Monday, March 22, 2010

The attributes of color

I thought I might continue briefly with an explanation of the attributes of a color. James Gurney has been writing about this, and there is a link to his excellent blog on in my sidebar. You will need to scan back a week or so to see it.

You who are practiced artists will already know this, so enjoy the pancreas pictured above and humor me, there are people following this blog who may not. A note, or a spot on a traditional painters canvas has three attributes, they are;

  • Value, that is the degree to which they are light or dark. Value is of transcendent importance. A practiced artist might choose to alter this, but it is essential to know exactly what value things appear.Value is a part of drawing. Generally I work with the knowledge of ten values. I may choose to not employ them all but I parse values to that degree. Beginning painters look at the darks and say "there's a dark", I say "which dark is that?" beginning students lack enough separate values in their quiver to describe the darks. The same is true of their lights. I think learning to see values is best taught in the studio, painting still life or drawing casts under the correcting eye of a teacher who has acquired the ability to see values accurately.
  • Hue. That is what the color is named, Is it red, yellow or blue, or some note including all three. In practice I think in the colors on my palette. That is burnt Sienna or this is cadmium yellow. Doctors refer to the assemblage of bones held together with ligaments as the inominate bone, the bone that has no name. I often think in inominate colors. Many of the colors in nature are inominate, that is, they aren't red or yellow but a gray with a little blue and warmed with some yellow or some such combination. If you don't know what color it ids it probably contains all three primaries. Color temperature is part of this division, some hues are warm and some are cool.
  • Chroma, this is I think, the hard one. People don't usually deal with this unless they paint or do some color matching activity. Chroma is the amount of purity or strength of the color. Sometimes, when describing chroma, people will ask "is this a bright color or a dull one?" I usually express this as highly colored, or grave (lacking in color). The students problem I described a day or so ago was a failure to understand the difference between this and value, as a note became more colored they mistook it for becoming lower in value. Chroma and value are different things.
I intend to come up with some kind of an exercise to teach this difference that I can use in workshops. Maybe a magic bullet of some kind.


Tim said...

Good stuff Stape. A good exercise it to maybe have a day where people only use white and black and just do limited time smaller studies? I think they would look at the scenes differently in the following days if they had 8 or so one hour valustudies. Another cheap fix is to bring a digital camera and put the setting on B/w. Then look at the subject and compare it to the painting. No different really than looking at your painting through a piece of colored cellophane, or use a black-mirror, which used to be and still is a common practice. This could of course easily turn in to a crutch, students should be aware of that, the eye needs training, so only use as a last check when you think you've reached as far as you can on your own and then some.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! Where do you find this clip
Ha! Looks like something Ed Roth
would tie to his car antenna!
I like the way you explained chroma.. it is purity, or intensity
of color,right?
There are people out there that can really play with this to get the eye to jump, or color to pop.
For instance, a particular red, set next to a particular green can
give a vibrant effect to the eye.
When that happens, are they playing with the chroma to cause this??(as in pin stripping a car)

Unknown said...

I never realized the pancreas was so close to the duodenum.

Jim Nolan said...

You make me feel I should take up my dissecting instruments again after some years of retirement. You started at the head yesterday, mid abdomen today, where do we go tomorrow?

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I think it all goes back to your original post, Stape. People want to paint plein air but have only painted from photographs. They haven't been in the field enough to see the differences in value, intensity, and color. I don't know if a day or two of painting outdoors will turn on any lightbulbs, but you are the man!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thats a really good idea. Thanx, I will try that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.It is amazing to me that people around the world are reading my blog!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I nmiss Big Daddy Ed Roth. I built a model of the Futurion as a child. I think that was what it was called. It had a plexi bubble over its cockpit.
Yes I mean intensity, but an earth color could have ITS highest chroma and be much graver than a cadmium. It is all relative.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is, check your GPS. Of course I don't have a pancreas. I am filled with soft spongy kapok.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I thought we might resect the colon.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You may be right. But they have never really been taught outdoors, I always tell them;