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Old 02-21-2012, 06:23 PM
Keene Keene is offline
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Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Like many an artist, I’ve read a good many books, viewed many a video and studied with a quite a few experts. My initial idea was to read anything that I thought would be useful, but after I had read about 30 books and taken a few classes I was more confused than ever. So about ten years ago I decided to get organized, take careful notes (in my own words except as otherwise noted) and compile them into a single document so that I could compare what one expert said with what others said.


The resulting document was so helpful, that I have continued to edit, delete and reorganize my notes ever since. Art is so extensive that every book and every instructor has to focus, but my notes could be more wide-ranging, especially as I limited them to bullet points. Anyway, I thought others might find them useful.

The notes were for my own use, so I tried to avoid taking notes on something I already knew. Consequently, the neophyte should look elsewhere for instruction, but I think the advanced artist will find them quite helpful. They are, currently, organized into eight categories: color, composition, design, drawing, figure painting, landscape painting, still life painting, and vision and light. They are all posted on my website and, assuming WetCanvas has no objection, I will be posting them all in the proper categories on WetCanvas. What follows is the section on color, mostly for oil painters.


Keene Wilson


Color

Instruction, Notes and a Tutorial for the Advanced Artist

Physical Properties of Color

Subtractive primaries: magenta, yellow and cyan; yellow+magenta = red, magenta +cyan = dark blue or violet, yellow + cyan = green
Additive primaries: primaries = red, green and deep blue; yellow = red + green, magenta = red + deep blue (violet), cyan blue = green + deep blue (violet).
Components: Hue, value and chroma (intensity)
Staining strength, opaque/transparent, granulation
Psychological factors: simultaneous contrast, temperature
Proportion (purity) of pigment and intensity are not synonymous [maximum chroma of yellow is stronger at value 3 (light) than at value 8 (dark); purest purple-blue is low in value, and its maximum chroma is therefore stronger at value 8 than value 3]
Black and white are both grays and cool.

Psychological Aspects of Color

Key points:
The effect of viewing two juxtaposed tones of a single color is the intensification of both
Induction of complementary colors – viewing a color generates the sensation of its complement (bathing the area around the color in its complement)
Colors can be reproduced with great leeway as they are only relative in each harmony
Colors don’t mean anything in themselves, mean what you set them up to mean
Strong value contrasts tend to overpower and neutralize hue and chroma contrasts. Thus, black can be used to harmonize light colors and white, silver or gold can be used to harmonize dark contrasting hues
Preferences: women red, men blue; pure over shades and tints in small areas, shades and tints over pure in large areas; contrast/complementary then harmony/analogous then monochromatic
Simultaneous contrast: whenever two different colors come into direct contact, their similarities seem to decrease and the dissimilarities seem to be increased (intensity and value as well as hue)
Color in a gray field will always attract and hold attention. The gray field should include enough of the main color to hold the picture together
Color quality: the effect of two or more colors reflected from the same surface. Color quality is the most appealing of all the color properties
Color vibration – Use another hue (any hue but usually either complement or analogous) of correct value directly over initial hues of same value without blending. Thus it has to be either wet or thoroughly dry.
Luster can be simulated with a relatively small “lustrous” area, pure hue (or whiteness) with “jagged” edges, suppressed ground and reliance on black for contrast. Iridescence requires pure tints graying slightly deeper than a gray ground. Luminosity requires small area which is luminous because it is highest area in brightness with purest color and the apparent light source pervades the entire area. – Birren
Warm bright areas tend to look best against large cool areas.

Color Choices

Key points
Keep separate area on palette for mixing lights, halftones and shadows
The color of the light plus the local color of the object equals the color you mix.
Generally, there are great shifts of color in the shadows, and subtle temperature shifts in the light. Light areas should consist of slight variations of warm and cool colors.
Different plane, different color. In shadows, planes facing the same direction take on the same color; planes facing different directions take on different colors. Edges of forms in light or shadow may take on some of the color of the immediate background, because of the background light reflecting off the form.
With many separate lights and shadows describing a form, link them somehow and create simpler shapes while maintaining the overall light and shadow pattern
Questions to ask yourself: What color is the light source? What are the lightest and darkest color notes in the light family? What are the darkest and lightest color notes in the shadow family?
The first color note you put down must be accurate, because all subsequent colors are related to it.
A dark value stops the eye, while a strong color attracts the eye without stopping it.
If you get too much white in a painting during the early stages it is difficult to go dark enough
In strong sunlight there is a tendency to make greens too raw and to overload the canvas with yellow
Keep tones simple and empty, but not edges.
Low key and high key compositions benefit from small accents of strong contrast of hue, value or intensity
Good colors for imprimatura: raw umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, terra verte
Opaque lights, transparent shadows
Paint retains its greatest luminosity when not too heavily applied
Always start with your mid-darks, they are your foundation.
Model the form using both color and tone
Transparent colors are usually best for flesh colors; use opaques for hair and clothing
A small dark spot of color, through its lower value, can dominate a large light area in color schemes of strong hue, value or contrast – Also a spot of intense color can balance a larger amount of grayer more neutralized color.
Complementary colors can be more attractive if one of them is softened or neutralized (or separated by a neutral line or area, absolute black or white lines are the most effective)

Intensity

Beginners tend to make the entire painting too saturated.
The power of color is enhanced by playing off fresh, bright color against colorlessness
Grays bind together the bright, intense color notes.
A large area of neutral gray or a neutralized color as a background can unify clashing contrasts of color.
In any area where you need to pump up the color, you can add a more intense color at the edge of the silhouette as long as the value is right.

Mixing Color

Start with the color that most closely approximates the correct hue, add additional colors to bring it to the correct value, grey to the correct intensity
Creating value range (as recommended by Jack Faragasso)

Select pigment of approximate proper hue
Adjust mixture to correct hue
Create value range by lightening (often with white and a little yellow) and darkening
Add grey to achieve proper chroma (the grey should be of the same value)
Note: 4 – 5 values for drapery; 7 – 9 for flesh
Many artists: a) adjust half tone hue to suit their preference, but must be of the correct value, and b) increase chroma and change hue of shadow, but again must be of the correct value (often cool halftone, warm shadow)
To adjust for color of light: Start with the color of light in the correct value and add small amount of flesh tone in the correct value

“Seeing” Color

View a color not by looking into its center, for in this way you can convince yourself it is practically anything in terms of temperature, intensity and value. Rather, view it at its borders, against the surrounding contrasts. Glance visually back and forth between foreground and background colors. - Sergei Bongart
Soften your focus to see color, squint to see contrast.
It is a fallacy to attempt realism in color rendition
If you are searching for a correct value, find other values of both lighter and darker degrees. The same should be done for intensity and temperature.
A color isolator (card with a hole punched in it) helps to judge colors, but trust your first impression.

Choosing values

Maintain the value families (shadow, reflected light, core shadow, halftone, highlight) by using color temperature changes rather than value changes within the value families
Separating foreground, middle ground and background by value allows only six options. Choose one and that is your value system. Split each of the three values into three more and keep absolute separation = 9 values; plus one more for highlight. Half tones don’t have anything to do with value system. Use core or highlight as organizing system running throughout painting.
When you’re mixing colors you’ve got to control value, so when you add a color, first match value off to one side using new color, then bring them together.
Make an “Octopus of Colors” as a way of clarifying your choice of (often subtle) color/temperature shifts: given a base color you wish to modify, blend the base color with each of the several options you’re considering (or using) in long gradated “tentacles”. But first, off to the side, match the value of the added colors to the base color.
Get value right and the eye will accept the unlikeliest colors
Initially use not nine, but three values
Hold up something dark to judge a dark shadow area and a pure white object to compare light colors.
Judge tone relations from the dark end of the scale (otherwise shadows may get too dark)
“If your colors are right, your values are right” – Hawthorne
Never judge a value independently but always in relationship to at least two other values
Color is mostly a matter of personal choice, but value is factual.
When you’re chasing color, often it’s not the color that’s wrong, but the value.
When the local color of an object is at the opposite end of the warm/cool spectrum from the light, include a hint of color from the light end of the warm/cool spectrum in the local color of the object
To lighten object, either lighten object or darken the adjacent colors.
When painting the light pattern use yellow and blue rather than a monotone for the sketch.
Color intensity is best used as a middle value because most hues take on their brightest chroma at a middle value.
Get the value right and the color close, good advice for the value painter.
Value painters should limit their color range (a la Yin/Yang of Painting), colorists should limit their value range.
Put in at least one dark at the start of the painting to establish the value range early.
Never decide on the lightness or darkness of an area without comparing it to another area.
Light value positive shapes need darker value negative shapes.
Avoid having the same value on both sides of a form.
Have the greatest contrast on the light side of the subject.
Pre-mixing paint helps keep values separate
Darker values are easier to discern.

Choosing hues

Pure colors appear at their best on a gray background tinged with their complement
Start with a firm concept and then work the color strategy around that concept from start to finish
Extremities (small shapes) are warmer than the body, tend to be bands of light on the head (forehead more yellow, cheeks redder, jaw more blue or green)

Choosing the right temperature

A small amount of warm color usually dominates a larger amount of cool color, although both may be of the same intensity
The dominant color temperature should be warm if the color accent is warm.

Temperature

Our colloquial usage of "red hot," "white hot," and so on, is part of the color sequence black, red, orange, yellow, white, and bluish white, seen as an object is heated to successively higher temperatures.
Foreground and background should have temperature interchange, with warms behind cools and vice versa
All colors are cooled by adding white and warmed when painted transparently over a light ground.
The range of apparently cool colors is smaller than the range of warms. The edges of the cool range are yellow-green and red-violet, both warm colors.
Gruppe considers yellow warm, blue cool and red as a modifier.
Its easier to make a warm color cool than a cool color warm (with paint)
Put cools on warms, not vice versa or muddy

Munsell system

Principal colors: red, yellow, green, blue, purple; red is much closer to yellow than on three-primary system
Complements are red to blue/green, yellow to purple-blue, green to red-purple, blue to yellow-red, purple to green-yellow
Complements are directly across color wheel; discords form an equilateral triangle with the dominant color

Harmony

Harmony – All it means is colors have something in common. Complements have nothing in common, so there will be no harmony until they are grayed by each other. Thus, a complementary composition will work best with near complements with both hues a little warmer or a little cooler.
[In today’s movies,] 70% of time its either blue and orange [cools, add blue; warms add orange] or red and green [warms add red, cools add green]. Sometimes desaturated violet and light green.
Itten defines harmony as any colors which blend to make grey. Thus, they can be from any geometric shape on the color wheel.
Harmonize a painting 1 by adding a touch of the light color to each element touched by the light and colors of the opposite temperature in the shadow. OR 2 have every color lean toward a common color direction
In a landscape, the sky integrates the painting. Put a little sky into the ground and a little ground into the sky.
Using mixed colors already on the palette will mix more harmoniously than out of the tube colors.
Repeating similar colors but in different values and intensities
Mix one hue into every color used or glaze with a single transparent color
Wide range of colors may be harmonized by bringing them all to a similar value level or making their intensity levels correspond
For gray to harmonize with blue it must be cooled, with orange it must be warmed (because of simultaneous contrast)
Consider using one dark (neutral gray) for the whole picture, modified to suit any color scheme and used throughout the work in all extreme darks and for lighter grays. Holds the color in harmony and simplifies painting
Using a limited value scale saturates either all light or all dark values, thus bringing the whole into more unity
Soup: Mixing a large amount of the dominant shade, then injecting it into every color used is a great help in creating harmony
Technique – Find one dominant color, paint the other parts of the scene with that color mixed in varying proportions with its complement and with white. Variation: split complements
Harmony is not determined by the color you use, but by how you treat the light temperature. What harmonizes color is capturing the illusion that the same light is falling on all the objects. – Robert Johnson
In terms of harmony, value is the least effective and temperature and intensity are most effective.
To get the painting to harmonize, have a clear color idea (color key). Key the painting to 1, 2 or at most 3 colors. If you see a rainbow of colors, then look to the light source for the color key.
In terms of colors, the painting should look like it was painted with a limited palette. May add off key color to show viewer what the key is.
To add sophistication, when object is one color and background another, you can gradate over both with a third color.
Nearly any combination of pure colors with tints and white will appear harmonious
Zorn palette – white, yellow ochre, blue black, cadmium red or true vermillion


Posted by: Keene Wilson (Notes covering color, composition, design, drawing, figure painting, landscape painting, still life painting, and vision and light may be viewed in the appropriate forums on WetCanvas or at http://keenewilson.com/ For Artists)
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Old 02-22-2012, 03:07 AM
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Einion Einion is offline
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Thanks for your post Keene.

I'm not sure of the value of posting a raft of disparate notes like this. As with any collection garnered from various sources there are bound to be conflicts and discrepancies; without any context to try to help sort them out there's a lot of potential for confusion.

There are certainly some nuggets of good information here (e.g. the oft-quoted line from Hawthorne) but these are interspersed with other points that don't tally with them. And there is a great deal of stuff here that I would class as misleading or outright wrong.

A selection of points I wanted to highlight with the above two in mind:
Quote:
Components: Hue, value and chroma (intensity)
...
View a color not by looking into its center, for in this way you can convince yourself it is practically anything in terms of temperature, intensity and value.
Quote:
Model the form using both color and tone
...
“If your colors are right, your values are right” – Hawthorne
Quote:
Complements are directly across color wheel; discords form an equilateral triangle with the dominant color
...
Itten defines harmony as any colors which blend to make grey. Thus, they can be from any geometric shape on the color wheel.


Quote:
Its easier to make a warm color cool than a cool color warm (with paint)
Put cools on warms, not vice versa or muddy
Quote:
A color isolator (card with a hole punched in it) helps to judge colors, but trust your first impression.
Quote:
All colors are cooled by adding white and warmed when painted transparently over a light ground.

Einion
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Old 02-22-2012, 04:36 AM
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Scientific content is always true, but at the same time, psychological content is in question, half-true and always outdated for me (unless you don`t want to find something new in art but only try to paint a copy).
But even wrong method or theory sometimes can make useful result. Better to read this and do your own decision!
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Old 02-22-2012, 09:43 PM
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Thanks for taking the time to post this Keene...appreciated.
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Old 02-23-2012, 04:46 PM
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

A bit off-topic, but a couple thoughts...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gigalot
Scientific content is always true...
Scientific ideas are/should always be open to be proven wrong if a new idea or theory comes along that seems to disprove and supplant it.

Quote:
But even wrong method or theory sometimes can make useful result. Better to read this and do your own decision!
So true. You see tons of artists that promote wonky, easily dis-proveable color theory ideas, that produce stunningly beautiful art. So even though their idea might be 'wrong', it isn't a detriment to the final result...it might even be part of the reason why the final result is so good.
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Old 02-23-2012, 05:24 AM
Keene Keene is offline
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Enion,
I basically agree with you. The conflicts that you noted and others found throughout art instruction are the primary reason I initially compiled the notes – to clarify the very kind of conflicts you noted. Books and instructors often present one point of view and ignore conflicting perspectives. Not a problem if you study only one perspective, but it can be very confusing once you become aware of the contradictions.

I don’t think my notes will be very helpful to anyone who needs a single perspective or who is seeking the “right” answer, but for me, they were very helpful in elucidating those differences of opinion.

You said that some of the notes were “outright wrong”, but all of the notes are from someone who would normally be considered an “expert”. That certainly doesn’t make them right and if they are in contradiction with another expert means that means at least one of them is “wrong”, in some sense at least. My personal belief is that each expert has found something that works for them and sometimes what works for them doesn’t work, is “wrong”, for others.

I gather that you have a strongly held perspective on color. If you do, then these notes will not be of much value to you. Nor will they be of much value to someone who knows little about color. But I do think that most artists still wrestling with the contradictory advice will find them useful.

Keene
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Old 02-23-2012, 09:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keene
I basically agree with you. The conflicts that you noted and others found throughout art instruction are the primary reason I initially compiled the notes – to clarify the very kind of conflicts you noted. Books and instructors often present one point of view and ignore conflicting perspectives. Not a problem if you study only one perspective, but it can be very confusing once you become aware of the contradictions.
Yes, huge problem in relation to colour theory issues and related subjects such as vision, the effects of light, atmospheric conditions etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keene
You said that some of the notes were “outright wrong”, but all of the notes are from someone who would normally be considered an “expert”. That certainly doesn’t make them right and if they are in contradiction with another expert means that means at least one of them is “wrong”, in some sense at least.
Exactly so. I've cautioned here for many years now to take the statements of experts/'experts' with a healthy dose of salt!

Many things are 'individual truths', not facts (although commonly stated as though they were, e.g. "white cools" or "warm colours advance").

Einion
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Old 02-23-2012, 11:57 AM
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Although these aren't absolute truths - they are artists' ways of working with color that work for them - I gotta admit there's tons of useful wisdom here...it's just like reading through Proverbs. So maybe this should be called the Color Proverbs.

Quote:
All colors are cooled by adding white and warmed when painted transparently over a light ground.
I don't know if anyone picked this out yet, but a couple exceptions I can quickly think of:

-searching through Golden and Dick Blick color swatches, you can find an occasional color that gets 'warmer' as white is added; Golden's Green Gold (which is a mixture) and Transparent Red Iron Oxide - these become yellower rather than bluer in tints

-a lot of reds, especially Quinacridones, are 'cooler' (by anyone's definition of the word) when painted thinly over white. Some blues also.
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Old 02-23-2012, 01:23 PM
Keene Keene is offline
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Patrick,



Color Proverbs, I like it. And like many proverbs, there are contradictions. “A stitch in time saves nine.” “Haste makes waste.” And yet there can still be a grain of truth in both.


Einion,


As I think about it, “Color Proverbs” will be somewhat controversial partially because there is a certain amount of “scientific knowledge” about color (more so than for, say, drawing or painting). As our knowledge of the science of color increases, color concepts evolve and many earlier concepts are supplanted. Our knowledge of drawing and painting also evolves, but mostly it is acknowledged as opinion, not fact. Our scientific knowledge has a more firm basis and much of it ultimately becomes accepted as “fact”.



But because we’re into art, not science, it’s possible to use an “outmoded” color concept and still produce beautiful work. Some artists keep up with the current level of knowledge about color, but I suspect very few even care. What they really care about is producing good art. If it works, it works.



Keene
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Old 02-24-2012, 03:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick1
Quote:
All colors are cooled by adding white and warmed when painted transparently over a light ground.
I don't know if anyone picked this out yet, but a couple exceptions I can quickly think of...
Yep, that's why I highlighted this point above. Going back some years now (nearly 10 to my surprise) I highlighted that adding white doesn't necessary do this; while it is very common it's not universal. I can't recall that I ever saw exceptions mentioned previously yet surely I wasn't the only artist to spot this, but you still saw it trotted out like it was universally true.

To use this as a specific example to highlight a general problem, if the learner reads this stated by an established painter it would generally be taken to be true and then they doubt their own observations when they spot something that appears to be an exception.

This is particularly insidious where the tint is ambiguous (the hue remain the same) and can lead to miss-reading the result as you assume it must be 'cooler' because the rules says so. There are a great number of parallel examples as many readers will already know.

Anyone feel up to taking on the other two things I highlighted at the bottom of post #2?

Einion
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Old 02-24-2012, 01:22 PM
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Einion
To use this as a specific example to highlight a general problem, if the learner reads this stated by an established painter it would generally be taken to be true and then they doubt their own observations when they spot something that appears to be an exception.
Or they simply wouldn't want to disagree with an 'expert'...after all, an expert can't be wrong, right? (there are entire books on amazon written about how badly 'experts' of all kinds can and do mess things up if their advice is taken).

Quote:
This is particularly insidious where the tint is ambiguous (the hue remain the same) and can lead to miss-reading the result as you assume it must be 'cooler' because the rules says so. There are a great number of parallel examples as many readers will already know.
One similar example I came across a few days ago: a very good artist, on his blog, insists that Nickel Titanate Yellow (PY53) is the coolest yellow. Even though some PY3s are more greenish. So he seems to be equating lower saturation with coolness here. So does that mean that Alizarin Crimson should be considered cooler than Quinacridone Magenta because it's less saturated, even though it's closer to yellow in hue?

Quote:
Anyone feel up to taking on the other two things I highlighted at the bottom of post #2?
If you mean the last two quotes, I'll comment on the second last one. I don't know if I should trust my first impression of a color...even for relative color judgment. I was watching an excellent, realistic still life demo on youtube. It was difficult to judge the form shadow colors of the yellow lemons. My best guess using my eyes might've been a darkened & greyed yellow or orange-yellow...perhaps like Yellow Ochre. Not even close. The colors the artist used on the underside form shadows were orange-yellows, browns, oranges, even some red-oranges, all saturated...and it looked spot-on in the end. Judging the shadow colors by my initial impression would steer my colors in the wrong direction. Not to say they aren't of value, just that they can be very misleading...even with experience.
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Old 02-28-2012, 03:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick1
One similar example I came across a few days ago: a very good artist, on his blog, insists that Nickel Titanate Yellow (PY53) is the coolest yellow. Even though some PY3s are more greenish. So he seems to be equating lower saturation with coolness here.
Would seem so; given that lower chroma is regularly perceived as 'cooler' (amongst 'warm' colours, often works the other way for colours on the opposite side of the wheel) it does make some sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick1
So does that mean that Alizarin Crimson should be considered cooler than Quinacridone Magenta because it's less saturated, even though it's closer to yellow in hue?
Who knows?

Does it even matter? Obviously it'll matter to him, but given the variability of opinion/viewpoint in this area which colours are 'cooler' or 'warmer' in the estimation of a given painter really can't be considered vital information except to a limited set of people, like perhaps for someone who wants to slavishly copy that painter's way of thinking as a step towards matching their work (fool's errand though that would be).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick1
I was watching an excellent, realistic still life demo on youtube. It was difficult to judge the form shadow colors of the yellow lemons. My best guess using my eyes might've been a darkened & greyed yellow or orange-yellow...perhaps like Yellow Ochre. Not even close. The colors the artist used on the underside form shadows were orange-yellows, browns, oranges, even some red-oranges, all saturated...and it looked spot-on in the end. Judging the shadow colors by my initial impression would steer my colors in the wrong direction.
Exactly what I was getting at - recommendation of a peep card and trusting one's own impression (not just a first impression) are mutually conflicting pieces of advice. Not bad within the one sentence!

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Old 02-24-2012, 04:09 PM
llawrence llawrence is offline
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Quote:
A color isolator (card with a hole punched in it) helps to judge colors, but trust your first impression.
I'd like to actually give a shout out for both of these.

If you're trying to match colors, an isolator is really really helpful. Huge. And the correct color can often be very different from your first impression. Or it often has been with me.

If you're trying to make a painting, though, many colors will often need to be altered from the reference, and that is when the 'impression' - note the exact language you quoted, which I took in the sense of 'impressionism' - becomes just as important as color matching, because if the colors aren't working well together in the painting, it really doesn't matter whether they're 'accurate' or not.

The ability to match colors is also needed while creating a painting, natch - I'm using an isolator right now (the brilliant nail clipper idea presented in this forum) to fix some skin tones that have been giving me a hard time. To sum up, I guess: use the impression as a valuable tool to help solve the composition - and use the isolator as a valuable tool to help when you get into trouble.
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Old 02-26-2012, 04:48 AM
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Gigalot Gigalot is offline
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Re: Color - Notes and Advice, Mostly for Oil Painters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keene
Nearly any combination of pure colors with tints and white will appear harmonious
and Black!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Keene
the painting should look like it was painted with a limited palette

Last edited by Gigalot : 02-26-2012 at 04:50 AM.
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