Color Light and Space

In the world around us, color appears to be attached to everything we see. It changes as the light changes, but usually within predictable limits, or at least we recognize that a color linked to an object appears a certain way in a certain kind of light. We are conditioned enough by this that we often identify an object by its color. And we are conditioned enough by the change of light to recognize the same object by color even though the condition of light has changed the color of the object.

By sensing space, and locating objects within it, we can move about within that space in a fairly comfortable way and understand the relationships between the things that occupy the space. The visual perception of space is dependent on light, or on how a space or object is illuminated. The direction from which the light travels toward the object, and at what intensity, can make a dramatic difference in how we place that object in our field of vision. The effect of light on objects and spaces also tells us a great deal about the source of light. The relative density of shadows and the intensity of illuminated surfaces can indicate a sunlit morning or a night under artificial light (Figure 4.1a,b).

In the world of paintings we are faced with circumstances much different from our view of the world around us. Images in paintings are revealed to us on two dimensional surfaces that in many cases echo the images that appear before us as we move about in our familiar environments. We see images of people and objects occupying

Fig. 4.1a,b. Photographs of a tree under different lighting conditions: (a) on a sunlit morning and (b) at night under artificial illumination. The arrangement of light and dark areas is, for the most part, reversed in these two photographs and indicates to us lighting conditions typical of different times of the day.

Fig. 4.1a,b. Photographs of a tree under different lighting conditions: (a) on a sunlit morning and (b) at night under artificial illumination. The arrangement of light and dark areas is, for the most part, reversed in these two photographs and indicates to us lighting conditions typical of different times of the day.

spaces as we occupy spaces. However, we must keep in mind that the painter has made this experience for us without many of the conditions that perceptually reveal our environment to us. There is no real spatial depth in the painting. There is no source of light within a painting. There is no movement or change of light in a painting. All of these conditions are implied, and if we are to be led to believe that they exist within the painting, they must be supplied by the painter.

We have little difficulty believing much of what we see in the world aided by our perception of space, movement, light, and color. Even at times when we question what we see, we test the disbelief against other experiences. Painters have learned to utilize events in nature to help extend this atmosphere of belief into their paintings. The dove above the Virgin's head in Gerard David's Annunciation (Color Plate 9), presented in such an extraordinary way, and the halo behind the Virgin's head exist within the context of the pictorial space of the painting and are acceptable to us within that context. The dove occupies space just as the book, in the painting, occupies space, and both appear to be illuminated by the same light source. Light is common to paintings and nature, and is our conduit into the world of the painting. It is not surprising, then, to see that a study of the dynamics of light and color in nature is the key to understanding events in a painting.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

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