*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!
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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!
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!