Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper, collection of the whitney museum of american art
The Helicopter by Dong Kingman
Light in Autumn by William Thon, dr. and mrs. mortimer n. hyams, new york city
This leads us to color "balance." There was a period of painting when all shadow was treated as brown, instead of as a deeper tone of the local color, or with the local color still in evidence in the shadow. This style of painting was known as the "brown school." When all the color in a painting belongs to only one side of the color wheel, niuddiness, monotony, and lack of color appeal almost always result. Happily no one paints that way today.
Color balance means a happy relationship of the warm versus the cool. The difference need not extend to pure primaries, but some contrast is needed for balance. Outdoors the sky usually takes care of this, along with the coolness brought about by the atmosphere. The blue of the sky\ finds its way into the shadows by reflection, and \ the atmosphere of the distance provides cool contrast to the warm colors of the foreground.
Indoors, shadows are more neutral. By contrast with the cool north light of the studio, they may well appear somewhat warmer. However, in parts of the house where sunlight enters and glimpses of the outdoors may be seen, the balance of warm and cool is more evident.
So we may consider the warmth and coolness of the masses as opposed to each other but also reach for the play of warm and cool color together and within the masses.
Jt is much easier to determine the true color and value of an area when it is seen in company with other tones. A single color on a card may look very different from the same color laid into the picture. We should always start a picture by .stating three or more adjacent values and colors, rather than by laying in one area and filling it in, then looking at another area and doing the same thing. By finding a spot in the picture where two or three values come together, we can then spread these values one against another and establish the relationship of all the big masses. A young painter will often fill in and almost finish one area before starting another. This is the method used in much commercial art and one of the main reasons such work seldom achieves good relationship, harmony, and unity. We cannot know whether values are right and in proper brilliancy and contrast until we see them together.
Perhaps the biggest mistake'made in the rendering of color is in color within shadow. Many artists simply lighten the pure color with white for the lights, and use the pure color for the shadows. This is just the opposite of what occurs in life. The purest color belongs to the light, and the shadows are more neutral, having less color than the lighted areas. For example, to paint a blue dress pale blue in the light, and a purer and more intense or darker tone of the same color in the shadow is entirely false. The dress must cither be pale blue all over, or strong blue all over. To paint the shadows in a pale blue dress we add the complement or a loner to the color. This keeps the brighter, purer color in the light where it belongs. If we use a stronger, purer blue in the lighted areas, we probably need to add some black to the shadows.
In commercial art we often see pink lights on red dresses. But red is reddest in the light. We see orange shadows on a yellow sweater, when they should be yellow reduced with its complement, violet. We see flesh painted pink in the light and red in the shadow. All this is false and cheapens the finished work. It is based on a mistaken idea that lightening the light areas keeps lhe color clean, whereas what really keeps color clean is the right relationship of color and value.
When color is grayed and softened by the use of toners or complements it takes on quality. A color appears dull only if its neighbors are too brilliant or out of value. When a young artist is advised to tone his colors, he often misinterprets the advice and thinks that he has been asked to use dull colors. Strangely, the toned color seems lo end up with more over-all brilliance than the pure colors, which actually work against one another. Pictures are brightened much more by contrasting good values than by piling in more and more pure color. But this fact is hard to believe until it has been proved by personal experiment.
Once in a while in commercial art we see an underlying drawing in which all the shadows are black or nearly black and the color has been put • into the lighted areas later. This technique some-times results in powerful and attractive work. While all shadows are not black, (nor do we always want to paint them that way), the effect is far better than that of pictures in which the shadows are all painted in pure color. The reason is simply that it is more consistent and truthful to have the color brightest in the light. The black shadows are more neutralized. Again, in a very powerful light the shadows may appear almost black by contrast, and because our value range in pigment is limited.
In laying in the shadow masses of any picture it is a good idea to paint them in richly and darkly. They can all be lightened where necessary, to bring the relationships of light and shadow to what they should be. While a white shirt or any white object could never actually have a black shadow, the contrast in a brilliant light without much reflected light in the shadow can be quite surprising.
There are many qualities of color which the old masters knew how to reproduce, and which most modern painters appear to have overlooked or forgotten. There is a particular quality of "radiance," for instance, which we find in the greatest works of the past. Rembrandt still realized this quality and went far in developing it, but it seems to have gradually disappeared from the work of later painters. This quality assuredly exists in nature but is more felt than seen, except by the most skillful and practiced eye. To describe it in words is extremely difficult. It is light visually cast into space by light itself. This does not mean the effect of reflected light on other objects, but light surrounding and emanating from its source.
We know that the air is filled with minute particles which have the property of picking up light and reflecting it between the source and the surface upon which it falls. In very bright light such as sunlight or the beam of a searchlight or projector wc may see the stream of light passing through the atmosphere. But now think of the surface that is being lighted. This becomes a secondary source of light, casting it away from the surface, so that it strikes the particles in the air around it.
Thus a certain amount of halation, of which we are not always aware, surrounds all lighted surfaces. We see a blur of light around a headlight, or even around a candle flame, and wc would normally show this in painting. Hut a lesser degree of this same halation is not so obvious. Such halation traverses its boundaries or the edges of the lighted area. The edge itself may be quite distinct and sharply defined, but the space around the edge becomes lighted also.
A bright moon may appear as sharply outlined against the background of space. But if we look carefully we see that there is a gradation of light over the whole moonlit sky, which grows brighter as it approaches the source. The same thing happens with a strongly lighted head against a dark background. The dark lightens as it approaches the head, or a white area, or even any brightly lighted surface. Such lightening is hardly perceptible until we train our eyes to be conscious of it.
What is more, the color of the light source extends itself into surrounding space. This is actually a color influence rather than a repealed color. The color of the light blends into the color of the background. Paintings can be given a wholly new quality of radiance when this phenomenon is studied and reproduced. It is a further method of relating color to its environment and of unifying the surrounding area.
A colored spotlight projects color in a visible stream through the dark of the theater to the stage. The spotlight, of course, has been focused to condense the light rays. The lighted surface, however, sends its almost invisible rays in all di rections. Therefore the only way we can render it is as a slight radiation of light into all surrounding form and space.
A very good example is to be found in the way the old masters painted a light emanating from the cradle of the Christ-child, and sometimes from the body of Christ. If you study the work of Rembrandt carefully, you will find this understanding of light even in his etchings. The quality of radiance in his work is one reason for their recognition as great masterpieces.
"Radiance" is a better term than "halation" to describe this phenomenon, for halation may be obvious and appear simply as a blurred edge.
This use of light does not mean that the edge should be blurred into the background. The edge is held, but the background is lighter next to the light than it is elsewhere. We should remember that the sky casts this light and color down into the landscape, wherever strong sunlight does not overpower the effect. The ground plane also throws its light and color upward into otherwise dark shadows of underplanes, and even onto some of the vertical planes. In such a manner an old barn can be united to the sunlit ground it stands on, or a head can be united to a dark hail-dress, or a white collar or bosom can be united to a dark costume. Study Velasquez for this quality, and also Carolus Duran, Sargent, and Ver-meer.
Another consideration in connection with color is concentration. When possible, brilliant color should be concentrated in the area of greatest interest and not scattered. A vase of flowers will command interest and attention in a room because of its bright color; similarly in a painting, the brightest color should be associated with the dominant figure or object. This does not mean the entire object should necessarily be bright in color, but some portion of it should be in high focirs^Surrounding colors may be grayed or neutralized to keep the emphasis where it is wanted. In still lifes, the bright color is usually concentrated in fruit or flowers. In landscapes, bright color may be concentrated in the sails of boats, flowers, sunset clouds, costumes, or other such features.
Color can also be intensified along the edges of certain objects to make them stand out more strongly in a painting. Holes between branches through which sky appears may be surrounded by more vivid blue than that of the sky showing through, painted into the darks surrounding the opening. An area of color can be brightened considerably by adding its next neighbor in the color wheel to the edge of the area. For example, a patch of yellow can be intensified by putting yellow orange or yellow green at the edge where it meets the next pattern. A sky can be made a bit stronger in color where it meets a white cloud. A red garment might have a little red purple introduced at the edges. Intensifying the color of edges will brighten an otherwise dull subject.
Color lends itself to experiment more than does any other element of beauty. If anyone were to ask me to list the greatest gifts of nature to man, I would place color at the top, or very near to it. Art without color would lose much of its purpose. By devoting ourselves to color, we can enrich our art and our lives with it beyond measure.
Egg Beater 111 by Stuart Davis, William H. Lane Foundation, courtesy of the downtown gallery
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