Color Characteristics

Homage to the Square—Saturated, a painting by Josef Albers (Color Plate 10), is composed of overlapping red squares. The squares differ from each other, and these differences can be accurately described by noting three characteristics: hue, value, and saturation. Hue identifies the color (red, in this case) as distinct from other hues (yellow, green, or violet, for example). Value is the lightness or darkness of the hue as it relates to a scale of white to black (Figure 4.2). We can distinguish one square from another, in part, by their differences in value; one red appears lighter or darker than the others (Color Plate 11). Saturation (sometimes referred to as intensity or chroma) is the purity of the hue. A fully saturated hue is one that is not diluted by the admixture of white. A color of reduced saturation is said to be neutralized to some degree, with a fully neutralized color resembling the color gray. These three characteristics are utilized by scientists interested in a precise identification of colors as well as by painters assessing color relationships or identifying an observed color.

Painters are also interested in the designation color temperature, a property not easily defined. The temperature of a color is purely perceptual; it cannot be quantified in the same ways as hue, value, and saturation. A color may be seen to be warm or warmer (relative to other colors), or cool/cooler. Most people would acknowledge that yellow is warm and blue is cool. Orange and red are also considered warm, and green, purple, and gray are cool. In addition to distinctions between hues, painters make the distinction between warm and cool varieties of the same hue. And for the most part, one can identify warm and cool reds, greens, yellows, etc. Some colors seem to present problems. For example, it is sometimes difficult to get wide agreement on what is a warm blue and what is a cool blue. This determination is largely the result of informed intuition on the part of the painter. There is, however, a rather straightforward way of making this judgment. In many cases, when a cool color is mixed with another cool color, or a warm color with another warm color, the resulting color will be similar in saturation to each of the components. If a cool color and warm color are mixed, the saturation of the resulting color will be reduced to some extent, tending to neutralize it. This is, in fact, one of the many ways painters manipulate

Fig. 4.2. The increments of a gray scale illustrate the concept of relative values arranged in order from white to black.

Fig. 4.2. The increments of a gray scale illustrate the concept of relative values arranged in order from white to black.

or modulate a color. One can produce a purple by mixing a red and a blue. By mixing a cool blue and a cool red (ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson, for example) a bright, fully saturated purple will result. By mixing a warm blue (cerulean) and a cool red (alizarin crimson), a grayed purple results.

To describe a single color is fairly straightforward and can be done very accurately, but it is a description of a color isolated from all other colors. Once a color is placed adjacent to another, many variables come into play, and one begins to see why Josef Albers (in his book The Interaction of Color) noted that color is "the most relative medium in art." These variables are the "interactions" of colors. The word interaction is appropriate in that colors do actively influence one another. Colors assume spatial relationships. A color's apparent position in space relative to another color is dependent upon the interrelationships of saturation, value, and temperature. In most cases, fully saturated, light, and warm colors tend to advance toward the viewer, while neutralized, darker, and cooler colors tend to recede. Depending upon the proximity of a color to areas of different hue, value, intensity, shape, and size, these spatial relationships can be reversed. In some carefully orchestrated situations, areas of color of different hue, value, and saturation may be made to reside in the same position in space. This positioning of colors in space can occur without the colors being attached to recognizable images, as we can see in purely abstract, nonobjective works of art. The visual activity in Piet Mondrian's painting Composition 1916 (Color Plate 12) is as dependent upon the spatial relationships among the colors as on changes in value, intensity, and size of the shapes. The gray field acts primarily as space, with the more intense yellows, pinks, and blues displaced forward and backward against the black linear elements as the eye moves across the surface.

LINE OF SIGHT

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

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