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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.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

The Science of Color by Captain Disillusion

This new YouTube video by "Captain Disillusion" (Link to YouTube) explains a lot of important points about color: how we perceive it and how we chart it, from the hue circle of Isaac Newton to modern 3D luminance diagrams. 

Every second of the video is packed with information, all beautifully illustrated with motion graphics.  It goes by so fast you almost have to watch it twice to get it all.

For painters, a key quote is "A limited palette works just fine as long as the color relationships remain the same."

In the comments, can someone please share the links to the free software he mentioned that lets you chart 3D color gamuts and luminance charts?

Limited Palettes and Constrained Writing

With no yellow and no green, this limited palette knocked me out of my color mixing habits and forced me to improvise in an alternate universe that felt alien, but still harmonious. Colors: ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, pyrrole red, and titanium white.

Writers have played with self-limiting challenges, such as E.V. Wright, who wrote the 1939 novel called "Gadsby" as a lipogram, without using the letter "e." Here's an excerpt: "Now, any author, from history's dawn, always had that most important aid to writing:—an ability to call upon any word in his dictionary in building up his story. That is, our strict laws as to word construction did not block his path. But in my story that mighty obstruction will constantly stand in my path; for many an important, common word I cannot adopt, owing to its orthography."

There are other examples of constrained writing, such as sonnets, limericks, and haiku, all of which thrive within strict limitations of form and meter, or palindromes, where the sentence reads the same forward, such as "Never odd or even."
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Limited palettes are discussed in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter.

How do you mix a color you're looking at?

Malcolm Marcus asked: "I would really like to see a video on how to understand what colors you are looking at. Sounds kind of nutty, but for those of us relatively new to painting, it's often hard to figure out what color something actually is."

How do you mix a color you're looking at?
Oil study by Charles Hawthorne (1872-1930)
Answer: The color you're looking at is a consequence of four main factors: 

1. The local color (or surface color) of the object.
2. The relative color of the light shining on it.
3. The relative amount of light shining on it.
3. The quality of atmosphere between the observer and the object.

You have to mentally combine all those factors in order to arrive at the color you will have to mix for that paint stroke.

For example, the girl's hat at left is a medium-value blue because it's a white hat lit by blue skylight which is less bright than the sunshine, and there's much atmosphere intervening.

The underside of her sleeve is a medium dull orange because it's in shadow, too, but this time the white material is picking up some bounced light from the warm-colored ground surface below her. Her skin is a dark brown because it's a light-skinned tan local color in relatively dim illumination. Backlit white subjects are popular with impressionist painters because they make make Factors #2 and #3 vividly clear. 

Most beginning painters see only the local color, because they don't yet recognize how their perceptual systems are filtering out the effects of the next three factors.

Learning to paint involves recognizing how those perceptual filters work. Once you understand them, you can analyze a subject in terms of the the relative influence of the four factors. 

I would recommend setting up a backlit white object on a sunny day and painting what you see. You could use a volleyball, skull, white cardboard box, or t-shirt. The experience of mixing the resulting colors will make these principles vividly clear.
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There's a lot of beginning painting instruction on my new Gumroad tutorial "Color in Practice: Black, White, and Complements." and in my book Color and Light, available signed from my webstore or from Amazon. There's also a lot of information in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist.

Compared to Hummingbirds, We're Colorblind

Birds can perceive colors in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond what we humans can see. 

Compared to Hummingbirds, We're Colorblind
Costa Rican hummingbird, from Ask a Biologist

Humans have only three color receptors, but birds are tetrachromats, with four color receptors. In addition to birds, many reptiles, fish, insects, spiders, shrimp, and other invertebrates can see colors beyond our range of awareness. The scientists estimate that as much as 35 percent of the color experience of birds includes colors we can't even imagine, not just additional colors, but combinations of colors such as ultraviolet plus green. 

Some birds that look plain to our eyes have patterns that can only be revealed by translating those extraspectral colors into visible light. According to NatGeo:
"This extra level of discernment might also have been a trait of dinosaurs, which are thought to have sported colorful feathers. Mammals evolved as nocturnal beings that did not need to see the rich hues of the daylight world, so most—like your pet dog and cat—are dichromatic, and have only blue and green cones. People evolved a third cone (red), possibly because early primates developed an appetite for ripening fruits."
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More online resources
Science Friday Podcast: A Bird's Eye View of Color

Complementary Color Scheme

Arthur Guptill said, "A rich effect can be obtained with only a limited palette. A warm and cool combination affords the student the best approach to his color problems, especially as they relate to outdoor sketching."

Complementary Color Scheme
Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman
In his book on the history of watercolor painting, E. Barnard Lintott said, "For a young student there cannot be a better way of entering upon the study of water colour than by rigorously banishing all but two colours from his palette. It is the best and surest way to the study of full colour. The colours should be a cold and warm one; cobalt blue and warm sienna—or Prussian blue and burnt sienna—are two combinations which lend themselves to a great variety of treatment."
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More about painting in complementary colors on m Gumroad tutorial "Color in Practice: Black, White, and Complements."
Quotes comes from Color in Sketching and Rendering, p. 71.

Color in Practice Now Available

My new tutorial, "Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements" is now available. (Link to 1-minute trailer on YouTube)



Gary Geraths, Artist and Professor at Otis College of Art and Design, says:
“After 30 years of being in the trenches, teaching college students the theory and practice of landscape drawing and painting there is always the intimidation of them taking it into the real world and practicing it. Watching James walk us through the process really sands off the "sharp edges" of translating tone to color in plein-air painting and makes it thoroughly understandable. My students really watched and listened to the "down and dirty" realness of the practical knowledge in the video and it certainly help them in their own artwork. Having been painting for years I watched and learned a lot myself, amazed at the fluidity and simplicity of how James presented the step-by-step instruction and painted results. This is such a great learning tool and would be a great addition to any classroom.”

Color in Practice --69 minutes. Studio exercises and practical applications on location. 


New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

On Monday April 20 I’ll be releasing a new tutorial video called “Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements.”

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

Painting in full color can be an intimidating experience for many students, or even for professionals who want to explore a new medium. There so many colors and brushes to choose from. And there are so many variables to consider, including hue, chroma, value, and wetness.

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

What I’ll do in this video workshop is start with a few basic, inexpensive materials and foundational ideas. I’ll demonstrate grisaille (black and white) painting in gouache. We’ll explore the variations you can get with the contrast between transparency and opacity.

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

Then I'll paint Greg at his workstation in a tire shop, demonstrating a single-accent scheme based on the Zorn palette (basically, black, white, red, and an iron-based yellow).

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

The painting developed spontaneously on location and it takes advantage of a raw-sienna colored underpainting.

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

And we'll examine the opportunities of a complementary relationship using just two colors: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

The video alternates between simple practical exercises that are well worth doing, regardless of your skill level, followed by paintings made on location that put the principles into action. I use gouache and watercolor, but the painting insights are universal and will benefit oil and acrylic painters as well. 

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20
What this video does is to take the concepts from my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter and translate them into basic practical assignments.

The video is 70 minutes long. The download will be $17.99, and the DVD is $24.50, but there will be a launch day sale of 15% off on Monday, April 20.

Tia Kratter, Teacher and Art Director at Pixar and Disney said:
“As an art instructor, I am truly grateful for this approach. Here's why: so many people who want to learn how to use color start out by squeezing every tube of paint on their palettes and end up with a confusion of color. Your method of beginning simply with black and white, and showing that one can get so much variety with just two tubes of paint is excellent. I love how you move forward by slowly introducing new colors one-by-one. It makes the whole process seem so much less overwhelming. Thank you for your generosity of information!”
TRIADS now availableThe Science of Color by Captain DisillusionLimited Palettes and Constrained WritingHow do you mix a color you're looking at?Compared to Hummingbirds, We're ColorblindComplementary Color SchemeColor in Practice Now AvailableColor in Practice—Comments from the ExpertsNew video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

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