In this blog I am going to ramble on about one of my favourite fascinations - colour. As humans we are truly blessed with being able to see colour because of our eye structure. To other species, the world looks very different, even black and white, according to survival needs. I often wonder how our survival has been linked to colour. It is a vast subject that I am sure I will return to, but for now here are some starting points and thoughts that I hope will stir up your colour senses...
Vivid colour occurs quite rarely in our natural environment. Flowers are an obvious place we experience colour, also in the patterns of butterflies or tropical fish, a rainbow, sunset or gemstone.
Pigments as powder are combined with liquid to make the paint workable, and may then be dried into solid or powder soluble forms [such as watercolour blocks]. This liquid 'binder' may be gum arabic, oils, or resins.
Filler is also added - less in better quality paints - which bulks out the volume of the paint, and makes it commercially viable - pure pigment is expensive. This is why prices of the same quantity of paint vary.
There is a wealth of information about all aspects of paints and more in art supplies catalogues. Here are a few I use in UK that have good information and help:
www.artsupplies.co.uk [Ken Bromley]
www.saa.co.uk [Society of All Artists]
And of course if you are lucky enough to have a good local art shop, that's a great place to ask questions.
I especially like 'Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox' by Victoria Finlay - packed with stories, facts, and adventures.
PERCEPTION AND MIXING
We can train our colour perception in a variety of ways. A lot can be learned about mixing colours by copying other people's paintings. When I was at school we had a project to copy famous paintings, from Constable landscapes to Picasso portraits and Egyptian tomb paintings. Not only was it great fun, it developed skills of really observing colour and mixing paint. Why not try it yourself - you don't have to do a whole painting, maybe just a section that appeals to you.
Despite the wide choice of colours available, the problem of reproducing the colours of exactly what we see remains. Artists through time have had their own ways of representing realistic colours, and one solution is to use symbolic colour - which can evoke the observers experience rather than reproduce it exactly. There is no rule that says grass has to be green in a picture!
Colour depends not only on its own vibrancy and hue, but also from its interaction with the colours around it - an ever-changing and shifting relationship. This variation happens whether it is in a painting, the colours of an interior, a wrapping paper design... This relationship happens in our experience of our environment - poppies glow redder because of the green or gold colours that surround them and the contrasting dark of their centre 'eye'. Also of course the light in which the colours are seen plays its part.
Josef Albers was a painter and colour theorist in the C20th who evolved a series of experiments around colour behaviour. Look him up - his work is amazing. Based on his method we can play with different coloured backgrounds and like colours placed upon them, and vice versa. Cut up coloured paper works really well for this. The examples below show the varying interaction of colour and tone, the central blocks are the same on each pair. Yes really! This kind of experimentation really trains the colour perception.
Decorating colour charts are also fun to cut up and play with in this way - especially the custom mixing charts supplied by DIY stores. Try cutting out individual colour squares and placing them on different coloured backgrounds - and keep swapping them round. It's magical!
I like to use colour strips to explore and focus on colours, and here are a few ways they are used. Take a page of a coloured magazine photo, painting reproduction or advertising brochure and study it simply in terms of the colours. Notice the predominating colour/s and take a separate strip of paper, and mark bands of colour on it - the colour 'ingredients' of the page, rather like a bar code. Turning it upside down [below middle] will help you look more objectively.
|record the colours on a strip of paper|
|photo cut into strips|
Now [above] cut the picture into a few broad strips and re-arrange them so that the mind does not see them with realistic associations and notice how the colours interact in the new arrangement.
The colour strips can be kept and may form inspirational starting points for other pictures you make, or colour schemes for a picture starting point. the collection of colours holds the feeling and qualities of the original photo, whether it is sunny meadow, misty street, dark forest or tea table.
|painting in progress on easel|
The colour interactions of a picture are very akin to music - it might be loud, rhythmic and full of gusto, or drift along in muted tones. My spirit guides tell me to 'listen' to the colours and make the patterns and harmonies like melody and rhythm. It is this musicality that we absorb without realising it when we experience a picture, whether it is a photo in a magazine or painting in a gallery.