Thursday, September 2, 2010

About hue

I received this fine query in my e-mail today, and I think I will go off on a tangent about color. I will start by answering this one about hue.

I have a question. What exactly is Hue? I have a setting on my photo editor that is hue but I don't understand what it is referring to. I understand chroma and value, but how is hue different? I looked it up on Wikipedia and got " “the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow" huh?

I am going to speak about hue from an artists perspective, you are on your own with that photo editor. Hue is one of the three characteristics of color. In the early twentieth century Albert Munsell devised a system for rationally notating color using three characteristics. They are hue, chroma and value. There were a number of systems devised before his, but Munsell's has proved enduringly useful, and is the standard system in the painting world. Today there are a number of other systems that are used in printing and video displays. I will restrict my discussion to the Munsell system as it is the only one I know much about.

I was taught long ago to think of color and describe it in the terms hue, value and chroma by Ives Gammell, I didn't learn until years later that I was using the Munsell system. This system of color can be carried into enormous complexity and formulae, and no doubt some of you reading this are expert in that, I am not. James Gurney over at Gurney Journey IS and has a new book coming out on color theory and its uses for artists, until you can get that book, his blog has acres of posts on color. James goes into far more depth than I intend to.

But I do know enough to give an explanation that will satisfy the needs of most of the readers of the blog. I have a whole shelf of books on color and color wheels and boxes of color aid paper and don't find them all that useful. But you might, some artists use this stuff a lot. I work more intuitively in color.

Hue is like the "name" of the color. Red, yellow and blue are hues, there are subdivisions between them,(infinite actually) so green-yellow is a hue, as is violet, or red-violet. But all of those words are sort of fuzzy, and Munsells system is a way of our knowing precisely which color we are talking about. The Munsell system is a way of imposing order on color because of the difficulty in defining colors. Below is a diagram of the Munsell system.

As you can see the system is three dimensional. The outer ring pictured describes the hues. I will talk about the other axises in later posts. This three dimensional aspect is describing what artists call "color space". Within this three dimensional space one can plot colors accurately and describe their exact characteristics.

There is another way that artists refer to color and that is as tints and tones and shades. A tint is any color plus white, a tone is any color plus gray and a tone is any color plus black. A hue is none of these. It is the unalloyed color itself. So a hue is the root from which a tint, tone or shade might be mixed. The enormous majority of those sample paint chips you see at the paint store are tints, tones and shades. Artists don't use those decorator titles like organ meat violet or desert sunset, they use the Munsell system or the names of the pigments on their palettes. Munsell didn't invent color, he mapped it.

I will return tomorrow with more. Jeez it's hot!


I will be holding a three day workshop at the Bass Harbor Campground in Bass Harbor, Maine. the 25-26-27th of September. That's Saturday-Monday. We will paint outside and I will teach beginners to experts the art of outdoor landscape painting.
Here is a link to where you can sign up.


barbara b. land of boz said...

Great way to show the Munsell color system. I have not seen this graph before.
Hey are you gonna batten down the hatches Stape? Looks like a bad one blowing your way. We are having hot south winds, and the storms are starting to rumble.
Hope your heat wave breaks soon. It's hard to paint with the sweat running in your eyes!
Keep on keeping on......

Stapleton Kearns said...

After exhaustive research, I found it on wikipedia under the heading "hue".

Jean Spitzer said...

Also like the graph and don't remember seeing it before (not the same as not having seen it before). Thanks for the refresher.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Love this graph and have used it in color classes. There's a store now at I've wanted the "tree" for years but just can't justify the price. said...

Nicely done Stapleton, couldn't have said it better myself. Maybe old Earl will blow this hot air out of New England and back to Maryland and Texas, where it belongs.

Lucy said...

That's a very clear Munsell diagram.
Love the picture of Hugh.
A lot of the weird pre mixed colors out of the tube are like him....
Look pretty and behave badly.

billspaintingmn said...

Organ meat violet! Now that's descriptive.
I'm glad to hear you say you work intuitivly with color ~ that human element is a big part of the art.(my opinion)
It's good to get technical, but the other side of the brain is where the fun is.

Michael Shoaf said...

Not sure if this will matter to anyone using "Photo Editors", but I know of at least a couple digital systems that use the term "Saturation" in place of what is referred to as "Chroma" here. So a fully-saturated hue would be a very intense color, yet might be dark or light in value. "Zero" saturation would indicate absolutely neutral gray/black/white.

Maybe that will help make some sense of it for some. It did for me!

jeff said...

There is a good book on the Munsell system: ”The New Munsell Student Color Set”

It's not cheap but it's worth it if you want to learn more about color.

I have a Neutral Value Gray scale that I use to mix these up. I use gray scales a lot in my studio painting.

I have also used the Munsell system to mix up controlled palettes for paintings. I used the color chips from Munsell book to find the averages of an object. In my case it was a orange. I plotted all the averages from the lights to the shadows and mixed up strings.
The interesting thing about this approach is that it eliminates a lot of guess work.

Frank Reilly based his palette on the Munsell system. There are a few painters out there who teach using this. Marvin Mattelson and Jack Farigasso.

Mattelson has developed an interesting palette based on Reilly and Paxton. As an aside Mr. Paxton is one of my favorite American painters and highly underrated in the history of American painting.

Linda Crank said...

I am interested in your intuitive use of color. I would rather know a few larger principles rather than Burnt Sienna plus Zinc White plus Cadmium Yellow makes X color.

Are there "questions" that you are answering which help you choose which colors to mix together? For example, "Is the color I'm trying to mix cooler, duller, darker, etc." that would help you to choose, say, a Prussian blue over a Manganese Blue? Thank you...

Deborah Paris said...

I was laughing so hard when Hugh showed up on my screen I almost didn't make it to the rest of the post. I think i'm with you on the more intuitive approach. However, I always think of the three attributes of a color being chroma, value and temperature. Saying that hue is an attribute of a color is like saying being red is an attribute of being red. Maybe I'm just being a fuss budget (oh dear, the last time I heard that word it came out of my mother's mouth) but I always think temperature gets short shrift in this system.

Batten down the hatches up there Stape!

Plein Air Gal said...

Just to put your mind at ease ... it's been in the 90s in NH too ... and humid!
Excellent start on colors!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I intend to lash myself to the mast, and experience the full fury of the oncoming hurricane, until my cigar goes out. Then I am going to bed.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you,

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jo-ann. I had never heard of the Munsell store

Stapleton Kearns said...

Here it comes. If you have a Gloucester easdel you might be OK, if you have a French easel or a pochad box, you better run home. When the wind starts blowing minivans and Volvos even the Gloucester easel becomes a little unstable.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I know where you got that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I do have a system, it is just not 3D.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I address saturation in the next post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I keep a gray scale near my easel too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I do.I will answer that in an upcoming post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deborah, in practice almost never think "hue" but "which pigment?"
You guys can keep your nasty heat and hurricanes down there where they belong. Please.