Part 2, project 3, exercise 4: Colour relationships – still life with complementary colours

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 May 2016. After having spent some time researching colour relationships I became aware of the fact that complementary colours are not just those lying opposite to one another on the colour wheel. There are a number of interesting combinations, each of which creates a very different harmony and thus atmosphere (Tiger Color, n.d., Decker, 2017).

My intention for this exercise is to use it as a first preparation for my choice of colours for Assignment 2. What I want to test in particular is what happens if certain combinations of complementary colours in their simple forms (i.e. those lying opposite) are used for an identical setup using identical techniques. In order to concentrate on colour effects I decided that I would create a very simple arrangement cocktail glasses and accessories and omit 3D by flattening out forms. The finished studies I would like to put on a larger canvas in a grid, just as in Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) famous Marilyn Monroe prints (Borg, n.d. for an image and explanation). Referring to the latter I found an interactive experiment (WebExhibits, n.d.), which investigates just what I am looking for.

22 May 2016. Today I decided that I would want to carry out the experiments and the finished painting for this exercise with blue and orange, both of which are readily associated with cocktails and are excellent in conveying particular opposite emotions. With my simple setup of cocktail glasses I will try and create a number of identical paintings with the colours distributed in different ways. For this reason I will not need actual cocktails, but will “fill” the glasses with my chosen colours.

27 May 2016. To start with I experimented with the mutual effects the complementary pair have on each other, repeating and extending on the experiments introduced earlier in this part of the course. I put the colours (primary cyan, orange mixed from primary yellow and primary magenta to result in an orange skewed neither towards yellow or orange) through a basic investigation of properties, looking for situations of enhancement and cancelling-out (left image below). Then I went through another mixing experiment, repeating one I had thought I had to end abruptly because of running out of space in row one. I did so, too, this time, but continued by placing the last mix in the first row again as the first mix in the second row so as to allow a more or less continuous flow of information. The choice of colours will not allow a grey to develop halfway through the gradual changes, but rather a full green, which is however much darker in tone than both the starting hues. This effect is something I have not yet fully understood and when there is time I will try and find more information on the physics behind it (top part of right image below).

Next I created three very short sets of mixes containing the following sequences:
original hue -> tint (mix with white) -> shade (mix with black) -> tone (mix with grey)
Following the instructions on p. 69 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011) a use of black or neutral grey mixed from white and black does not seem to be allowed, so the only chance of a dark hue for this experiment is the use of green. However, it is possible to mix a great number of pleasing tints, so that the medium dark green available as the darkest tone will of course look darker when next to one of the tints (Fig. 1a-b).


In the next step I had another session on the computer to find out more about still lifes using blue and orange only, and I came up with one (“Still Life with Blue Orange 2” by James Bland (*1979, UK) see Fig. 2 below) I wanted to use as a source of information regarding the available mixed and distribution of colours on the canvas. Besides, I like the brushstrokes, which seem to be rather dry at the edges of colour areas, letting layers of colour shine through. It appears that here also there are no colours other than the ones I chose, while I am not sure whether I would be allowed to use a pink or light yellow mixed from white and the respective primary colours used in mixing orange. I decided that I would not take the risk and stayed with the above mixes.

3_blue_orange_JamesBland_27052016
Figure 2. James Bland (*1979) “Still Life with Blue Orange 2”, n.d., n.k. Source: James Bland (*1979) via Lilford Gallery

Next I prepared an A2 acrylic paper with a neutral grey ground. While I left this to dry I tried some setups with four different glasses used in mixing cocktails. My intention was to create some movement conveying an indication of a story told. The setup fitting my idea best was the one top right in Fig. 3 below:

4_blue_orange_setups_27052016
Figure 3. Testing setups

The prepared grey ground I split in four squares and filled them with the following grounds: primary cyan, orange, the darkest achievable green and a bluish green (Fig. 4):

5_prepared_split_ground_27052016
Figure 4. Prepared split background

On this I drew with a lighter and a darker mix of my complementary colours, then quickly filled the spaces with imaginary “cocktails” (Fig. 5-7):

6_brush_drawing_27052016
Figure 5: Sketches using line and setup with viewfinder
7_brush_drawing_closeup_27052016
Figure 6. Intermediate stage
8_brush_drawing_filled_27052016
Figure 7. Filled sketches

I quite like I the overall effect of this study and there is an endless number of lessons to be learned from it. Since I did not refer to my setup closely, but allowed imagination to play a role, these sketch paintings seem loose and full of movement. It was difficult to make a choice for the final painting of this exercise, but in the end to me the top left combination of colours seemed  suitable for the purpose.

After having prepared another A2 ground, this time with primary blue only – so as to avoid mistakes regarding instructions – I made another loose painting in the style of the above (see Fig. 8 below, for which, for some reason, I had to place the painting in a floor area in my workshop fully lit by the evening sun in order to get the colours more or less right):

10_finished_painting_stage2_27052016
Figure 8. First layer of complementary colour painting, ball-like object on the right is an imaginary belladonna cherry to play a major role as an ingredient to Assignment 2
11_finished_painting_stage2_detail_27052016
Figure 9. Tonal contrast

There are some quite nice effects in this first layer of colours (Fig. 9 above) and I want to keep them for later reference, in case I destroy them when continuing to work on the painting. I noticed, in particular, how a lighter layer of a light greenish orange on top of the primary blue, except for the shadows thrown by the glasses, will help to deepen the shadows. With the glass “filled with a white liquid” the effect is particularly noticeable, because both the white and the light blue next to the shadow further heighten the tonal contrast.
Since this way of painting is very new to me I can see that my use of the above effects is still more accidental than deliberate, but I want to know where this road will lead me and I want to work hard to master it.

28 May 2016. Today I finished my painting for this exercise. Here is the result (Fig. 10-13):

12_finished_painting_28052016
Figure 10. Finished painting, A2 acrylic paper

And here come some details:

13_finished_painting_detail1_28052016
Figure 11. Finished painting – detail of reflections on glass and table
14_finished_painting_detail2_28052016
Figure 12. Finished painting – detail of reflections on stem of tall glass
15_finished_painting_detail3_28052016
Figure 13. Finished painting – detail of blue shadow

It took some getting acquainted with applying the laws governing the use of complementary colours only in a painting. Blue and orange may not be the most convenient pair because of the non-availability of grey or near black tones, but I liked the necessity of having to make parts of the painting lighter instead of darker to bring out the darker tones. It was a totally different experience for me and while I know that my technique is still in its infancy, I want to pursue it further throughout the course.

Resources:

Bland, J. (n.d.) Still Life with Blue Orange 2 [n.k.] [online]. Lilford Gallery, Canterbury. Available at: http://www.lilfordgallery.com/james-bland/still-life-with-blue-orange-2/ [Accessed 21 May 2016]

Borg, E. (n.d.) Andy Warhol and Colour [blog] [online]. Discovering design. Available at: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/emilyborg/andy-warhol-and-color/ [Accessed 21 May 2016]

Decker, K. (2017) The Fundamentals of Understanding Color Theory [online]. 99designs, Oakland. Available at: https://en.99designs.at/blog/tips/the-7-step-guide-to-understanding-color-theory/ [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 69.

Tiger Color (n.d.) Color Harmonies: Basic Techniques for Combining Colours [online]. Tiger Colors, Oppegard. Available at: http://www.tigercolor.com/color-lab/color-theory/color-harmonies.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

WebExhibits (n.d.) Color Vision and Art: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Prints [online]. WebExhibits. Available at: http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/marilyns.html [Accessed 21 May 2016]

 

Part 2, project 3, exercise 1: Colour relationships – simultaneous contrast

Updated on 27 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

15/16 May 2016. I still had a large part of the neutral grey ground prepared for the last colour experiments, so I used this for my exercise on exploring simultaneous colour contrast, i.e. the effect that colours appear to change relative to the colours they are seen against. Colours, which are close together on the colour wheel, appear more like one colour than when seen separately, while colours opposite to one another on the wheel reinforce each other. In the colours I chose (Fig. 1) the relative strength of this “cancelling out effect” is visible with the colours yellow, and both orange and green, which lie next to yellow on the colour wheel. While, for example, the yellow square inside the yellow-green frame (no. 3) is hardly noticeable as a separate colour, it is relatively clearly visible inside the green (no. 5) or dark orange (no. 2) frame. In producing the squares I had to take care not to leave any of the background colour to shine through at the boundary between each colour pair. The effect on the pair was instantaneous, at least to me. Even in the fourth square from the left, the tiny areas of grey between the yellow and green are so prominent that they shift viewer attention away from the colour relationship I wanted to test. In addition, it was very difficult to take a photo at all that was not either too dark or too bright, but then with shiny brush strokes, all of which have their own influence on the colour relationships explored here.

1_Contrast_similar_colours_15052016
Figure 1. Simultaneous contrast in colours close to one another in the colour spectrum

Next I was asked to produce another (yellow) square, this time with its tonally equal complementary colour added, and to observe the effect (Fig. 2). To be honest, I would not know how to describe the influence. On the one hand, violet being the complementary colour to yellow, the combination works to enhance contrast in the pair. At the same time, making the pair tonally equal seems to work in the opposite direction. Colour contrast and tonal contrast appear to work hand in hand, as I would expect when thinking about it, but I may be wrong with my impression. In addition, I am not sure, whether I was completely successful in matching tonal values in the example below. No matter how much white I add, the yellow always seems brighter and there seems to be a limit regarding the potential of adding white in tonal adjustment (see explanation for this effect below).

2_Complementary_equal_tones_15052016
Figure 2. Complementary pair of colours, contrast with tonal values made equal

Finally I was asked to produce square frames of a complementary pair and to observe their effect on a neutral grey centre in comparison with a white frame (Fig. 3). Since I was already using a neutral grey ground, I did not understand the instruction of having to paint an additional neutral grey centre, so I omitted that step. In order to see the effects the different frames have on their centres, I need to half close my eyes and carefully cover the squares I do not want to look at, since they are a source of distraction. To me, the grey square appears darkest and similar (but not equal) in the tonally similar complementary pair of yellow and violet, somewhat lighter inside the white and lightest inside the tonally unchanged violet frame which I added out of interest. When looking for information on the internet regarding the relative brightness of colours, it is the yellow-green receptors in the human retina that are the most sensitive (Kaye, 2014). Since the human brain tends to reinforce differences in order to separate information, it is to be expected that the brighter the square, the darker the centre will appear, and vice versa. The strongest colour contrast is produced by combining yellow and black (Perron, n.d.), so my observation regarding the white square is correct. This means, however, that no matter how much white I add to a colour, the tonal value of yellow/green-yellow may in the end be unattainable. This is my own interpretation and again I may be wrong, but it tells me that it is necessary to be very careful with the use and placement of yellow in a painting.

3_Complementary_grey_squares_15052016
Figure 3. Complementary pair of colours on neutral grey

I am planning to explore colour contrast for Assignment 2 (separate posts to follow) and will try and keep investigating the subject throughout the preparations.

Resources:

  1. Kaye, T. (2014) What color do humans see as brightest? [online]. Quora. Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-color-do-humans-see-as-brightest [Accessed 16 May 2016]
  2. Perron, C. (n.d.) Colour Choices on Web Pages: Contrast vs Readability [online]. Carin Perron Colour Theory and Practice. Available at: http://www.writer2001.com/colwebcontrast.htm [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Part 2, project 1, exercise 4: Complementary colours

Updated on 20 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

16 April 2016. Two days ago I found the time to finish the series on mixing colours with exercise 4. I managed to produce a fairly satisfying Chevreul’s colour circle (see Fig. 1a below, apart from primary yellow and primary blue all colours in the photo are close to the original). What I tried when mixing the primary colours was to create a feeling of identical “steps” from one hue to the next. I could not say what made me decide to mix in a little more of the one colour and less of the other and I could not describe with confidence the characteristics which would describe such a step. It was an intuitive decision and it may well be that the colours in the circle do not look evenly distributed to anybody else.
What I noticed in my own circle as compared to Chevreul’s (Fig. 1b) was its artificial look. The colours look too clean and too cleanly separated for my own liking. Although the copies of Chevreul’s colour wheel found on the internet will almost certainly not reproduce the original hues with fidelity and from what is visible, the hues are not evenly spaced, I prefer his work by far. It radiates the sensitivity of someone whose lifelong profession was colour.


Following the instructions in the study guide on mixing complementary colours while keeping tonal values (hopefully) constant I achieved the following result (Fig. 2):

Mixing_complementary_colours_16042016
Figure 2. Mixing complementary colours

The first thing I noticed in the series was that (in my opinion) most of the resulting mixes would not count as grey. The only mix I would place in the category was that between primary yellow and violet. It turned a beautiful cool grey with admirable ease which also stayed equal in tonal value with respect to that of the original hues. In stark contrast to this was the mix between orange red and blue green, which became a very dark murky green. On the colour circle the axes of these two pairs pairs lie at 90° relative to each other. Tonal values of the other mixes appear to lie in between these two extremes. I also noticed that, of course, there would be several other hues achievable with each pair depending on their relative proportions in the mix. What I tried to do, however, was to produce a mix which came closest to be called grey. As in the previous exercise on mixing colours while keeping tonal values constant there was again a huge difference in the amount of white to be added to the respective darker tone.

References:

Chevreul, M.-E. (1883) Chromatic Circle [n.a.] [online] Linda Hall Library, Kansas City. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cercle_chromatique_Chevreul_3.jpg [Accessed 20 February 2017]