Perhaps the greatest progress art has made through the ages has been in the better understanding and use of color. Color is one element of beauty that stands on its own. When it is combined with design the result can stand alone as art, without adding anything else. But color added to all the other elements of beauty lifts beauty to its highest peak.
Pictorially, value, more than anything else, controls color.
Color cannot be good or correct pictorially unless it has close and correct association with value. Every pictorial color must take its proper place in the value scale, which ranges from the lightest light to darkest dark in any picture. It must belong to the "key" of the subject in order to fit within the chosen range of values. Key and range are discussed in Chapter Eleven, but before we get to that point, there is much to be explained about color.
The colors of the paints we get from the art store bear little or no relationship one to another. We can buy in tubes and jars a great assortment of colors that are quite beautiful when laid out on the palette. These give us a very wide range for choice and mixture, but unfortunately unity, relationship, and harmony of color in a picture are not achieved that way.
When the artist is standing in the art store selecting among these tubes with their intriguing names, he has no way of knowing just what the tones and color of his next subject will be. Of a large collection of various colors only a few may ever be used.
The point is that we do not buy shades and tints and variations of color; we produce them on our palette from basic primaries. We actually deal with red, yellow, and blue, and possibly a few earth colors and black to tone them, or raise or lower them in value and intensity.
The only thing we need to know at the color counter is to avoid buying colors that will not mix chemically. Chromes and lead colors are dangerous when not properly mixed, since chemical reactions lake place in the mixture. Lead whites discolor in time, especially when mixed with other color. They can also produce lead poisoning in people allergic to lead. These problems are avoided by simply buying Zinc White or Titanium White and mixing it only with cadmiums and colors listed as permanent. Linseed oil has a tendency to yellow. Either turpentine or poppy oil, with a little retouch or dammar varnish for faster drying, is an excellent medium.
Most pictures can be painted with a tube of red, one of yellow, one of blue, one toning agent that is warm, such as burnt sienna or burnt umber, and another that is cool, such as black or | blue-black. Which red, yellow, and blue you select depends more on the subject than on the name of the color.
A full palette contains a warm and cool of each primary, plus toners. A warm yellow is a yellow that leans toward orange or red, such as cadmium yellow or cadmium medium yellow. A cool yellow leans toward green, as does cadmium pale or cadmium lemon. A warm blue leans toward green, as cerulean blue, and the cobalts. A
cool blue leans toward violet, as ultramarine blue or permanent blue. In the reds, cadmium red or Indian red is warm; Alizarin Crimson or Crimson Lake, cool.
This means two reds, two yellows, and two blues. Yellow ochre is really a low-toned yellow 1 and may be used in flesh tones and warm grays, i Burnt sienna may be added to the yellows, reds, ; and oranges to lower them in value and retain their brilliancy. Black has a tendency to neutral- j ize the warm colors, but will lower the cool 1 colors, the blues, greens, and violets, without de-stroying the identity of the color.
The greatest mistake in color, and one that causes lack of unity and harmony, usually results from having too many colors on the palette. When the secondary colors, the greens., oranges, and violets, are mixed from the primaries on the palette, a relationship is established. It is better not to buy an array of greens or violets. Cadmium orange, however, is related to cadmium red or cadmium yellow, since they are ground from the same pigment.
With a palette set up with a warm and cool of each primary, plus white and the toning colors, practically any color or tint of color may be mixed. Any shade of ever)' color in the light and dark scales can be obtained. And color may be neutralized to produce any gray in any value.
A picture painted with one of each of the three primaries will usually be more harmonious than one painted with two of each. If all six colors are used, the picture will be more intense and brilliant. But, strangely enough, the more we know about color, the fewer colors we use. Great painters usually use quite simple palettes. When we realize that all the color evident in some of the brilliant color film of today springs from three dyes we begin to understand the possibilities. But the color in film is transparent and is greatly increased in brilliance by the strong light of the projector. Except for transparent watcrcolor, the artist's color is for the most part opaque. The light we see in a picture is reflected light, what ever the source, and cannot be as brilliant as sunlight or any direct light.
Colors in almost their pure state, when laid side by side and at a little distance, will inix to produce other colors in the eye. The difficulty lies in making the values of these colors nearly identical, so that the effect does not become spotty and the tonal value of the area is maintained. A pink laid next to a blue of the same value will produce a much lovelier lavender color than can be obtained by mixing red, while, and blue on the palette. A red on the warm side can be laid beside a red on the cool side with much more beautiful effect than cither would give alone.
All this is known as "broken color." We can reduce or "gray" a color by using it with its complementary color in the same value, and intensify it by using it with a color lying close to it on the color wheel. Thus red is toned down by associat-i ing it with its complement green, and intensified by using orange or cooler red in conjunction with it. The same is true of the other colors: yellow green and yellow orange intensify yellow; blue green and blue violet intensify blue. To neutralize yellow we use violet; to neutralize blue, orange. But we must match the values or the effect will be spotty and broken.
For this discovery in the use of color, Van Gogh perhaps deserves a little more credit than some other painters, but the whole group of impressionist and postimprcssionist painters unquestionably made great contributions.
A great deal of experiment is needed to perfect this method of using color. The broken color may be tried out on separate boards before being laid into the actual painting.
The best procedure is to mix colors on the palette to get a tone as close as possible in color and value to what we see, then set down a mass in this tone. Into this neutralized color we then lay in separately, as broken color, the colors we mixed to get this tone. This, which 1 call the second painting, or the "go over" of the original masses, can be done either while the area is still wet or after it has dried.
The impressionists often painted their broken color directly onto the bare canvas. If we follow this procedure we are likely to miss the value that an undertone or mass will give us. Since values are very difficult to lighten or darken after they have been painted with broken color, 1 believe the other approach is better as a general practice. If broken color is to retain its brilliance and vitality it has to be left very much alone. If the values are not right, it is better to scrape it out and start over, instead of trying to change the value. The latter procedure is almost sure to get messy.
In painting broken color into a tone, we have the advantage of the grayer color underneath to enhance and enrich the more brilliant color on top. The undertone helps to hold the broken color together in unity.
If a canvas is to be varnished, the color can be enrichcd after it dries by glazing pure color diluted with varnish over the dry color. This can only be done if the whole canvas is to be varnished; otherwise part of the picture may have a mat finish, while the glazed color will dry shiny. A picture should be either all mat or all varnished.
A third way of producing broken color, and one of the best, is to build up a surface on the canvas, and drag color over it, so that it picks up nodules of color from the brush, which are laid over other colors. The built-up surface can be made by underpainting with a fast-drying white. There are several of these underpainting mediums on the market. Gesso may be used if a good bond is established between the gesso and the painting surface. After such a built-up surface is dry it may be stained with an undertone, then the broken color dragged over it, allowing the high points of the underpainting to catch the paint from the brush. Such overpainting is done with thickly mixed paint. Thin paint would only fill in the rough surface flatly.
It is also possible to combinc these methods. Where you have a smooth undcrsurfacc, perhaps a sky, you can paint in your broken color. Where the surface is rough, as in the foreground, you may drag on the color. Variety of technique in a single painting is not only permissible, but often necessary to achieve the manifold textural effects that nature presents. However they must be combined with care to give an all-over effect of unity.
In planning a picture, or when building up an undersurface, it should be planned so that the shadow areas can be painted thinly. You do not want a lot of points or bumps of pigment sticking out in the shadow area and catching highlights. For the most part highly textured painting should be used for landscapes, marines, and still lifes. If you are painting flesh, too much texture (and I speak of it here only in relation to color) can be out of place.
Color harmony is vital to the success of any painting, and to understand it we must analyze the possible combinations of color. Any two of the three primaries—red, yellow, and blue—can be combined to produce one of the secondaries. Red and yellow produce orange; red and blue, purple or violet; yellow and blue, green, Orange, purple or violet, and green are the complements, respectively, of blue, yellow, and red. The tcr-tiarics arc made up of two parts of one primary to one part of another. Two parts of red and one of blue give red purple; two parts of blue and one of red, blue violet. Red orange is two parts red and one part yellow; yellow orange, two yellow and one red. Blue green is two parts blue and one yellow; yellow green two parts yellow and one blue. These arc all pure mixtures.
Now if we mix a primary with its complement^' we produce brown, or neutralized color. This will ' be the same in each case if the mixture is equal. Yellow plus its complement purple is in reality yellow plus red plus blue, since purple consists of equal parts of red and blue. Red plus its complement green is red plus yellow plus blue. Blue plus its complement orange is blue plus red plus
JLXJUJ l_ii Li V/l yellow. Obviously they all add up to the same thing and to the same color of brown. Hut we can tone a color with its complement to reduce it in intensity, and by degrees arrive at a tremendous range of colors, all of which are related, since each will contain some fraction of the original three primaries. We can tone a color either by this method or by adding actual brown or cold black.
This is what happens in a color transparency. The various degrees of mixture of the three colors produce every other color, even to browns, apparent blacks, and grayed tints. The same thing is true of halftone printing in color. Reproductions of paintings are printed with four separate plates using red, yellow, blue, and black ink. The black plate is used as a key plate to give these colors richness and depth.
Since the colors of the spectrum are easy to recognize, painting would not be difficult if everything were pure in color. But only man-made things are; in nature, the vast majority of colors are grays which lean toward the primaries. We separate them by considering them as warm and cool. We have, for example, gray greens, or greens that are somewhat neutralized. We have greens that tend toward the yellow and those that lean toward the blue. In the same way, all the other secondary and tertiary colors may be neutralized or may tend toward the primaries from which they are produced. When we think of colors in this way they arc much easier to "sec" and the eye can be trained to recognize the ingredients.
Whether we mix the colors on the palette or within the painting is a matter of choice. When one area looks warmer than another area that is supposed to match it in color, we can add some red yellow or orange to the second area. The addition may be very slight. Or when the color in one area appears cooler by comparison with another, we can add a little blue, blue green, or violet to the other. Since black mixes with white to form a rather bluish gray, we may even add a touch of jlxxo rmi>ii:i\
black to a color to cool it, or at least a gray mixed from black and white.
The finest painters have handed down the rule that all three primaries should never appear in their full strength within the same picture. Since they are not basically related they have a tendency to fight one another. They can easily be brought into harmony by mixing a little of one into the other two, or at least into one of the others. This leaves one as dominant, and makes the other two related even if they are only slightly reduced in brilliancy. This does not mean that one primary color must dominate the picture or design. We are simply tempering the colors to bring them into harmony. We can extend the influence if we wish by adding a little of one secondary or tertiary color to all the others.
A late-afternoon landscape could thus have a touch of yellow or orange added to all the other colors. In this way we achievc the relationship and unity brought about by the warmth of the late-afternoon sun, and gain the "feel" of the scene.
This rule applies equally to all subjects, since there should be unity in all painting. Painting into wet tone does much the same thing in uniting color, provided a little of the lone mixes with the color. Tempering the white with a little color is another way of achieving unity.
Before choosing a color to use in a painting we should first analyze its hue, or the color toward which it seems to lean, and its value in the black-and-white scale. Ordinarily the purer colors are kept for spots to be set into the more neutral colors. This is exactly the procedure used by the modern interior decorator. He may choose to give one wall more color than the others, to avoid the feeling of being closed in on four sides by the same value and color. But brilliant color on all four walls is hard to live with unless some relief in softer and grayer color accompanies it. We might put a red carpet in a gray room, or a gray one in a red room, but we would be very uncomfortable if everything were red.
r/ie Café at Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Walter A. Curtin. photographer,
•croller-muller museum, otterlo, holland
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