Part 2, project 3, exercise 2: Colour relationships – successive contrast

Updated on 27 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

16 May 2016. When writing my last post I came across an old but well-written website on colour relationships, and by coincidence found it would be a very good addition to this exercise as well (Perron, n.d.). If you go to that page, scroll right down to the bright yellow caution sign, stare at it for a while, then shift your gaze to the white area to the right of it, the violet complementary field will appear and stay for a while. What I also think I can see at the same time is another, though much weaker, yellow field above and in response to the violet, but this may be an optical illusion. The effect of such successive contrast on the perception of other colours can also be seen in an example (Miyapuram, 2008), where the staring at the red and green pair of discs will influence the perception of the identical yellow pait of discs below. For a while the yellow discs will appear as if their hues were different, because each is modulated by the respective complementary after-image of the pair above. The effect is transient, however, and will need to be “reloaded” after fading. Following instructions in the study guide I painted a square using my most vivid pigment, again primary yellow. After the brightness of the computer-generated examples of yellow this colour is much softer on the eye, but works just as well (Fig. 1):

1_Yellow_square_16052016
Figure 1. Investigating successive contrast. Complementary violet appears right of the yellow square on gaze shift.

I find it extremely hard to focus my gaze (getting distracted by all the things going on around the point of interest) and so most of my complementary colour experience is random, but by being attentive, the effect is noticeable in a great number of everyday situations. To me, a never-failing fascinating experience is the accidental looking into a bright light bulb. While the eye recovers from the shock, the complementary after-image appears with a visible filament.
Thinking about the effect successive contrast has in paintings I think it is necessary to carefully consider the relative positions of the colours influencing each other. The whole idea makes my head swim with images and after-images and I know that I need to learn stepwise by vigilance and spending a lot of time experimenting.

Resources:

  1. 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]
  2. Miyapuram, K.P. (2008) Successice contrast [online image]. K. P. Miyapuram. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrast_effect#/media/File:Successive_contrast.svg [Accessed 16 May 2016]
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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).

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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 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 2: finished painting)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

10 May 2016. Much happier with this exercise than with the previous two. I have learned from them, changed back to using water only to dilute my paint and painting on an A2 painting carton rather than acrylic paper.
The study guide requires me to comment on a list of aspects, which I will deal with first to then add a photo sequence with some additional thoughts.

1. Planning and working methods

During the last three exercises I finally discovered the sequence of steps required from preliminary research regarding artists and styles, to a selective choice and well-thought-out positioning and lighting of objects. I have now switched from making sketches on larger-scale paper to such in my sketchbook, which results in a much more coherent story and easy reference while creating the actual painting. This time, for the first time ever, I sat down while painting and I found that extremely useful in case of a  still life. However, I have not yet found an ideal place to put the arrangement, which would at the same time allow a comfortable working position with access to daylight. I will probably have to buy a higher than normal table or board for the purpose (Fig. 1).

Workplace_with_viewfinder_10052016
Figure 1: The workplace

2. Choice of format/scale

I spent some time arranging my objects and found that with the most successful setup a portrait format would work far better than a landscape format. The last two exercises I had been experimenting on smaller scale acrylic paper and found this awkward to work with. I prefer larger sizes from A2 upwards, because I tend to paint with a mix of bold strokes with some detail added and found that I was unable to do that on smaller sized supports. This meant scaling up my objects to about two to three times their actual size, which had the positive side effect that smaller details could be added with confidence.

3. Composition

Initially I was not too happy with the composition, since I am not a typical still life painter, but the longer I worked on the actual painting the more I liked what I got. I think that it contains a pleasing mix of materials in positions which allows the viewer’s eye to wander without effort, while not totally devoid of a story.

4. Colour interest

I think that the mix of subdued greys and browns provided by both the piece of driftwood and the blocks of wood went well together with the metallic hues (brushed cool grey stainless steel salt cellar and pepper caster, polished warm grey spoon) and the plastic egg cup, whose colours were complementary. I tried to paint shaded areas using the colours of the respective objects mixed with my background mix of dark brown, bluegreen and a little black in case where there was deep shade.

5. Use of tonal contrast

Careful planning of the lighting conditions allowed strong shadows stand in contrast with a series of areas of lighter tonal values. I took care to cross-check relative tonal values across the whole canvas.

6. Paint handing

I came to appreciate very much the advice of using a coloured background to start with. It is far easier to work out tonal differences from a background, which is not white. Form the lessons learnt during the last two exercises I kept spraying water on my palette at intervals. I tried to produce strong and at the same time loose marks with a larger size flat brush as e.g. in the piece of driftwood, which went surprisingly well. Keeping in mind what I had seen in the work of Cathleen Rehfeld (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), I went over the background with lighter shades of the background mix, painting around the objects in a loose manner and tried to leave some of the dark to define outlines, where I thought it would create a believable addition to the description of an object’s characteristics.

The following photos were quite difficult to take, I did not find a place in our house and even outside where I could avoid all reflections, so unfortunately some areas on the canvas appear foggy (Fig. 2a-b, Fig. 3a-b).


Today I finished the exercise and am quite happy with the result (Fig. 4, Fig. 5a-b):

Finished_painting_10052016
Figure 4. Finished painting, acrylics on A2 painting carton


An important aspect I noticed with the use of acrylic paint is the fact that with my set of standard quality paint the colour of the prepared mix on the palette has nothing to do with the colour of the wet paint applied to the canvas (unless in very thick layers), but interestingly when dry the paint will return more or less to what was mixed. This was extreme with my background mix, which looked dark green when applied, but would dry to turn back to the pleasant dark brown-grey hue mixed. When mixed with white, however, the greenish hue remained. This I used to modify the background according to the different lighting conditions and was very happy with the effect.

Regarding the relative success of each of the exercises in this project I am not really able to compare them due to the problems I caused myself by introducing gloss medium in the second exercise. I think, however, that the third painting is by far the best regarding the choice of subject and execution through the various stages. This is the most intense phase of learning I have had for a very long time and I am pleased that I was able to come through with such a large gain.

Asked to revisit Assignment 1 there is not a lot I would have done differently. I like the viewpoint and idea behind the painting. What I would do completely differently now, however, is the painting of the flower-heads. I remember that each of them was done in a different way as a reaction to a more or less accidental application of paint and when looking closely the different sequences of opaque and transparent layers is quite obvious. If I had to do it again, I would do some preliminary experiments with the layering of paint in translucent objects and then try to work in a consistent way across the whole bouquet.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first¬†sketches) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/part-2-project-2-exercise-4-still-life-with-man-made-objects-step-1-preliminary-thoughts-choice-of-objects-and-first-sketches/ [Accessed 26 February 2017]