Australian Fine Artist

More About Colour

Fourth in a Semester of Five Still Life Workshops with David Chen

Colour, rather than that we find straight out of the tube of paint, is something that needs to be modified to suit the mode, atmosphere and tonal ranges in the painting we are doing. Its nice that we have such a huge range of colours to choose from in the art shop, but unless you are in a desperate hurry, it is a good idea to learn to use a basic collection of colours and mix the colour, tone and temperature that you need. With that in mind today we looked at some definitions we use when applying colour.

They are as follows:

  1. Hue
    Hue is the correct word to use to refer to just the pure spectrum colors. Any given color can be described in terms of its value and hue. It is the natural colour as it appears under light such as the pure spectrum colors commonly referred to by the “color names” red, orange, yellow, blue, green violet – which appear in the hue circle or rainbow. Primary colours appear in three hues – red, blue and yellow. We can mix many other hues from these three basic primary colours.
  2. Value
    Hues also have values. If values have contrast (one is much darker than the other), shapes will appear to separate in space and some will stand out from the others. This works whether the colors are just black, white and gray, or whether hues are involved. In other words a lighter toned object against a darker one will separate them. If you graduate the tonal range (or values) it will give the objects form.
  3. Intensity
    This is the brightness of a colour. Some colours are naturally more intense than others. For example Permanent Rose is more intense than Vermillion. Cadmium Colours are high in intensity so best mixed with a tertiary colour to “knock” them back a bit. High key colours are best used minimally to highlight an area. Interestingly Ivory Black is also a high intensity colour.
  4. Local Colour
    Local colour is the natural colour of an object you may be looking at. For example, you are thinking of painting a bowl of bananas, they are ripe so the local colour is likely to be a cool yellow of some sort – the natural colour of the objects you are looking at. this is the colour you begin with before working out your light and dark areas to create tone and form.
  5. Modified Colour
    Modified colour is what you get when you have mixed a high intensity colour with a complimentary. For example Cadmuim Red and Green or Green and Raw Sienna.
  6. Tint
    A tint is what you get when you mix any colour with white.
  7. Shaded Colour
    A shaded colour is any colour you mix with a darker one for shadow areas.

As you can see there is a lot more to colour than just picking a couple of complimentaries or going with analogous colours or split complimentaries. Understanding the values of colours and how to tone them up or down and create tonal ranges for form and colour perspective is important.

Added to the above is how you apply these colours to the canvas. The lines, shapes and dynamic structure you create. things like breaking rules can be done effectively. By that I mean cropping images in creative ways. Look at then photography of Salvador Dali who successfully cropped images for very dynamic effects. Keep in mind that the composition still has to work when you do this.

The creation of dynamic shapes contrasted with static shapes also makes texture and interest when applying your colours. Look for contrasting these in the one work as well as making some times subordinate to one dominant shape. This may require altering what you are seeing in nature to make a composition work. If everything is roughly the same size, try making one interesting object larger and altering the colour so that it becomes the dominant object. This is what you will make sharper, with more defined edges, more detail and possibly higher key colours (your focal point).

Using this way of painting means you can find the interesting and beautiful in the ordinary objects around you. Worth taking some of them aside and giving them a go in your next painting session.

Remember to relax and not to overwork your paintings, let the one stroke do the job and move on to the next – and see where it leads you.

I hope this information has prompted you into further investigation into the wonderful world of colour for artists. Happy Painting.

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