Part 4, project 2, exercise 2: Perspective – aerial perspective

Updated on 21 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).

7 November 2016. The project on aerial perspective (for an overview see The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) and Tang (n.d.)) is going to be a challenge for me, since it requires paying controlled attention to several aspects, i.e. loss of focus, colour saturation and change in colour temperature. The required simple landscape would need to make do without the elements of linear perspective and in order to put myself in colour-only mood I made an excursion to Egon Schiele’s aerial perspective paintings (1890-1918, Austria), as e.g. in Fig. 1 below:

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Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Four Trees”, 1917, oil on canvas. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The above work contains hardly any elements of linear perspective, apart from, maybe, the narrowing of spaces between the horizontal layers of clouds. The tiny mountain range at the centre (had to stop myself writing “at the back”, because of course on the canvas they are not) show all elements of aerial perspective, though: colder colours, loss of contrast and (comparatively) fading outline as well as a loss of colour saturation. And these, no matter how small the difference, are sufficient to allow the correct sorting of foreground and background and allocation of a roughly measurable distance between viewer and trees as well as trees and mountains. It is the viewer’s experience of the characteristics of the visible world and the associated workings of the mind, which do the trick.

The above is easy to interpret due to its known representative elements of a landscape, but when comparing e.g. Nik Harron’s (*1981, Ireland) completely abstract aerial perspective  “Untitled” (Harron, 2009) the system still works. There are colder colours, less saturation as well as loss of contrast and focus of nothing in particular and it becomes a believable landscape. It works due to the mind connecting with whatever knowledge I have of the world and it works, because it makes sense. Which makes me want to explore it the wrong way round (but for once I will resist the temptation!). In order to be able answer to the question in the study guide (“Is it necessary to combine all three to achieve the desired effect?”), I decided that it would be necessary to adopt a stepwise approach.

8 November 2016. Since the weather outside turned nasty within hours (sleet in masses), I chose a photo of a wonderfully dark volvcanic landscape from our 2014 visit to Iceland. It is absolutely reduced and appears very suitable for exploring aerial perspective.

So, what I did was, in steps:

1. Make a black brush drawing avoiding linear perspective, but using increasingly narrower lines towards the back
2. Reduce line colour contrast by painting over with increasingly lighter greys towards the back
3. Introduce colour, warmer in front, colder at back
4. Modulate colour saturation (enhance/fade) and colour contrast (enhance/reduce)

Here is the sequence (Fig. 2-5):

1. Brush drawing with black paint, increasingly narrower lines

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Figure 2. Line drawing, narrowing

This on its own already provides an impression of space, helped by the standing rock cutting off the view of the gentle slope to the back of it.

2. Brush drawing changed to have increasingly less dark lines towards the back

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Figure 3. Line drawing, less dark at back

The difference is not large, probably also because it was not easy to have very narrow lines painted with the brushes I have.

3. Introducing colour and contrast

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Figure 4. Adding colour and contrast

10 November 2016. Volcanic sand and rocks look a very dark warm grey closeby, but increasingly cooler towards the horizon. This first layer of colour helped the painting to increase in depth, but it is clearly visible that any small mistake in choice of colour has a profound effect on the perception of perspective. This is particularly evident in the wide darkish horizontal strip behind the large stone in the bottom lefthand corner. It makes the rocky outcrop in the middle ground hover rather than sit on its hill. So it is clearly not enough to simply reduce contrast and colour saturation on a rigid recipe basis. It is essential to pay attention to the respective properties of all parts of the painting and balance the effects around each change.

4. Correcting saturation and contrast

By introducing a selection of purer warm hues used in mixing the above greys and adjusting tonal values, including some light and shade in the foreground and middle ground, as well as covering the sky with a dilute layer of greyish blue I intensified the differences between the different parts of the painting. Although linear perspective is present at no point in the painting, the space created by techniques relating to aerial perspective looks believable. I find that I make many of these adaptations subconsciously without referring to an external set of instructions.

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Figure 5. Correcting colour and contrast

Overall I think that even the first line drawing using nothing but decreasing line width creates a working spatial composition. The same would apply to using staggered warm and cold coloured areas alone (similar to the third step), even if a landscape were inexistent. In order to be recognized as something derived from the real physical world, however, the above rules must not be broken. The human eye and brain are tuned into detecting the slightest discrepancy in information, a probably life-saving ability in our complex and not always welcoming universe.

References:

Harron, N. (2009) An Aerial Perspective [acrylic on canvas] [online]. Private Collection, [n.k.]. Available at: http://nikharron.com/aerial-view/ [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Schiele, E. (1917) Four Trees  [oil on canvas] [online]. Belvedere, Vienna. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele#/media/File:Egon_Schiele_094.jpg [Accessed 7 November 2016]

The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) Aerial Perspective. Encyclopaedia Britannica, London. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/aerial-perspective [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Tang, I. (n.d.) Linear and Aerial Perspective: The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective [online]. Inge Tang, [n.k.]. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/ingetang/ [Accessed 20 March 2017]

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Assignment 2, stage 1: Preliminary research – colour and the boundary

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 May 2016. This was another unbelievable day. I only come to realize step by step how some people use their so-called intelligence only to deceive and betray. It makes me physically sick. But it cannot be helped, we need to take care not to swallow too much of the poisonous cocktail, speaking in terms of my next project …

At this point I would like to gain as much insight as possible in the processes involved at the boundaries between colours. As a biologist I am very much aware of the crucial role boundaries have in the formation and existence of life and they are precious things maintained by subtle acts of balance across them. I guess that the boundaries between colours may work in similar ways. If the areas to either side fail to communicate (or avoid communication, that is), a painting or drawing may literally never come to life.

21 May 2016. From the previous experiments I know that both simultaneous and successive contrast work, in different ways, to strengthen existent colour differences. To me this appears similar to solutions of different concentrations separated by a membrane. If left to themselves the initially sharp boundary will become diffuse, because molecules will travel through the membrane from the higher to the lower concentration until concentrations are equal. The more unlike two colours, the larger the “concentration gradient” and the more active the communication across it, if I may say so in lay terms. For examples see e.g. Arend et al. (n.d.).
A number of optical effects is discussed by Grais (2017). Of these I need to remember that a dark background usually serves to enhance the perceived differences between colours, which is very likely the reason why working from a coloured ground is preferred by many artists. Apart from that I continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of seemingly similar concepts and technical terms buzzing in my head. As long as I feel I am not standing on solid ground regarding the use of the latter, I will try and keep matters simple and hands-on rather than theoretical. Which is probably, when looking at it, most other artists did and do when trying to make sense of colour relationships:

To start with, I had another look at the work of Josef Albers. Probably I should not say so, but I am not drawn to his squares, no matter how instructive they are. They remind me of the covers of some of the books we used to have at secondary school during the 1970s and 1980s. I remember well that the contents of these books was not made for children and so were those covers. Albers’ squares seem so dry and analytical that I will see whether I can force myself to copy any of them into my sketchbook as I was instructed to by my tutor. There appears to be no communication of the kind I am looking for across the boundaries of his chosen sets of colours. When comparing them to Mark Rothko’s work, I know which I prefer by miles. There is so much to find in his paintings, apart from mere colour relationships, there is tension and space, a feeling of getting drawn into or being repelled by some combinations of colours, so that I cannot help coming back to them. I wish I could put two paintings using the same colours side by side, but copyright restrictions allow only for a tiny public domain selection in both cases. It is mainly from Rothko that I decided to learn, hopefully my tutor will understand. When looking for other sources examining boundaries I also came across the work of hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)). For me they help to bridge the gap between Albers and Rothko, see e.g. the wavelike movement in “The Spectrum I” painted by Kelly in 1953. Moving to viewing what more complex boundaries can do in a painting I found the work of Donald Fox (Fox, n.d.) quite intriguing, and also that of Ian Davenport (Jackisnotdull, 2012), and not least Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous concentric circles (Fig. 1 below). I ask myself why they had not been chosen for the covers of our art books, they are so wonderfully alive. I guess that the overwhelming number of effects to find in Kandinsky’s circles may be hard to teach, but we kill art by wanting to describe it all. I think that we should not tamper with our children’s innate mysterious connection to art. It has been destroyed in so many of us (and me!) that we struggle to regain it for a lifetime.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles
Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky: “Colour Study with Squares and Concentric Circles”, 1913, watercolours, gouache and crayon on paper. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
When doing some more research on Kandinsky’s work I found his 1927 painting “Molle Rudesse”, which contains some of the “boundary effects” I would like to have present in my next assignment, including some suggestions of how to handle the flattening-out of cocktail equipment (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Wassily Kandinsky: “Molle Rudesse”, 1927, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
My next steps in the sequence will thus be the following:

  1. Set up a very simple still life consisting of very few items only
  2. Experiment with a chosen pair of complementary colours in preparation for the next exercise in Mark Rothko and Kandinsky fashion according to study guide instructions (p. 69)
  3.  Produce a series of square still life studies as described above and combine on large square canvas
  4.  Repeat the exercise with colours evoking mood, also put on large square canvas
  5. Start preparations for assignment by extending the setup according to intentions

Resources:

Arend, L., Logan, A. and Havin, G. (n.d.) Simultaneous and Successive Contrast
[online]. Colour Usage Research Lab, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field. Available at: https://colorusage.arc.nasa.gov/Simult_and_succ_cont.php [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Fox, D. (n.d.) Portfolio of Windows and Doors [online]. Donald Fox, Texas. Available at: https://donaldfoxfineart.com/collections/65248 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Grais, S. (2017) Color Context/Simultaneous Contrast [online]. DePaul University, Chicago. Available at: http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/color_context.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Jackisnotdull (2012) Colour: The Language of Ian Davenport [online]. Jack is not Dull, 15 May 2012. Available at: https://jackisnotdull.com/2012/05/15/ian-davenport/ [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1913) Colour Study – Squares with Concentric Circles [watercolour, gouache and crayon on paper] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1927) Molle rudesse [oil on canvas] [online]. Private collection. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Vassily_Kandinsky%2C_1927_-_Molle_rudesse.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kelly, E. (1953) Spectrum I [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/99.353 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Piet Mondrian: Dutch Painter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-mondrian-piet.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

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):

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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]

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.

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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.

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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]