Developing a Discerning

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A good eye for color is worth striving for. Sometimes this ability seems intuitive. but in more cases than not. it has been patiently learned. Two areas of skill are involved in developing a good eye for color. One is an ability to recognize and describe a color, whatever its surroundings, in terms of its three dimensions. With this ability, you can make rapid judgments about an existing color mixture's relevance or usefulness. The second area of skill, which grows out of the first, is an equally sure knowledge of how to alter color appropriately by making changes in its dimensions.

A color's temperature is also a factor in how you see color. Warm colors appear warmer and cool colors appear cooler when they are seen against their opposites in temperature. Color temperature also plays a strong part in color's seeming ability to advance or recede in space; warm colors often appear to come forward, and cool colors appear to retreat. A color of more brilliant intensity or of lighter value than its neighbors also seems to come forward in space.

Color also has a profound effect on our emotions and on how we perceive spatially. To better understand how this pertains to drawing with colored pencils, consider what color can offer a drawing's mood and structure:


While most people don't completely understand how sensations of color affect the emotions, it is pretty apparent that they do. People are drawn to color, and they react to it. Memories and associations with certain colors of life bear this out. Most people have special feelings for particular hues.

For many, warm hues suggest activity and vitality. Red, among these hues, may seem particularly compelling. But in great quantity, this same red may bring a shift in mood from vitality to something nearer paralysis. Moods can also be swayed by a color's value or intensity. Light values may seem cheery and open, dark values gloomy. High intensity of color may seem to promote excitement, but low intensity brings a feeling of calm.

A good beginning toward evoking mood in your drawings can be made by observing the colors in your life. Try asking yourself, in environments that set a mood, what part color plays in the setting. Look for the dominant color, and define it by its value and intensity as well as its hue. Look for contrasts among these things. Note how the location and amount of color can affect mood.

As a practical experiment, make a few small thumbnail drawings with your colored pencils. Use as few drawn clues as possible to suggest mood, except those of color—its placement and its quantity.


Color also can work its effects on a drawing's structure, which refers to all the elements in a drawing that contribute to the illusions of form and space. You will find as you work with colored pencils that color alone can build some of structure's illusions. It was, incidentally, to work with this premise that the colorist Paul Cézanne devoted much of his painting life.

The capacities of color alone to achieve effects of distance, perspective, solidity, and changes in plane, hinge largely on its ability to visually advance or recede. In practical terms, this "action'' of color can be utilized when a shape—a table, for instance, or an object on the table—needs to be brought forward or pushed deeper into a picture's space.

A color's hue—aside from its relative warmth or coolness—can also be used to enhance the modeling of form. Because colors under different degrees of light appear to shift toward adjacent hues, an increase in illumination makes blue, for example, become more blue-green. Red. under this condition, becomes nearer red-orange. With decreasing illumination, blue becomes more blue-violet, and red more red-violet.

Finally, perhaps the single most important thing to know—for gaining ade-ptness at mixing colors as well as for sharpening an eye for color—is that all colors have equal status in art. None is by definition useless or ugly. Each, given proper circumstances, can be beautiful and hard-working. What you're really looking for. when you mix color, is appropriateness. The great advantage of colored pencils, as a medium for learning about as well as for drawing with color, is the speed and ease with which you can put color ideas to practical tests.

A truism of color perception that is not always true is that warm colors invariably advance and cool colors recede. With no other visual clues than the colors themselves, the second two of these three combinations can be seen to advance or recede for different reasons. In A, the warm orange appears to come forward from the cooler blue at its side. But in B, the cool blue also comes forward because it is brighter in intensity than the warm but dulled red. And In C, a light value of blue seems to advance from a darker value of the same hue.

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In drawing, as in life, color—depending upon its quantity, quality and placement—can have a major effect on mood. What mood is suggested to you as you isolate each thumbnail drawing from its neighbors? Compare your feelings with these:

1. Warmth, pleasantness 2. Uneasiness 3. Frivolity 4. Anxiety, maybe absurdity 5. Confusion 6. Serenity 7. Foreboding

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