Gurney Journey | category: Color and Light Book


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Kelsey's and Anoosha's Art-Book Videos

Kelsey Rodriguez's YouTube channel has made her a hero for self-taught artists, so I was pleased that she included my book Color and Light among her recommendations in her video on YouTube

Kelsey Rodriguez: ART BOOKS to read instead of going to art school!

Also, Anoosha Syed did a recommended art book video which includes a review of Color and Light.

Thanks, Kelsey and Anoosha!

The hub of the color wheel

The hub of the color wheel

Joshua asks on YouTube: "You said in part 1 of Color Wheel Masking, "... As each of these colors approaches the center, it becomes a neutral gray." Why neutral gray, what is the reasoning or significance for this? I see in some wheels, the use of (outer to inner circles) white, black and saturation centers as well as neutral gray. Same question regarding a center white or black, if you please?"

The hub of the color wheel
A color circle created using CMYK Sliders (Source)
Answer: You could use white or black instead of gray at the center of a color wheel, and many people do, especially when they're in the digital realm. Whichever you choose, the center of the wheel should have zero hue saturation. Black, white, and gray all fit that description.

It helps to keep in mind that the color wheel doesn't represent the full color space, which is a three-dimensional volume, where the vertical axis is a gray scale. The Munsell color system charts color three dimensionally, like a tree with a trunk that goes from black at the bottom to white at the top, as the vertical arrays of hues branch out from the central trunk. Note that the colors have peak saturation at different values. Yellow peaks in lighter values and blue peaks at darker values.

So the color wheel is a horizontal cross section of that 3D color volume, sliced through the peak saturations of each hue, with a gray at the center.

The hub of the color wheel

Most color wheels don't have a constant value all around the perimeter. I chose to represent the hues at whatever value shows them at peak chroma, and then I put the center point at an average gray value rather than raising it up to white or dropping it to black.

Relative Color Temperature

Anand has some questions about how people talk about color temperature.

He says he understands how a yellow can be cooler if it leans more toward blue, and warmer if it has a red bias. But which blue is warmer/ cooler? One could argue that a blue with a red or violet bias is warmer because red is a warm color. But a blue with a yellow or green bias can also be regarded as warmer because yellow is also a warm color.

He also asks which is warmer, green or magenta? And is there a pure primary color on the dividing line between warm and cool? Finally, Which is the warmest color on color wheel of tube colors yellow or orange?"

Relative Color Temperature
Casein paint
Answer: Artists mean different things when they talk of color as warm or cool. A swatch of orange or blue standing alone can be described in absolute terms as a warm color or a cool color. Alternately, some artists use color temperature more as a relative concept to distinguish two closely related colors. For example, a green mixed with more orange might be regarded as warmer than a similar green that was composed with more of a blue-green hue. 

Relative Color TemperatureAs you suggest, this relative approach to assigning color temperature can be confusing when someone is talking about blue, which could be made warmer with the addition of either red or yellow. I would agree with you that blue is the coolest color, so I don't think it makes any sense to describe a warmer blue.

Is there a primary color on the dividing line between warm and cool? Yes, greens and violets are on the dividing line, but artists don't always agree precisely where to divide the color wheel. Color theory historian David Briggs explains further how the color wheel has been divided between warm and cool through history.  

Which color is the warmest? I'd say a yellow orange, like a cadmium yellow medium is the warmest. But this is also a matter of debate. Keep in mind that warmth is not something you can measure with a thermometer. It's psychological. And the effect of a color in a given painting depends to a great extent on what colors you put around it.

Why Limit Your Palette?

The new issue of International Artist magazine (#106, December/January) has a four-page feature that I wrote on extreme limited palettes—palettes that have four or fewer colors plus white.

One rhetorical question I pose is: Why limit your palette?
1. Paintings from limited palettes are automatically harmonious, but they’re very often eye-catching and memorable too. 
2. Old masters used limited palettes by default because they just couldn’t get the range of pigments we have now. Using older, quieter colors can give a much wanted mellowness. 
3. A limited palette forces you out of color-mixing habits. If you don’t have that standard “grass green” color, you’ll have to mix it from scratch, and you’re more likely to get the right green that way. 
4. Limited palettes are compact, portable, and sufficient for almost any subject. In fact you can paint almost anything in nature with just four or five colors.

In case you missed it, here's a recent video showing a painting made with just two colors plus white (Link to YouTube video):

International Artist magazine has been successfully using the cross-media strategy of printing QR codes next to paintings for which there is an accompanying YouTube video.
Previously on GJ: Limited Palettes 
"Gouache in the Wild"
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50

Strategies for Evoking Moonlight

"Khasra by Moonlight" is one of the original paintings in the exhibition "The Art of James Gurney"  in Philadelphia. 
Strategies for Evoking Moonlight
Khasra by Moonlight by James Gurney, 12 x 18 inches, oil on board
To evoke the feeling of moonlight, I used the following six strategies, which I based on my own personal memories of observing moonlight, and my study of other artists whose nocturnes I really admire (especially Frederic Remington, Atkinson GrimshawJohn Stobart, and Frank Tenney Johnson):

1. Set up an overall temperature contrast between the orange torchlight and the cool blue-green moonlight.
2. Keep the chroma in the moonlight low--not too intense of a blue-green. Hint of blue in far distance.
3. Put a slight warm halo around the moon and edge-light the adjacent clouds.
4. Keep the key of the painting relatively high.
5. Suppress all detail in the shadows and put some texture and variety in the lights.
6. Introduce a gradual stepping back of value, lightening as it goes back to the far minaret.

Here's the quick (45 minute) maquette that I built for lighting reference. It didn't need to be beautiful at all, just any old blobs of modeling clay were all I needed.

I quickly discovered that I had to move the actual lighting position quite far to the left, much farther to the left than the position of the moon in the painting.

After taking a digital photo of the maquette, in Photoshop I shifted the key toward blue-green, and I desaturated it slightly. The photo shows a lot of reflected light in the shadows, which I largely ignored. I would have played up that reflected light had I wanted to evoke daylight effects, where I might want to amplify the relatively weak reflected light.
"The Art of James Gurney" at the Richard Hess Museum at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia will be on view through November 16, and I will do a public presentation on October 29.
"Khasra by Moonlight" was first published in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
There's a discussion of architectural maquettes in my print book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist and an exploration of moonlight in Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Limited Palette Tests

I just finished writing an article called "Extreme Limited Palettes" for International Artist magazine and I want to preview one small part of it for you.

The article will include these four color charts. Each diamond-shaped diagram represents the possibilities of three colors, plus white.

Limited Palette Tests

Each diamond shape is composed of two isosceles triangles. The left triangle represents the gouache colors straight out of the tube, and the right one represents the mirror image of those colors, but mixed with white. Secondary mixtures appear as rectangles along the side of each triangle. The darkest "black" you can get from those colors is the small dark patch in the center of the left triangle.

Limited Palette Tests
Each chart gives a sense of the full available gamut for that limited palette, so you can see at a glance what's possible with a given set of colors. For example, you can see how this painting belongs with the chart in the upper right, the one with yellow ochre (Holbein), perylene maroon (Winsor Newton), and viridian lake (Winsor Newton)—plus white (M. Graham).

Below is another way to set up the charts using hexagons to represent the color wheel, with tints in the center. These are done with oil.

Limited Palette Tests

The colors you choose for your limited palette don’t have to be blue, red, and yellow, or even cyan, magenta, and yellow. As long as they’re differentiated, the painting will seem to have a full universe of colors.

Before you start a given painting, you can refer to a set of charts like these to decide which limited palette would suit the subject you want to paint. These charts would be a big help if you're thinking of joining in with the Graveyard Painting Challenge for October.

"Color and Light" in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

We just received copies of the new Chinese hardback edition of "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter" (upper left) from the Eurasian Publishing Group / Solutions Publishing (link to publisher's web page).

There's also a Chinese softcover edition and a Japanese and Korean edition.
The little dinosaur on the cover is Mei long, from China's Liaoning province.
Kelsey's and Anoosha's Art-Book VideosThe hub of the color wheelSandrine's Color and Light ReviewRelative Color TemperatureColor and Light in Russian and KoreanWhy Limit Your Palette?Strategies for Evoking MoonlightLimited Palette TestsVideo Review of 'Color and Light'"Color and Light" in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

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