Understanding COLOR Theory III presentation by Pam Coulter

Understanding COLOR Theory VIII
presentation by
Pam Coulter
Review: Warm colors approach
cool colors recede
In depth perception, our human vision reads
warm colors (red, orange, yellow, yellow-green)
as closer to us and cool colors (blue, purple
blue-green) as more distant. Notice that, if you
stand looking out over distant fields, while you
may still see a red roof in the distance, in
general, farther objects will be "bluer" and
nearer objects, brighter and warmer.
Flattening the plane
• You can “flatten” space
in a composition by
mis-using cues. Doing a
still life, for instance,
where all the objects
are bright and primary
brings them into the
same plane. (Not saying
this is wrong. You can
use this if you know
what you’re doing.)
Abstract by Mary Ellen Mogee
What’s wrong with this portrait?
Doing a portrait where the background is
brighter and more warm than the face makes
the face recede.
Mary Ellison by
Mary Cassatt
Review: Warm colors approach
Cool colors recede
landscape or
portrait –
properly and
Review: Color proximity
colors affect colors they are near. As an
exercise to see this, we did a series of small
simple figure-on-ground exercises using the
same color on the figure and different colors
on the ground (the background or area
surrounding the figure.)
Examples on following slides:
Review: Color Proximity
Using a colored ground
Using a colored
ground under your
painting affects the
particularly if the
paint is a bit
transparent. Also,
allowing a
contrasting colored
ground to show
through parts of
the painting gives
an interesting
Review: Colored Ground
If you are going to start
with a dark ground, you
will want to ensure that
your paints are relatively
The opacity or
transparency of your
paints affects the finished
Color opacity and transparency
Color opacity and
transparency, how
it affects your
painting in acrylics
and oils. How to
combat problems.
Show examples of information on paint
tubes. Have students demonstrate with
their colors, using a black line from a
sharpy. Optional exercise: do a chart of
opacity / transparency as shown
color and composition:
hard and soft edges
Hard edges are those that don’t blend into adjacent forms.
Soft edges allow a value or color to blend and blur into adjacent areas.
Note: following compositional notes don’t just
apply to color. But color can be important in making
hard and soft edges. Use contrast or lack of
Exercise: do a simple still life, finding
the hard and soft edges. Can be
monochromatic. See example next
Hard and Soft Edges Example
color and composition: Broken color
…and why it is used.
Broken color: Two or more colors so placed in a painting as to produce the optical
effect of another color, without being mixed on the palette.
color and composition: Broken color
Why the “Old Masters” used dark
backgrounds in portraits
Woman Holding
a Balance, Vermeer
Laughing Cavalier,
Franz Halls
Self Portrait, Rembrandt
Mood and color
“Picasso believed Art to be the son of
Sadness and Suffering… that sadness
lent itself to meditation and that
suffering was fundamental to life… If
we demand sincerity of an artist, we
must remember that sincerity is not to
be found outside the realm of grief.”
Picasso’s “Blue Period” is further
triggered by the fate of his closest
friend, Carles Casagemas, whose
infatuation with a girl and her rejection
led to his subsequent attempt to kill
her and to his own suicide. Picasso
explained later, “It was thinking about
Casagemas that got me started painting
in blue.”
Picasso, blue period, Old Guitarist
Mood and color
Gradually, Picasso’s colors
brighten, in what has somewhat
misleadingly been termed the
“Rose Period” (1904-1906). Not
only soft pinks, but blues, reds
and greens complement these
images. The emaciated figures
became fuller. The new color
expresses warmth and life.
Picasso, Rose Period
Mood and
Munch, The Scream
In his diary in an entry headed, Nice
22.01.1892, Munch described his inspiration
for the image:
One evening I was walking along a path, the
city was on one side and the fjord below. I
felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out
over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the
clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream
passing through nature; it seemed to me
that I heard the scream. I painted this
picture, painted the clouds as actual blood.
The color shrieked. This became The
Mood and
This painting may
communicate many
different moods to
different people.
Vermeer has not left
any written
explanation. What
do you think?
Vermeer, Woman reading
a letter
Mood and color
JMW Turner’s painting at left evokes the deep
and solemn calm of the funeral of Turner’s old
friend and colleague, the painter Sir David
Wilkie. Wilkie died on board ship while
returning from the Middle East in 1841, and
was buried at sea off Gibraltar. A strong focus
is the silhouetted black sail, of which Turner
declared, “I only wish I had any color to make
them blacker.”
The blackness of the sail challenges the traditional laws of aerial perspective, developed by
both Northern and Venetian painters, according to which the sail should be less distinct.
Turner’s departure from the traditional
perspective was his device to emphasize and
express grief. The sails are crisp and sharp, but
the background of this painting, and many of
his seascapes, is blurred and indistinct,
creating atmosphere and a sense of motion.
High and low key
High and low contrast
These terms aren’t specific to the study of color, but you should
understand them.
Key refers to the dominant tone or value of a picture: high (light),
medium or low (dark.)
Contrast refers to the difference in high and low tone values used
for emphasis in a picture.
A painting can be high key and still have some point of high
contrast, or low key and high contrast, low key (that is, mainly
dark) and low or high contrast, low key and low contrast.
If a painting doesn’t seem to be working, take a look at the key and
contrast. Often, working on a painting, you may find it is all in the
middle grey tones: little contrast, indifferent medium key values.
One way to evaluate this is to take a photo or make a photocopy
and see if the painting all appears to be in the mid-tones. Then
add some contrast.
Key and Contrast
High Key
High Contrast
Medium Key
Medium Contrast
Low Key
Low Contrast
Final Review
We covered:
4 basic aspects of color in brief and in full:
The history of the color wheel
Color gamuts
Application of the color wheel in painting
We covered:
How to mix neutrals (greys and browns)
The three-color colorwheel
The 6-color wheel and why it works
The color value scale
How to modify “home” value using
analogous and complementary colors
Tints and shades
Warm and cool shadows
We covered:
When the light is cool, the shadows are warm
and vice versa.
Atmospheric (aerial) perspective
Warm colors approach; cool colors recede
Color proximity: how color affect colors
they are near.
Using colored grounds
Final Review
And today we covered:
Color transparency and opacity: how it affects
your painting in acrylics and oils and how to
Use of color in composition:
Hard and soft edges
broken color and why it is used
Why the “old masters” used dark backgrounds in
their portraits
Color and mood
High and low key
High and low contrast
A final note
“Art is a word that summarizes the quality of
communication” quote from essay on art by L. Ron Hubbard
Don’t sacrifice the message by working only to
achieve technical perfection, but work to
achieve competence adequate to convey the
message. My advice, Pam Coulter Blehert
November afternoon, Hanover Avenue, Richmond VA by
Pam Coulter (pamcoulterart.com)

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