is a way of deeper seeing. A tool first for the eyes to explore, to see and the mind to understand more intimately. When you paint from a photograph...your painting becomes a means to see a photograph more deeply. However, you are investing faith that the photograph is a faithful reliable truthful representation...but sadly they hardly compare to the real thing.

You need to bring outside experiences and understanding, observation and studies...to correct and change your photograph...getting away from "copying" but using it at best as only a resource. The real test for an instudio painter is to paint a landscape that possesses such presence as to feel as though it were painted on location. To help you get to that point and time, you will serve yourself best by practicing the habit of painting plein air studies on location. Using these studies WITH photos will provide trustworthy accurate recording of color, mood and so forth.

Hope you've enjoyed this...and good paintin!


Shelley Grund
08-22-2005, 04:41 PM
Super! Your photos really demonstrate the color theory you are trying to describe. Both, your text and photos are excellent tools for those of us painting landscapes and wanting depth of field to be evident. Thank you for the time and effort. But... be careful out there ... 60-70 m/h is a pretty dangerous speed to be taking photos.

08-22-2005, 04:47 PM
hahaha....okay, thanks Shelley...I'll try and be careful...inbetween talking on the cellphone, taking out and replacing different CD's in the player, and adjusting my neck rest!

glad you enjoyed the comparison of these images...thanks


08-23-2005, 02:41 PM

Thank you for the time and effort you put into you demos. They are excellent learning tools. For those of us learning, who struggle just to get the paint on without it looking like a mess, you provide a valuable resource.

08-24-2005, 10:05 PM
Larry, this is going to help me a lot! You are a WC Treasure!
I'm hoping to try my hand/eye with PA painting as soon as the weather here becomes tolerable.
And I haven't done too many studio landscapes either. (gotta work out the "weird green" problem!)

08-25-2005, 10:40 AM
thanks BTW and damar...appreciate your comments...and take heart such things may help others...

take care


08-25-2005, 11:30 AM
Larry - this is like a 'just in time' delivery. We've been talking about this issue in a couple of different threads over in OCF. Now we're linked to you here! Thanks so much for taking the time!

08-25-2005, 02:23 PM
as I was saying, Kathleen...to someone else in another forum reporting much the same, we talk about it and try to put such understanding to use all the time. It helps to see it I suppose in concrete form. Not a surprise I'm sure to any of us..but affirmation perhaps.



08-27-2005, 09:24 AM
Larry, thanks so much for your explanations and photos. I really struggle with trees and their colourings in my paintings, and now I have this page bookmarked for a referrence. I'm sure it will help a LOT.
thanks for taking the time, I'm sure there are so many people here who appreciate your expertise.

08-29-2005, 09:48 AM
thanks Ann...much appreciated. Hope it will help folks make more sense of what they are looking at. Knowing what to look for often helps...


09-02-2005, 04:06 PM
Thanks for your time in explaining values and how distance effects colors.
I'm sure alot of landscape artists will value your infomation.


09-20-2005, 10:56 PM
thanks Gay...my pleasure...

found a couple other references that are good examples of this regression and progression of color, values and color temperature...from our lake where our family cabin is in upper Michigan...




11-05-2005, 06:55 PM
Thanks Larry, Photograph In Hand, Half Finnished Painting, Liked What I Had Done So Far, And Just About Ready To Screw It Up, You Saved A Nice Painting For Me, Now That I Have The Colours Right, How Do You Do Leaves, So They Look Like Them? Hey You Seem To Know , The Web Is New To Me, So Forgive Please , Until I Find My Way Around. Thanks Again! Jasmin Horst.

11-05-2005, 09:42 PM
Hey Jasmin...

Just finished a small 6"x 12" oil on a panel with a pumice additive, the "Hanson Panel" as we are calling it on Wetcanvas...(based on a recipe of WC member Marc Hanson). I have a thread that shows the various steps...and a closeup, and you can see how I treat leaves. I try and represent leaves as a value/color mass...suggesting them more or less...getting my clues from squinting my eyes... here is that thread, and hope it helps! Thanks much for yoru comments....



08-03-2008, 10:01 PM
Excellent thread, thanks Larry. I typically do figurative paintings indoors and have just started wanting to incorporate my figures in made up outdoor environments. I've been afraid in part because I'm uncertain how to get the depth to work in and I think your illustrated explanation of how yellow and then red recedes with distance and blue or sky starts to dominate will help me a great deal with this problem :)

08-04-2008, 09:58 PM
always happy that something I've had a part in sharing finds a place to be helpful to another! Thanks...and my privilege Adrian... :wave:

Paula Ford
09-05-2008, 01:50 PM
Great thread! Thanks very much Larry!

09-05-2008, 02:28 PM
thanks Paula

04-16-2009, 10:14 PM
bumping up...enjoy! :)

04-17-2009, 11:11 AM
These are all great threads Larry. It sound like we need a a second menu on the Plein Air forum for learining.

04-17-2009, 12:22 PM
thanks Mike...

learning is an ever happening state, that is for sure...for anyone who's sights are on excellence. As I remind my students (often...) excellence is not an accident!


Jo Castillo
04-17-2009, 12:42 PM
Thanks for this. I really dislike painting from photos, but it is necessary at times. I especially appreciate the hints on the red and how it is affected in landscapes. I tend to focus on the green and blue and forget the red.

04-17-2009, 05:58 PM
Thanks Larry...

Marcio C
04-17-2009, 07:43 PM
Thank you, Larry. If I can add a thought here: The intensity of the regression is affected by altitude and humidity: Here in Colorado at 20% humidity and 5400 feet altitude, the color regression is a lot milder than at locations with more dense atmosphere and more humidity in the air--some people have a hard time creating believable color recession because distant hills and mountains and trees are still so crisp to the eye, you actually have to push the recession further than your eyes tell you to. In contrast, I remember a day visiting Boston in summer when the colors receded noticeably in a matter of 30 yards across the pond in the park...

10-16-2010, 08:50 AM
The intensity of the regression is affected by altitude and humidity: Here in Colorado at 20% humidity and 5400 feet altitude, the color regression is a lot milder than at locations with more dense atmosphere and more humidity in the air

Yes, I agree with this... While most of the time the distance/haze equation is true, there are near-zero humidity days in the fall (at regular altitudes) where scenes a few miles away can look as crisp and bright as what is only a few hundred feet away. I find this to be the case many times in winter, early spring or fall. Atmosphere, humidity, time of day... lots of factors can skew things. It really depends on how you want to re-represent a scene, completely and exactly truthful to what you see ~or~ "artistically" for what you want seen by the viewer of the piece. Most painters opt for the latter but there are those rare times when the former can also create a stunning result.

Age can play a big factor as well... Many impressionists' later works were thought to be their most "artistic", but some reason that this was because their failing eyesight made them blur or make vague what they actually couldn't see. They simply put the tone in place and let the eye tell the rest of the story. We can also do that by choice, of course!

10-16-2010, 10:34 AM
the beauty of a rule...or a notion of the concept, is that it serves to bring attention to that acception as well.

In portrait work...I have taught my sons, as well as my students for years a formula that ironically works. Based off of Da Vinci's cadaver studies and measurements, and something reading I gleaned and have used to teach. My illustration/high caricature artist son Jason, has made use of this brilliantly to see where the exception to the generalization is and then exploit that...

Distance from pupil to pupil (of the eyes) equals length of rested mouth, length of nose, length of ears, distance from closed mouth to bottom of chin. Width of one eye equals distance between or from one eye's tear duct to the other. Distance from temple to temple equals distance from bottom of chin to bridge of nose, from bridge of nose to hairline...etc

Uncanny how accurate much of that has been...but when it comes to rules some have in their nature only the interest to prove or say, "Hey...that doesn't work...because my ear....blah blah blah" which means they aren't getting the value of what having a generalized standard offers them.

There are always exceptions to the rule...and many artists like to tout, "rules are meant to be broken"...

I'll agree to the degree that it serves you only when you know what the rule is that is to be broken, and why breaking it is going to serve your priorities.

Knowing the generalization of this progression of regression of color and values would only heighten my experience visiting Colorado, and result in my better exploiting the unique trait there...and then in the end, that serves me as a painter.

Good stuff all...good stuff

10-16-2010, 12:07 PM
Hey Jasmin...

Just finished a small 6"x 12" oil on a panel with a pumice additive, the "Hanson Panel" as we are calling it on Wetcanvas...(based on a recipe of WC member Marc Hanson). I have a thread that shows the various steps...and a closeup, and you can see how I treat leaves. I try and represent leaves as a value/color mass...suggesting them more or less...getting my clues from squinting my eyes... here is that thread, and hope it helps! Thanks much for yoru comments....




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02-25-2016, 01:06 PM
This is an old thread...that I shared back when I was moderator, and prior to retiring. One I referred others to so often, that I kept its link rather than have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. I'm bumping it up after so long...hoping it will yet prove helpful to some.. :)