Author Archives: Yoel

Color Harmony, Theory, and Composition in Painting- Part 5 “Color Picking Strategy”

Color Picking Strategy- Picking light and color together

I believe it is a bad strategy when planning color to think exclusively in terms of  color schemes i.e.- I want t0 make a painting with an analogous, monochromatic, or complimentary scheme- rather than thinking of the lighting scheme in tandem with color.

You may have difficulty imposing an intended color look after you have already planned or composed the picture with certain light source choices.

Instead think of what type of color look you want to end up with, see previous post, maybe something cool you have seen in a different picture, a strong complimentary temperature contrast, an analogous scheme with subtle variations and strong accents, a more balanced complimentary scheme with a play of rich contrasting temperatures in ambient overcast light etc.,  plan how to achieve and maximize that effect from the get go in tandem with composing the appropriate lighting conditions  because each lighting  leans towards specific possibilities and constraints:

•Neutral light/Local colors
•Colored light/ single source.
•Colored light/ multiple source.
•Stylistic gamut color.

Only after you have made that decision are your color options clear.

Importantly if you are illustrating content which must be a certain time of the day and in a specific setting which imply certain light source configurations you might be somewhat further limited in some of your lighting  options and resultant color schemes and you will have to work your color theme options from that point.

For example if you want that super strong contrast of complimentary color in a reverse temperature reversal from the dominant color you might want to go with a multiple light sources.  It will be difficult if you have composed a scene with a strong cast from a single color light to achieve the look of a bright compliment from the opposite temperature because of natural plausibility constraints.

To be clear there is enough flexibility to achieve most color goals in most relatively balanced none extreme lighting with the use of artistic exaggeration and clever improvisation of secondary light sources if necessary, you can always tilt it toward analogous or subtle complimentary,  but certain lighting scenarios lend themselves in a more straightforward fashion toward certain color looks from the first place and certain more extreme color looks are hard to achieve unless you plan it.

So the process of deciding color for a picture can work this way:

If there are specific content based constraints on lighting conditions and local color:

1) What lighting options do you have choices on and which ones don’t you because of practical content-based time and location based considerations?

2) What local colors do you have choices on and which ones don’t you because of practical content-based considerations?

3) In context of those constraints what are the overall plausible color looks available?

4) In context of these constraints what color and lighting choices remain that will take the constraints into account and help achieve and maximize the intended final color “look”?

Once you have figured out:

• The none negotiable lighting constraints
• The local colors that are none negotiable
• The overall color “look” end goal
• An appropriate light and local color choice strategy that will help achieve the desired color look taking into account the none negotiable factors

than the small local color, variation, and exaggeration decisions that happen throughout the process have more to do with understanding how color juxtaposition works and how those small decisions can bolster the overall look you are going for.

Example 1: The picture calls for a sunny midday scene of a red barn on a green field with brown horses and cowboys.

Knowing that the midday sun will tend toward a  predominant warm light with subtle cool light from the blue sky and the dominant local colors are largely red, green and the blue sky- These lighting conditions and local color necessities lead to the recipe of an overall warm look with subtle cool complimentary contrasts.

Keeping in mind that the beauty of that recipe is in the subtle cool contrasts that run through the warm and in the color variation in both passages I will try to use available remaining color, composition, and lighting arrangements to maximize that feel.

The warm overall light will unite the blue, green, and red of the blue shadows, plus a  few intensely saturated warm focal points, and good color variation in the reds and greens. Probably smuggle some cool red strokes into the grass shadows as well.

What color should I make the saddle  and the cowboys shirt? What shade of red should I make the barn?- Those decisions have more to do with understanding how color juxtaposition works and how neighboring color contrasts can bolster the overall look you are going for. I am trying to play subtle cool shadows against warm light as much as I can so I can warm the browns of the horses and have the cowboy wear a blue shirt etc.

If there are no specific content based constraints on lighting conditions and local color:

In this case the process can work backward from understanding what color look you want to end up with, what is the inner beauty/power of that look, and what lighting conditions and local colors maximize that opportunity.

The decision as to what final look you want to head toward is not constrained in this case by practical light color choice constraints and instead might be based on  think about your subject/composition, the context it will be presented in, and what color/light feel will maximize the impression you are trying to create.

For example when illustrating a children’s book you might want to end up with a page of strong bright diverse pure colors and using a single strongly lit light source will actually make that harder. Instead create a situation with multiple temperature sources, or balanced light. On the other hand you might be trying to create a color sequence or theme and a strong uniting colored light source will work or the stylistic gamut method.

so in this case:

1) What is the final color/light look that will maximize my subject/composition?

2) What are the lighting sources and local color choices I can set up from the beginning that will maximize that intended look?

3) Once the larger theme and strategy is set the smaller local color choices throughout the process will again depend on understanding color juxtaposition and how to use that to underscore the theme.

Resources:

“Alla Prima II” by  Richard Schmid.
“Creative Illustration” by Andrew Loomis.
“Light for Visual Artists” by Richard Yot.
“Color and Light” by James Gurney, as well as Gurney Journey- the blog.
Stapletonkearns”  Blog by Stapleton Kearns.
“How to use color” Online course by Will Terry at Folio online Academy.
“Becoming a Better Artist” Online course by Robert Chang. (Excellent online fundamentals course.)
” Illustrate Color & Light” Online SkillShare course by Denis Zilber

 Please feel free to comment if you have any related insight into this topic.

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Color Harmony, Theory, and Composition in Painting- Part 4 “Common Color Recipes”

Common Color Recipes

After studying painting for a while you start to realize that there despite the endless possible color combinations and compositions there are certain color/lighting  schemes that are used often and there are certain underlying ingredients and techniques, some of them subtle, that are inherent in certain attractive common color “looks.”

This is more complex than simply complimentary, analogous, monotone, and gamut, because we are also underlying the lighting and color composition variation/accent techniques, as well as discerning what are the specific aspects of beauty that help make these work- the difference between clumsy amateur interpretation, and successful replication of these looks.

After defining and deconstructing some of these looks I have come up with a few easy recipes for dynamic color looks. This is an easy way to create a nicely colored picture, just pick a recipe and replicate your own version. Look through some art collections and see if you can identify some of these popular color strategies.

Recipe 1: Two opposing strong warm and cool light sources (with rich color variation)

This might be the easiest way to create dynamic, unified, plausible color. If you can come up with a excuse to get an actual warm  light source in your overall cool picture, or nearby, plus a nice helping of rich color variation in the warm and cool passages, than you are on the way to an easy win. Of course cool light source in a warm environment works just as well.

Will Terry is a masterchef at this recipe. (for even more deliciousness add some strong rim lighting on your subject and your good to go) According to Richard Schmidt, N.C. Wyeth also used loved putting a hot yellow candle in a cool blue painting.

Keep in mind natural plausibility so that local colors near the light sources show its effects by leaning towards the hue and temperature/saturation or dulling if opposing. Also be aware that you can put the opposing color light source off-stage out of the composition and leave it up to the viewer to imagine what it might be. See this sample by Will Terry.

The beauty of this “look” is that both complimentary colors can be shown in juxtaposition with full saturation and intensity while the  diverse local colors of the subject are also unified into two color temperature areas. This is especially helpful in children’s illustration where pure highly saturated colors are encouraged.

If you are struggling with color I would advice you to start by creating a picture with this look and I believe you will be happily surprised at the result. Don’t forget to add subtle color variation with plausible technique intensifying and shifting hues as objects turn toward the color sources. Don’t forget that you have the right to exaggerate color variation.

The challenge of this “recipe” is reasonably justifying why there are opposing light sources in the subject/composition. Here are several ideas:

Outdoors:
• cool night/moonlight- warm torch/lantern/bonfire/lit window/fireworks/flashlight/headlights/
streetlight.
• Cool midday blue sky- warm sunshine  (the cool light would be apparent in the shadows- exaggerate) fire from jet engine.
• Warm sunlight/sunset- artificial cool blue lights around a pool or patio, cool water, cool blue shadows from sky on opposite side of horizon.

Indoors:
• warm room light – cool blue sky light through window, cool moonlight through window, computer, fish-tank, artificial blue light lamp.
• cool fish-tank/computer room- warm light through door from hallway. lighter, lava lamp.

Recipe 2: Main light source, subtle secondary complimentary light source, and rich color variation.

This configuration might be the most common color composition interpretation of reality. The beauty of this look lies in the interplay of the subtle complimentary light and color that weaves through and enlivens the main opposing light, while the main light still unifies the composition. Usually this means a main warm light (sun) with a secondary cool light ( blue sky) that shows up in the sky and shadows but the opposite can be true as well.

Don’t forget that greyed passages cool or warm can still be varied and exaggerated for color richness. Look for opportunities to echo the theme of subtle complimentary contrast on a macro and micro level with local color choice juxtaposition. Remember that the unifying harmony is the dominant temperature so there will be limitations in the intensity of the complimentary color for natural plausibility reasons but that will also depend on the intensity of the main light.

Because the secondary light is subtle and is usually the blue sky light, either directly outdoors, or indoors through a window facing the cool blue part of the sky away from the direct sun, you don’t have to go out of your way to justify its source like the last case and you can leave it as something implied off-stage.

In this very common recipe, you end up with:

• A prevailing unifying light source that unifies the picture generally (composed of course with rich exaggerated variation)
• A secondary subtle contrasting light source that livens up shadows and adds color contrast (ditto the variation/exaggeration)
• You can also add an accent passage of extreme intensity and saturation from the general family. (see next)

Recipe 3: Single strong light source, or limited gamut stylistic overlay, with rich color variation and a strong saturated accent.

This color style is about exploring a single temperature to the fullest.

This is challenging because there is little room for striking contrast but it is more like Bach playing subtle variations on a theme. The key is rich and subtle color variation and temperature contrast within the family. Keep in mind that you can do this in limited gamut of pastels or low saturation greyed colors it doesn’t have to be in context of an overwhelming high saturation overlay.

One way to liven up the similarity in a painting with an overall tonality while keeping natural light plausibility is to add a passage or accent with extra strong intensity and saturation from the same color family in contrast to the overall temperature. This can be the light source, the area near the light source, or an object with intense local color. In this way you have the benefit of a unified family plus a nice saturation (not hue)  contrast.

Examples are this or this.

Recipe 4: Neutral/balanced ambient light source with rich varied local color.

There is significant  room for relatively strong diverse local colors in this lighting scenario creating a unique plausible color opportunity. I would guess that is from the most difficult scenarios to paint because it depends on the purposeful compositional organization and selection  of local colored subjects. It is easy to add too many colors of high saturation because there is little unifying light or tint. Shadows are unusually color rich because light suffuses all sides except for on bottom. There is little or very soft cast shadow resulting in flattened form as well.

On the other hand this offers the unique opportunity of plausibly showing true local colors of diverse temperature families without multiple light sources. Like painting flowers in a garden on an overcast day.  You could create a sober rich unusually diverse color composition this way especially by contrasting the color to the white sky and neutral ambient light which softens the harshness of direct light and allows color to be distributed in the shadows as well . Richard Schmidt does this often.

Ironically all hues at full saturation is the scenario that many beginners naturally start with except that they do it even when there is a clear colored light cast which is wrong and they do it with a strong direct neutral light resulting in a clutter of full saturation local temperatures in harsh light rather than soft unifying  ambient light which is more usual in nature.

Resources:

“Alla Prima II” by  Richard Schmid.
“Creative Illustration” by Andrew Loomis.
“Light for Visual Artists” by Richard Yot.
“Color and Light” by James Gurney, as well as Gurney Journey- the blog.
Stapletonkearns”  Blog by Stapleton Kearns.
“How to use color” Online course by Will Terry at Folio online Academy.
“Becoming a Better Artist” Online course by Robert Chang. (Excellent online fundamentals course.)
” Illustrate Color & Light” Online SkillShare course by Denis Zilber

 Please feel free to comment if you have any related insight into this topic.

Continue to part 5: Color Picking Strategy

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Color Harmony, Theory, and Composition in Painting – Part 3 “The 5 Essential Color Ingredients for Painting”

The 5 Essential Color Ingredients for Painting

Good color composition works on both a natural plausibility, and a compositional likeability level. . Here are several essential ingredients that acknowledge those requirements.

• Limitation/Unification A compositional likeability issue most crucial and commonly ignored by beginners. If there are many opposing colors of equal intensity and size in the picture you are risking a color cacophony, even if you have created a natural plausibility scheme that justifies it from a realism perspective (i.e. random collection of multi colored objects of equal size and intensity in neutral/balanced light).

 An artists job is not to record reality, or to recreate it slavishly, but rather to create a purposeful picture.

You can achieve limitation by arranging the composition with subjects of limited local color or painting them as if they had similar local colors even if they don’t (in neutral or balanced light), unifying with a stylistic global gamut, or unifying with colored light sources,  and as always purposefully exaggerating or lessening the unifying effect of these strategies when beneficial.

Natural/Internal Plausibility Conformation Another source of common error. Whatever “compositional/aesthetic likability” issues you are trying to achieve must work within the confines of natural or internal plausibility.

It would be great to put a deeply saturated intense cool blue object in middle of a warm intensely yellow orange lit room from an aesthetic  perspective in order to get a strong complimentary contrast, but how do you justify it unless you add a second cool light source? There is no lighting situation that would create that situation. Even if you are doing a gamut stylistic approach you also must be careful to maintain internal consistency.

It is also important to be consistent with other physical rules of color and light such as shadows being lower saturation and also keeping mind that saturation lowers in strong (especially over exposed) direct light – so light intensity will also affect your ability to showcase pure highly saturated color.  That is why artist like Richard Schmidt prefer ambient soft light that allow colors to appear at full purity and intensity and soft shadows.

• Variation This is both a compositional and plausibility issue because it increases the aesthetic beauty of color and it is actually that way in nature to some extent as the hue shifts toward the hue/temperature of the light source as it nears light source. (Although artists exaggerate that effect, rightfully, for aesthetic purposes.)

Variation means that in order to paint with dynamic color  it is important to avoid flat areas of hue and instead think of it as painting with temperature families. You are not painting cool green grass, instead think of it as painting the passage with the cool green family, neighbors, and even cousins which include cool blue and purple even cooled greyed red, although the overall passage statement will still read green.

As mentioned because it looks better many artist take the liberty of exaggerating the variation found in natural light settings- this is perfectly fine and desirable. Viewers will give you room to exaggerate pretty far without offensively violating the natural plausibility.

It is important to realize that variation is very helpful in the low saturated more greyed areas of the painting as well. This creates sophisticated low saturation passages. Shadows which are physically usually less saturated than light areas also benefit from subtle variation.

Another part of color variation is also the idea of generally avoiding pure highly saturated primary colors as the overall colors and instead use hue shifted versions of them, or use mid and low saturation tints shades and reserve the pure high saturation for accents and emphasis.

• Contrast and Focalization Too much of the same color family risks being boring. This might seem to go against unification/limitation strategy, however the trick is to get a calculated interesting balance.

Contrasting warm and cool whenever possible, or at least levels of intensity, adds much visual enjoyment to color. The easiest most powerful way to do so is with two opposing light sources.

One challenge mentioned before is when you are dealing with a strong single light source or strongly tinted gamut overlay.  How do you create realistic or internally consistent opportunities for color contrast? One approach is to reserve specific accent/focal areas of the picture for super pure saturated passages from that same family. This can be the light source, the area near the light source, or an object with intense local color.

• Exaggeration As mentioned it is crucial to realize that an artist is not a reality replicator, rather a creator of an artistic reality. You have the license to exaggerate the color variation and every aspect of color as long as you still keep somewhat within the framework of natural/internal plausibility.

For example you may not see such intense cool blue shadow passages in nature before you, they may be more subtle, but you can still intensify them in your painting. Nature is often more subtle but that doesn’t work in paint. Nature has the advantage of encompassing actual varying light sources, not a paper or screen, so we must be clever and compensate. That is fine and desired.  This works both ways, sometimes increasing the intensity, and sometimes lessening it.

Another example is that you may not find in nature that a single colored light source really has the all enveloping ambient strength the way it was depicted in a painting for unification purposes. Again fine and desired. You may also not find the extent of rich color variation within the color family passages as artists tend to exaggerate.

Resources:

“Alla Prima II” by  Richard Schmid.
“Creative Illustration” by Andrew Loomis.
“Light for Visual Artists” by Richard Yot.
“Color and Light” by James Gurney, as well as Gurney Journey- the blog.
Stapletonkearns”  Blog by Stapleton Kearns.
“How to use color” Online course by Will Terry at Folio online Academy.
“Becoming a Better Artist” Online course by Robert Chang. (Excellent online fundamentals course.)
” Illustrate Color & Light” Online SkillShare course by Denis Zilber

Please feel free to comment if you have any insight or worthy links on this topic.

Continue to part 4:  Common Color Recipes

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Color Harmony, Theory, and Composition in Painting- Part 2 “Color Consistency and Harmony”

Color Consistency and Harmony

When approaching color harmony it is important to understand that there are two separate intentions which can be confused.

1) Physical Plausibility. One intention of color harmony means that the colors in the picture are consistent from a physics perspective with the color and temperature  of the lighting conditions, or in the case of stylistic coloring that there is internal consistency to the system.

2) Compositional and Aesthetic Likability. A second intention is that the colors harmonize on a compositional/aesthetic level regardless of the light source, relating well to each other and to the picture as a whole on a local color level.

For example you might be able to create a plausible picture from a physics light source perspective where there are random assortment of opposing intense hues that are given equal competing space, such as in neutral light. However, this might be unwise from a compositional/aesthetic  perspective, similar to dressing up in the morning with every article of clothing a different random strong color.

Another point is that certain color combinations may be considered pleasant, interesting, psychologically or socially meaningful, or impactful on a color level and you may want to find ways therefore of composing them and justifying them from the natural plausibility perspective so you have the best of both worlds.

Understanding color harmony depends on which definition you are dealing with and which type of the above scenario/variables you are talking about.

• Consistency and harmony with local color in neutral/balanced light. In this scenario objects retain their natural local colors and will just darken (blacken) in the shadow areas as well as lose some saturation (grey down.) In the light areas all colors will have their “local” levels of hue and saturation. An example of this painting a colorful garden with a white overcast sky. Each flower will show its true local hue and saturation.

In regards to “natural plausibility” harmony in neutral light color choices will depend on consistency with “real” life natural colors more than anything else. If you decide to depict an apple as purple, or a Coke can as green in a neutral light setting it will look odd if you are presenting it as a realistic depiction. There is no natural explanation for a coke bottle to appear purple in neutral light without a tinted lens at a close distance.

In regards to “compositional likeability” you may be more challenged in your ability to plausibly unify the color of the composition with an overall lighting or stylistic cast because the light has no color or is only very weakly leaning in one direction. Local color choices become more important. You may choose to purposefully compose the setting/objects in the  picture and dress the subjects in local colors that will be relate in calculated ways such as grouping a still life of objects of analogous  colors (banana, red apple and orange on brown tablecloth in neutral light)  or two local complimentary colors. Color composition in this case is similar to graphics or fashion in terms of which colors relate intelligently and work well together on a local level.

• Consistency and harmony with colored light sources. When dealing with a strongly colored light source (which is the most common scenario as most light has a leaning toward a temperature/hue,) there are important considerations for “natural plausibility” and color consistency.

In regards to natural plausibility; colors of similar hue/temperature range facing the light directly or indirectly will generally increase in saturation and shift toward the light’s hue, while colors of opposite hue/temperature will do the opposite and lose  saturation/intensity becoming greyed down, especially the compliment of the predominant key color. This effect can be very subtle or pronounced depending on the intensity and size of the light source and the closeness and directness of the objects to the source. It is important to keep in mind that an artist can and often do choose to exaggerate this effect for artistic purposes.

For example it is perfectly possible to have a harmonies naturally plausible color composition with objects of varied colors such as a boy with a blue coat setting a red kitchen with bowls of all different types of hues on the table. What would happen if there was a single warm yellow/orange tungsten light is that all the red/orange/yellow objects would get more saturated and yellow while the greens would yellow and the blue/bluish purples would dull somewhat and de-saturate- this would give a realistic depiction of the scene.

(One unusual technical  exception is light which is colored on a very narrow frequency like a red only light or looking at light through a red lens which would actually make red objects lit up by it appear white while green would appear black)

A general rule to create natural plausibility in a single colored light source is to recognize its color and mute its compliment somewhat, not showing it at full saturation and purity.

One important point regarding natural plausibility and colored light. There is an idea called “chromatic adaptation,” this means that our brains adapt when our environment is bathed in a consistent colored light we interpret it and see it as closer to  neutral light instead. A good example of this is sitting in a room at night with a tungsten strong yellow light source. If you went outside the room would appear to be filled with yellow/orange but from inside you are unaware of the strong color and it seems closer to neutral like a fish unaware of the water around him. This is something to consider when painting strong ambient colored light sources in a realistic style. If it is the type of light source that usually is viewed with chromatic adaptation and you are painting it from that perspective (inside the room rather than looking at it from the outside) it will feel more naturally plausible to depict it closer to neutral light or only a slight color cast, rather than the intensity of color that it “really” has.

In regards to “aesthetic likeability,”  on one hand a strong colored light will automatically unify the composition towards a limited gamut taking care of the random competing strong hues problem, on the other hand it would seem to make a strong complimentary color scheme  more challenging. By definition the scheme should seem to  skew toward  analogous because all is bathed in the same colored light and the opposing complimentary colors are therefore dulled.  You don’t get the full pleasure of seeing two full strong opposites interact.

One approach to this is understanding that even with a single colored light source the coloring and temperature of the source may be subtle and not overwhelming leaving plenty of room for all colors to show the diversity of their  local hues and saturation to a significant extent while still retaining the uniting tint of the light source.

You can easily create a subject that has a complimentary pair of colors, or even widely varied hues, and there would be “natural plausible” as long as consistency with the subtle light source was maintained throughout the picture. You don’t have to have total extreme contrast of fully saturated temperatures to enjoy the play of warm vs cool, even a slightly dulled contrasting temperature will still work significantly.

However it is true that in heavy ambient single colored lighting by default you would be headed toward an analogous scheme.

Another solution to creating contrast even in heavy ambient single colored lighting is drastically increasing the intensity/saturation of specific chosen focal areas of the picture later although all is still in the same hue/temperature family, as will be discussed later.

Yet another very powerful approach to opening up color possibilities with colored light source is to create multiple light sources in the picture. Two light sources of opposing temperatures are the most powerful way of showing complimentary color harmony. Complimentary colors in neutral light or a single light will not have near as powerful an effect.  There are many ways to cleverly come up with an excuse to insert a secondary opposing temperature light source in your composition. Doing this will open up the most  powerful opportunity for striking complimentary color contrasts. More on this later.

• Consistency and harmony with Gamut stylistic colorization. Gamut stylistic colorization has very different considerations than the other two approaches.

In regards to “natural plausibility” the main issue ironically is to clarify to the viewer  that you are not using a standard realistic natural light system but rather the natural equivalent of putting a colored tinted lens over your eyes or the picture. This is accomplished by internal consistency. It is like creating a shorthand that groups different temperatures and hues into limited expressions but that system must be consistent in temperature relativity throughout the picture.

An extreme of this approach is  totally graphic/stylistic, for example arbitrarily casting the upper half of a picture under an orange hue overlay and the bottom half  under a blue overlay with no colored light sources or even different sections of the picture under different tints perhaps in a pattern which is overtly stylistic and has almost no realistic natural equivalent.

In regards to “compositional likeability,” this method opens unusual options. In this approach you are starting with choosing the  colors themselves regardless of lighting conditions.  You can seemingly pick any combination of complimentary or analogous color  and they would still harmonize aesthetically because they would related in the sense that other colors are excluded and the same limited colors run through the scene.

However in this case as well you would probably not get the same effect as two contrasting light sources where the complimentary contrast happens at full saturation. Even in the gamut method there is usually a prevailing temperature/hue and the other extremes are muted.

Resources:
“Alla Prima II” by  Richard Schmid.
“Creative Illustration” by Andrew Loomis.
“Light for Visual Artists” by Richard Yot.
“Color and Light” by James Gurney, as well as Gurney Journey- the blog.
Stapletonkearns”  Blog by Stapleton Kearns.
“How to use color” Online course by Will Terry at Folio online Academy.
“Becoming a Better Artist” Online course by Robert Chang. (Excellent online fundamentals course.)
” Illustrate Color & Light” Online Skill Share course by Denis Zilber

Please feel free to comment if you have any insight or worthy links on this topic.

Continue to part 3: The 5 Essential Color Ingredients

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