Thursday, May 1, 2014

Color is Relative

Welcome to the Draw Mix Paint blog! This is my first post.

I will be posting all kinds of things here that I think will be of interest to artists. Let me start with a comment on color perception. I've always liked this quote by Eugène Delacroix:
“I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud,
provided you let me surround it as I will.”
Our brains always see color in context. If, for instance, you look at a spot of color in isolation — say as a spot on a piece of white paper — it will look completely different than it will surrounded by the other colors in your painting.

You may like a particular color on your palette, but stroke it onto your painting and how it looks to your eye will change dramatically.  Or you may think a color on your palette looks like gray mud, but in its correct place in your painting it may look like the white of someone's eye.

Take a look at this painting by Solomon J. Solomon:

crop of "Portrait of Henrietta Lowy Solomon, the Artist's Sister" by Solomon J. Solomon
click to enlarge

In the image below I have taken the color he used to paint the white of the eye and placed it in isolation surrounded by white and then black. As you can see, the very same color looks very different in each context, even though it is exactly the same color.

the white of the eye isolated in white and then in black

My advice for teaching yourself to see color is simply to use a color checker. After painting a few paintings with a color checker you will begin to see through the color illusions. And after using a color checker for several paintings, you will find yourself needing to use the color checker less and less. Here is a video demonstrating the color checker:

— Mark Carder
my free videos:

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