Colour Theory for Artists
Workshop Number One of Five 2016
Tutor: David Chen
The Basics: Reinforcing the Basis of Colour
If you are to succeed as a painter there are a couple of things you need to understand to begin with.
- Your preconceived ideas about colour can be a problem that you need to address by realising that colour is more than what you may think you see.
- The colour of any object is affected by the light and shadow around it. that doesn’t only mean the intensity of the light, but also the temperature and whether it is direct or reflected light.
Colour in art needs to be expressed with emotion and as you paint the colour wheel needs to be your constant companion in your head. Understanding where colours fall on the colour wheel will make selecting colour and mixing it so much easier.
There are also basic recipes for mixing. For example:
- Mix two primary colours and you get a secondary colour.
- Mix a primary with a secondary colour and you get a tertiary colour.
- As you add colours to each other you will get your tonal scales. IE: Add a minimum of 5 colours colours together and add white for a lighter tone, then drop your initial colour back in to bring back intensity. (try it with yellows for example, mix several yellows, add white, and bring back in a dab of your first yellow for a light tone yellow)
Light changes throughout the day, which is why many plein air paintings are completed alla prima (all in one sitting,wet in wet), to catch the light before it changes. As the sun moves through the sky the temperature of the light will alter as it goes through different thicknesses of the atmosphere and as the air warms or cools through the day.
Apart from shadows changing direction, the light will also change, so you can not complete a painting in the afternoon that you begin in the morning and have the colours and shadows working.
The alternative to completing a larger painting, therefore, is to do it in the studio. This is another issue, as you need to understand that different types of lights cast a colour. If you want to have as close to natural daylight to paint by you need to check that the lights fall into the range. I use lighting of approximately 4500-5500 Kelvin which works for graphic design as well as fine art. Fluro lights can cast a yellow or green light and tungsten or light bulbs can cast a blue light. What may look like the right colour under the wrong light can become clearly unsettling when put under neutral daylight.
Many artists know about local colour. It is the actual colour of any object in your view that you want to paint. It is also known as the true colour. For example, we all know that an orange is usually orange in colour. What also needs to be considered when thinking about local colour, is the lighting and the other objects around anything we may be painting.
- Is there a secondary light source?
- what type of light is the main source (cool, warm etc)?
- Is the atmosphere altering the colour (the further away something is the more the atmosphere mutes the colour)?
- Are surrounding objects affecting the colour of an object (is it reflecting colour off something else)?
There are a variety of guides that you can find in most good art supply shops that can help you isolate colours and determine their value and tone before you begin to mix your paints. They usually have a small hole to look through to see just the colour of what you are looking at so that you are not distracted by surrounding objects. It may also have a grey scale on it to help you see the tonal value of the colour. Some artist make their own, which is very easy, and there may be some examples to follow online. Either way they are a great tool to have in your painting kit.
So, next time you decide to paint something, have a good look at it and everything around it first and check your lighting conditions. Taking time to make sure you understand the light and the way that is affecting your subject will give you a better chance of mixing the colour you really want so that you can get all your colours in a painting to work together harmoniously.
Below is the painting that I did today. David had a lovely display of Gladioli in the room and since I don’t paint florals often, if at all, I decided to give myself a challenge! A couple of the marks are David’s where he showed me where I could improve.