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Where's The Light, What's The Color?

Example of the different color of green leaves

Linda and I took part in judging an art show today. I usually judge one or two a year and while subjectiveness does come into play in the process, there is a skill to think about here.

As with many shows, there can be a wide range of quality in execution based mostly on experience. In that light, it is often light or the absence of it which separates one painting and painter from another. So my blog today is mostly directed to those still cutting their teeth and those who paint mostly realism.

Learning how to paint is filled with complexity, but funneled down to just a handful or so of important points, still, the two that always seem to bubble their way to the top when I see paintings by new artists are hue and value. Sure drawing is important, scale and perspective too. But often even when those things are well on their way, somehow hue (color) and value (a scale of light to dark) seem to still be left behind.

Hue - Color can trick you, but be aware of how and you’ll be on the mend. First, if you really have to look at the actual color of things and if you paint from photos, remember that there is real life, then what the camera sees, then what the printer prints. Color is also about perception. I asked an artist once who had asked for my help; “What color is water?” He thought about it a bit and said, “Blue”. WRONG. Water is clear or translucent. It especially does not look blue like a swinging pool, which of course has a bright blue painted bottom, but the water is clear. Water gets its color as seen by you the artist from what reflects off its surface (blue sky with clouds about) or by what you see when looking through it (creek, with river rocks and sand below the surface).

Let’s try again. What color is chrome? The artist I was helping got this wrong too. He said silver. The truth is that chrome is an electro metallic plating which results in a mirror surface. So, it is not silver, it is whatever is reflecting onto the surface. If you were looking at a car bumper, another car might be reflecting in the chrome, so that is what you would have to paint.

Another tough one can be trees which in many cases are green, but they are never just one green. Look closer at trees and you’ll notice some leaves are shadowed by others and some are backlit, some are new and some may have browned. In other words, a tree is not just green, it is many shades of green and this needs to be represented.

I could go on for weeks on color alone, but my point is don’t see color simplistically, really give what you are looking at some thought. Don’t just think of a tree as a tree, think of it like a million leaves and you’ll do better. Next week will be Part II - Value, which is possibly even more important than hue!