Properties of Color

Properties of Color

The three main properties of color are Hue, Intensity, and Value.

Hue refers to the color of something, meaning that when we speak of green (for instance) and it’s greeness we are referring to the Hue.

Intensity refers to the saturation or “vibrancy” of a color. In the graph below you can see how Intensity can differ in a color. Intensity of a color can be changed in a few different ways.

1: Adding white to a color will lighten it and also diminish it’s intensity. Adding white to a color is commonly referred to as tinting the color.

2: Adding black to a color will also diminish it’s intensity. This is commonly reffered to as a Shade.

3: Adding a mixture of grey to a color will dimish its intensity. Grey is often employed instead of using white and black (independently) as it can  allow the value of the color to stay close to the original and avoid making a color too dark, or too light.

4: Adding a compimentary color will diminish the intensity. If you don’t know about complimentary color then please check out Color Theory Basics.

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. This was also covered in Color Theory Basics, as well as Creating Value Scales in Color.

Now that we know the three basic properties of color we can move on to some principles of color. Think of the properties of color as the skeleton of what makes a color what it is. But there’s a lot more to color than just it’s measurable attributes! Colors talk to each other and operate as a community. It is nearly impossible to experience a single color all by its self. So that’s the first hurdle you need to get over in beginning to understand color theory. Every color is effected by the colors around it.

But that’s not all! As we discussed in the introductory lesson (Intro to Color Theory) color is also based on subjective considerations as well. For instance, some color is used symbolically such as a bride wearing white at a wedding. This was originally done to show purity. On the other hand Black is generally symbolically worn at funerals. Green is worn for St Patricks day. Red and Green are the colors of Christmas. Orange the color for Halloween. But again, it is important to reiterate that these colors are just common for the culture I come from. Perhaps someone is reading this in Tehran or New Delhi. They will notice that they too have their own ceremonial colors that differ from mine (please comment any ceremonial colors distinct to your culture below!).  So remember that colors can also be used symbolically.

Another consideration is that there are real measurable frequencies and wavelengths for color. These are measured in Terahertz and Nanometres. In this graph you can see the measurable frequencies and wavelengths in the primary and secondary colors.

A very creative artist who had a strong proclivity towards scientific inquiry could surely make some interesting paintings based solely of the physical attributes of color and this measuring system. However, the vast majority of artists will be looking at different properties and principles of color in order to craft their works and the realism (or lack thereof) and mood they wish to transmit to the viewer.

There’s one element of color I’ve been hiding from you thus far. And that is that color exists in two different ways. Color exists as pure sunlight which can be broken up by using a prism and these colors have their own properties, and through artificial means such as pigments, dyes, chemical concoctions, nature, and paint. Now the tricky part we need to reconcile is that without light we obviously can’t see colors. So in the full scheme of things we need sunlight (which holds its own spectrum of color) to shine down from the sky, hit an object on earth, bounce off the object, and into our eyes, where it’s sensed by light sensitive cells, at which point it is transmitted and processed by our brain, and then in our brain it relays the relevant information and associates it with words, feelings, or emotions. “Yes, the ocean is blue. Beautiful”

But it doesn’t stop there. Our brains also have a propensity to try and make sense of the world, and as painters we must walk the line of dealing with illusion. After all, a canvas is a flat two dimensional object and we want to create an illusion of depth, form, and emotion, on a flat surface.  So we must be aware of the properties of color if we want to have a full set of tools to create the illusions we want to on the canvas.

In the following frames we will be looking at some of the properties of color in sunlight. And some of the properties of color as they pertain to how the brain tries to make sense of them.

In 1676 Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to separate and analyze a spectrum of colors. He could see that by analyzing sunlight one could see all of the hues besides purple. We have the same group of colors  in the first image above. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, Violet. Now, if we take these colors,  and mix them, we will get white. Remember we’re talking about sunlight here! Obviously these colors react differently when they are in a physical form such as paint.

So why do we get white when we mix colors of light, and get brown when we mix paints? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as it may seem. Light works in a strange way so take a second to absorb what I’m about to tell you. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, and Violet all make up the full spectrum of colors in sunlight. Now, lets say we take one of these colors out, for instance Yellow. So we are left with Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, Violet. What color do we end up with? The answer is that we get the compliment of the color which we removed from the spectrum, so in this case of removing yellow from the spectrum we get violet. Since you all know your color wheels and complimentary colors by now it is quite easy to answer this question time and time again. If we isolate blue we get orange. Isolate Red and we get Green. Think of it like this, by taking out red we are still dealing with Yellow and Blue. Mix yellow and Blue, and surprise! It’s green. The compliment of red.

Properties of color

Now that you’re probably ready to start pulling your hair out let me try to explain why this is.  Our eyes can’t see the  individual hues when combined in the full spectrum . So what you probably were thinking is that things that are red are red because they are absorbing the red part of the spectrum of colors right? Wrong! 😀 A red apple is red because it can absorb every color but red! So when we see a red apple it is absorbing  Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Dark Blue, and Violet. It’s reflecting the red color of the spectrum because all of the other colors are absorbed! So what happens when we shine a green light on a red apple? The apple will appear black since there is no red present to be reflected and all the colors are absorbed.

Take a look at the image below. Here I have illuminated this strange furry green ball with a red lamp.  The result is obvious. The ball absorbs most all of the red light and doesn’t have any green light to reflect the “greeness” of the ball. This causes the ball to look black and not green.

So far we’ve spoke a lot about the different properties of color. We have physical properties of color (which are measurable), we have symbolic properties of color, we understand how the properties of color are different for light and paint. In the next lesson  I will speak about the elephant in the room. Our brains, and how they process colors. No, this won’t be another section about emotion or symbolism. In this section it is more scientific as well as a trip into an area of science which still hasn’t concluded just why our brains process color the way that they do.

Warm and Cool Colors

warm-cool-colors

Warm and Cool Colors

Lesson 14

Warm and cool colors are important in painting for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that warm colors tend to move forward in space, while cooler colors tend to retreat. This is mainly because of how we experience the world and is pure science. Within the atmosphere there are zillions of little water molecules floating around. The largest of which form clouds and eventually dump rain on us. But the air itself also contains water.  So when we are looking faw away to the horizon we are actually looking through a lot of air, which in turn means we are looking at more and more water molecules, and the hills in the distance start looking blue and purple. This is called atmospheric perspective. And it was first labeled and widely used by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. The second feature of atmospheric perspective is that objects also tend to lose their contrast and take on the color of their background (ie. sky)

Mona_Lisa

Mona Lisa (Leonardo Da Vinci) Classic example of how cool colors recede and warmer colors come to the forefront.

The second thing to remember about warm and cool colors is how they create balance and a sense of fullness within a piece. This is easier to do when painting a landscape where there could be a cool blue sky, and this could be contrasted against the warm orange color of some leaves. But take a close look at an object, and you should be able to see a multitude of other shades and colors within that object itself.  The cooler colors can be tints, shades, or tones.  But be careful because you can also find warmth in certain shadows as well. However, generally cooler colors are used as shadows, and warmer colors as mid tones, and highlights.

lucien-freud-sleeping-head

In this painting by Lucien Freud we can see very cool colors dominating many of the shadow tones. This may be because Freud often lit his models with fluorescent lights. Nonetheless look at the nice interplay between warm colors and cool colors in this piece. I’ve made a small scale of colors taken directly from this painting as an example to further study.

lucien-freud-palette

Extra Credit:  Create a small painting using these same warm and cool colors for all of your values.

Color Theory Basics

Color Theory Basics

In this Lesson you will learn:

1) What type of paint to buy (Materials)

2) How to control color intensity  (Intensity)

3) How to see the value (shade) of color. (Color Value)

Materials

First things first! It is important that you know how to buy the right paint for what you want to do.

There’s two types of paint. Transparent and Opaque. When you start painting it is HIGHLY recommended that you start by using only opaque colors. This will reduce the possibility of your paintings becoming streaky and dull. Transparent colors can be used later when we get into glazing. For now you need some strong opaque colors in order to learn how to mix your colors and get them to stick to a surface. So how do you identify which colors are opaque, and which are transparent? Many tubes of paint will have a small box graphic usually on the front underneath the brand name. If the box is black, then it’s opaque. If the box is half full then it’s semi-transparent. And if the box is white, then it’s transparent.   Stick to the basics.

The ideal starter palette of Opaque colors would include

Cadmium Red Medium

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Cobalt Blue

Titanium White

That’s it. You can mix all the colors you’ll need from these three. It should be noted that Cadmiums are toxic, as is Titanium white. So don’t eat them. They’re the best available and have been used for centuries. If you’re scared of them then ask the person at the store for help finding other opaque primary colors. I don’t know of any.

Second thing you need is a brush. For brushes there are a few different types. For now just buy a simple mid sized Flat, or Philbert. Around a 6 to an 8 (that’s the size as indicated by a number stamped on the brush). You don’t need any little brushes for details. Not yet. Just get some flat synthetics like the one below, and you’ll be fine.

flat-brush

Find an old cup you don’t want to use anymore to hold some water. And for a palette you can use a piece of cardboard.

The Color Wheel

At this point in the course you will be concentrating on a few basic elements of color theory.  This will be expanded upon later but currently you need to grasp the essentials so you can begin painting.

The color wheel

color-wheel

The three primary colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue. Primary colors are called “primaries” because they aren’t a mixture of two other colors.  When you mix two primary colors together you get a secondary color.  The secondary colors are???…..You guessed it. Orange, violet, and green. Easy isn’t it?  So, for those who don’t know, in order to make violet you mix blue and red. To make orange you mix red and yellow. And to make green you mix blue and yellow. Pretty straight forward.

Now, we’ve got some colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. yellow is opposite violet, orange opposite blue, and green opposite to red. These colors which are on the opposite side of the color wheel are called complimentary colors. It is important to memorise all the colors compliments because you use a color’s compliment in order to control color intensity.

Color Intensity

Color intensity is, well, the intensity of a color. Think about it as “brightness” or “radiance”. Color straight out of the tube is generally high intensity. In order to lower the intensity of a color (aka make it less bright) you are going to add a small amount of it’s complimentary color. For example: for red, you add a small amount of green to lower the intensity of the red.  Just a dab of green and the intensity of that red will come down. Yes they do get darker.

color-intensity

Now,  Take a look at the image below. We’ve got a red which is super intense at the top, then by adding green to that red we take down the intensity (as indicated by the second strip down). I know what you’re thinking. It looks brown!! That is where you have to be careful. Take a look at the second image. That is the “brown” (or more correctly a lower intensity red) surrounded by a black box.  That brownish red in the context of another color will be red.  For the purposes of this course you will be taking down the intensity of all of your colors by adding their respective secondary colors. This is because our eyes rarely see super intense colors in the real world.
Color Theory Basics

red-black

Assignment #21 Playing with color intensity.

For this assignment you will start with an intense color, and then slowly add it’s complimentary color in gradual amounts to create a color intensity scale.  As you can see in the examples below you can start with a Red, then add a bit of green to get the second gradation, and then more green to that mix to get the third gradation etc. When it comes to dark colors (Blue, and Violet) you can add a bit of white to these in order to see the color intensity manipulated. color-intensity-1

color-intensity-2

The Value Of Color

The darkness or lightness of a color is its value. Just as we can make grey scales from pitch black to white, we can also do the same with colors. Take a look at the image below. We’ve got our happy little primary and secondary colors cascading from light to dark.

color-value

This is the one you will be copying.

————————————————————–

And here we can see all of their values (darkness)

color-value-black-white

Now lets look at how we can use the value of color in painting.  Check out this painting by Rolling Stone illustrator Philip Burke. Notice how the shadows of the face are done in green, and bright dark reds,  but the painting still flows and makes sense. This is because the green/red is the correct value which corresponds to the shadow. You can throw any color in there and it will makes sense as long as the darkness of the color correctly matches. Think of whatever you are painting as a black and white photocopy, and you are simply mixing your colors to match the various greys on the photocopy. Also beware of red, it seems lighter than it really is. A medium red is actually very dark.

philip-burke

philip-burke-scale

Now compare the high value contrast of Philip Burke with the low level color contrast of Edouard Vuillard. In Vuillard’s painting  he broke the rules of what color value meant by keeping all of his colors this medium grey.  The gradations in value are extremely subtle, but they are still there nonetheless. In the black and white copy of you can still make out how Vuillard finely manipulated the value of his colors to create shadows and depth.

vuillard

vuillard-copy

Assignment #22  Color Value Scale.

For this assignment you will be copying the color value scale above.  The important thing to remember is that you’ll start with the color out of the tube

Important NOTES!:

Many claim that the real color wheel contains Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K (which stands for key, not black) . This is true for printing processes and was largely taught to graphic design students in the 1990s. However using cmyk as a color wheel for painting doesn’t make much sense because it ignores a few important factors.

For instance. In printing, in order to make red, one must mix magenta with yellow optically. This means that in order to get a true red (following the cmyk model) you would need to mix a magenta, and then put a thin glaze of yellow on top of it.  But in painting there are many more variables at play. For instance there is no “red” as we all know when we go to buy paints. There’s cadmium red,  vermilion, and permanent rose and so forth and so on. But the point is that the red that we choose to start with can vary greatly from the get go.  When you create any palette of colors you are immediately limiting yourself  in some way.And if you limited your palette to cyan, magenta, yellow (not even specified), and key  (which isn’t a color, but a tone) then you would be given a different set of limitations.

There is one other commonly held idea about the “real” color wheel. It is a 12 color system based on a rainbow and the proponents believe that this gives an artist the largest possibilities for mixing .  If you want to try it the colors are

Titanium White

Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium Red
Quinacridone Rose
Dioxazine Violet
French Ultramarine
Thalo Blue
Thalo Green
Cadmium Green Pale

rainbow

This set of colors could easily cost more than two hundred dollars. So that’s one major downfall. The second is that you shouldn’t think about one palette as your savior. It won’t be, in fact in the beginning your palette should be limited because the more tube colors you introduce, the harder it will be to create any type of color harmony. Also you should remember that artists personal decisions as to what colors to use on their palettes is as varied as art itself. There is no absolute answer one way or the other. Giving a beginning student this 12 color rainbow mix would be like buying a 7 year a drum set the size of a living room.

The palette I have given above is a very powerful starter palette. As you may have noticed the weakest colors created by this palette were the greens, and the violet.  If you are looking to make a stronger green then I’d suggest buying a Pthalo Green, and in order to push your violet I would suggest Dioxazine Violet. Remember though that it is important to master the basics before moving on to a more extended palette!

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How to Mix Flesh Tones

How to Mix Flesh Tones

In this painting video tutorial I go through the process of how to mix a good base flesh tone using only red, yellow, a touch of blue and white.  Many artists will buy pre-mixed flesh or skin tones in the tube. Here is a simple way that you can learn how to mix your own flesh tones. This awards you a greater variety of possibilities as there are a vast array of skin tones and colors present in all of the people in the world.

The basics outlined in the video above are as follows. You want to start by mixing red and yellow to get an orange color. Once your orange is mixed your going to dab in just a bit of blue to take down the intensity of the color. Now you should have what resembles a dirty orange. Now clean your brush and make another pile of paint  next to your dirty yellow of white. Slowly add the orange to the white (it is important not to add white to your pile of dirty orange). Now you can see that you can create an entire value scale of skin tones increasing in lightness just by adding white. If you want to darken the color you can add more red and blue to the color. If your color gets too violet then simply add some more yellow.

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