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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

Whistler: 'Color is a Splendid Bride"

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), writing in a letter to his friend Henri Fantin-LaTour, compares color to a bride that needs to be mastered by a strong husband. It says as much about his view of women and marriage as it does about his approach to color. 

Whistler: 'Color is a Splendid Bride

"Drawing, by Jove! Color— color is vice. Certainly it can be and has the right to be one of the finest virtues. Grasped with a strong hand, controlled by her master, Drawing, Color is a splendid bride with a husband worthy of her—her lover but her master, too—the most magnificent mistress in the world, and the result is to be seen in all the lovely things produced from this union. But coupled with indecision, with a weak, timid, vicious drawing, easily satisfied, color becomes a jade making game of her mate, you know, and abusing him just as she pleases, taking the thing lightly so long as she has a good time, treating her unfortunate companion like a duffer who bores her—which is just what he does. And look at the result; a chaos of intoxication, of trickery, regret, unfinished things. Well, enough of this. It explains the immense amount of work I am now doing. I have been teaching myself thus for a year and more, and I am sure that I shall make up the wasted time. But— but—what labor and pain!”

The letter also shows that behind his brash and confident exterior, Whistler was plagued with doubts about where the pursuit of realism had brought the art of painting.

Reflections in Still Water

Reflections in Still Water
The Delaware River near Milford, Pennsylvania, casein, 5 x 8 inches
The surface of the river becomes glassy as the afternoon wears on. Here's what I was thinking about as I was painting the reflections:

• The reflections mirror the colors of the far bank of trees.
• The colors in the reflection are very slightly darker than the colors being reflected.
• Within the area of the reflections of the trees, the detail is stretched vertically downward.
• The bottom edge of the reflection of the trees breaks up into horizontal fragments.
• Slight zephyrs create a blue patch in the middle distance, disturbing the vertical reflections.
• The bridge is reflected in the form of fragmentary strokes.
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Previously on the blog: 
Water Reflections, Part 1

Water Reflections, Part 2
Water Reflections, Part 3
More about reflections in my book Color and Light
Join the Facebook group "Sketch Easel Builders"
Take part in the challenge "Paint a Parking Lot"

How to Apply the Warm-and-Cool Approach

Gary asks about the warm-and-cool approach: 

"I can not see if there is, or should be, a rationale for when a warm or cool tone is used. I believe that this approach brings life to a drawing but do not understand how to best apply it."

How to Apply the Warm-and-Cool Approach

Jim asks: "I would also love a good explanation of the warm/cool approach. Obviously the value must be correct, but how does one decide to use a warm or cool color? Is it based on local color of the object? Is it based on light vs. shadow? Is it based on a combination of both? If so, which trumps the other when they conflict? That is, what color should be used to depict a cool shadow on a red ball? What elements are portrayed as gray (an even mix of warm and cool) within a picture? It's worth figuring out, because it's amazing how much "color" can be achieved with just Burnt Sienna (warm) and Ultramarine Blue (cool)."

How to Apply the Warm-and-Cool Approach
Richard Parkes Bonington
Gary and Jim, The way I think of warm and cool is that I'm basically doing a value study, but just taking the first step toward color. The warm pigment might describe an area lit by a warm light source, or you might use the warm color to suggest a local color that is intrinsically warm, such as an orange building. If the warm-cool exercise is a preliminary study for a painting that you intend to paint later with full color, the study will give you an impression of what the final will feel like. The limitations of chroma and hue choices keeps you from straying too far away from making primarily value-oriented decisions. 

It's very similar to the way musical composers will figure things out on the piano and then build their orchestration. A composer might work out the melody, rhythm, and chord structure before deciding on the instrumentation.

A simple warm and cool palette such as ultramarine vs. raw sienna is also a worthy approach for finished works. Many painters of the past sought the muted harmonies of warm and cool to achieve a feeling of quietude, dignity, or austerity.
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Two-Color Cartoons


Two-Color Cartoons
Still from "Hell's Fire," 1934
 For a period of time in the 1930s, some studios made cartoons with a two-color process.

At first, Walt Disney exclusively controlled the full Technicolor method in animation, so other companies were forced to devise a system called Cinecolor or ComiColor that used a more limited palette.

Two-Color Cartoons

The subtractive system used two sets of film stock, one filtering the image to yield the red hues, and the other blue or green.

These were later recombined, resulting in a complementary gamut that looked complete, even though it lacked strong yellows, greens, or purples.

Two-Color Cartoons
Compared to black and white, these early color cartoons feel like full color. Complementary gamuts are appealing because a color scheme is powerful not so much for which colors you put into it, but for which ones you leave out of it.

The color quality can be simulated when you're doing a painting by restricting the mixtures on your palette or by using a limited number of tubes of paint, such as Prussian blue plus flame red.
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Find out more
Here are some cartoons by Ub Iwerks that use this process:
Happy Days
Brementown Musicians
Balloon Land
Tom Thumb
Hell's Fire

More about color gamuts in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Websites about the 2-color cartoons: Color Cinema History  and Wikipedia on Cinecolor

My other channels:
JamesGurneyArt on Instagram
GurneyJourney YouTube Channel
My public Facebook page
James Gurney on Twitter
GurneyJourney on Pinterest

Painting a Street Scene with Gradated Color

You can paint a scene with an overall color system that gradates from warm to cool.


(Link to YouTube) Shifting from one color family to another suggests the change of mood from sad to happy or from winter to spring.

I'm using a mixed technique, with Gouache over a Casein underpainting, with NuPastel sticks to finish up. (Links take you to Amazon pages).

Questions:
Golden Hat on YouTube asks: I am unfamiliar with casein paint and was wondering why you use that to seal the paper surface as opposed to acrylic?
Gurney: I use casein because once it's dry, it won't pick up if you put a wash over it. Acrylic would do the same. You could also use Acryla Gouache (Holbein), which is a matte, opaque version of gouache with an acrylic binder. Or you could tint some gesso with acrylic, or anything like that as long as it's not too shiny. If the priming is glossy, the gouache will bead up and not stick right.
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More on gouache painting in my Gumroad tutorial "Gouache in the Wild"
The music at the end is by Matthew Schreiber. Check out his new album at his website.

Theodore Lukits and his Theory of Color

Artist Theodore Lukits (1897-1992) lived in Los Angeles, where he ran a school of painting.

Theodore Lukits (on ladder) and Dean Cornwell (below right)
Lukits had once served as an apprentice to Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). Los Angeles artist David Starrett has made a few short videos to share what he learned from his studies with Lukits in the early 1970s. Youtube Link.


Students were limited to working with white, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium red, a cool red (Ed. note quinacridone red), Phthalo (Monastral) green, and ultramarine blue.

From those colors students would make a color wheel, tinting the colors in the center of the circle with white and darkening them with adjacent colors, but not with black.

Drawing by Theodore Lukits 
As Starrett points out, Lukits placed a lot of importance on understanding drawing and value before embarking on color.

Painting by Theodore Lukits
To start out, students were expected to create 3-month-long graphite drawings of casts, and then they could paint the casts in color, still focusing on value primarily.



Youtube Link. Once they understood value, they painted from still life setups, which were often lit with brightly colored lights.

Painting by Theodore Lukits
Lukits liked painting with strong color oppositions, both of local color and of light colors. Sometimes he would drape a red vase with a green veil, or put two strongly colored objects next to each other.



Lukits discouraged the use of earth colors, which he called "tobacco juice" colors. He argued that you didn't need them because you could mix any color from the few basic hues. (Youtube Link)

Painting by T. Lukits
Lukits himself studied in Chicago under Carl Werntz (1874–1944), William Victor HigginsKarl Albert Buehr (1866–1952), Wellington J. Reynolds (1866–1949), Harry Mills Walcott 1877–1930), Edwin Blashfield (1848–1936), Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872–1930), and George Bellows(1882–1925). He also traveled and studied with Alphonse Mucha (1860–1939) when Mucha was developing the Slav Epics.

Lukits students include not only David Starrett, but also Peter S. Adams, Tim Solliday, and Frank Ordaz.
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Previous posts featuring David Starrett

How Darwin Verified Color

In the 19th century, artists and naturalists were obsessed with color charts that they could use to record observations they made in the field.

Darwin used an 1814 volume called Werner's Nomenclature of Colours by Scottish artist Patrick Syme. The book has just been reprinted by Smithsonian and is currently a bestseller in the natural history category.

How Darwin Verified Color

How Darwin Verified Color
"Darwin said that he always named the colors he saw 'with the book in hand,' and, indeed, Syme’s terms are scattered throughout the diaries and notebooks that he filled while aboard the Beagle. Darwin describes cuttlefish as tinted with 'hyacinth red and chestnut brown,' a sea slug as 'primrose yellow,' and a type of soft coral as 'light auricular purple.' Specimens could degrade, paintings could fade, and color photography was still a far-off dream, but with Syme’s help Darwin could encode the colors of an unfamiliar world—and carry them safely home."New Yorker
Syme's book, with its evocative color names, might well be a stimulus today to artists who want to explore color and think about it in new ways.

In recent times, artists and naturalists tend to be better acquainted with the Pantone Guide and the Munsell system, which attempt to be more numerical and comprehensive in their mapping of color. The Pantone system is particularly useful because you can tear off little swatches and hold them right up to whatever design you're creating.

If it's the relationships between multiple colors that you're interested in, check out the classic Japanese volume called A Dictionary Of Color Combinations, which has also been reprinted.
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Book: Werner's Nomenclature of Colours: Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts
Previous posts: 



Seago's Restraint with Chroma

Edward Seago's oils and watercolors use greyed-down warm and cool colors to convey light and atmosphere.

Seago's Restraint with Chroma

This watercolor uses warm and cool hues on either side of neutral gray. The colors are very low in chroma.

Seago's Restraint with Chroma

This painting has a golden glow with more chroma, but note that he leaves out a lot of high-chroma blues or reds. The values of the ships in the distance are kept in the mid range.

Seago's Restraint with Chroma

You'd probably have to see the original to get the full impression of a painting like this. Seago achieves a lot by suggestion, with dots and dragging strokes.

Seago's Restraint with Chroma

Everything is grayed down except for that sky effect, and even that is not full chroma. In this oil, the sky would probably be dry before he dry -rushed the branches of the tree. 
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Ten Tips for Painting Rainbows


Ten Tips for Painting Rainbows

Here are some tips for painting rainbows in oil: 

1. Plan the scene so that the lighting is frontal, with the antisolar point at the center of the rainbow's circle. 

2. Lightly pencil the arc using a homemade beam compass (basically a long wooden bar pivoting on a sharp nail).

3. Paint the scene around it the arc. Don't paint the colors of the rainbow yet. Leave the area of the rainbow's arc whitish and lighter than the background, but still a little transparent so you can see forms through it. Sometimes you can use a rag on your beam compass to lift pigment out of the arc. 

Ten Tips for Painting Rainbows

4. Remember that the rainbow is composed of light added to the light of the scene, so it should be lighter than what's beyond it, even after you add the color pigment.

5. Let the background painting completely dry. Then use your brush with the beam compass to glaze colors in individual bands along the arc.

6. Let the edges between the bands blend into a smooth gradation. You can do this by strapping to the beam compass a flat white synthetic brush which is wide enough to span the full width of the rainbow.

7. Colors should start with red on the outside edge of the arc, then orange, yellow, green, blue and violet on the inside.

8. If you want to add the secondary rainbow, remember that is should be weaker than the primary one, with reversed colors.

9. Plan for the region between the rainbows to appear relatively darker (Alexander's Dark Band). In effect, that means that the region inside the primary rainbow should be just a bit lighter than the area just outside the primary rainbow.

10. Objects overlapping the rainbow should partially occlude it, depending on how far they are from the viewer, and how much illuminated atmosphere there is between the viewer and those objects.

Ten Tips for Painting Rainbows

Think of the rainbow not as a solid "thing" occupying space but rather as a region of added light—light that is bouncing back to your eye from millions of hovering raindrops.

Previously on GurneyJourney
Books with more info
Whistler: 'Color is a Splendid Bride"Reflections in Still WaterHow to Apply the Warm-and-Cool ApproachHow Hollyhocks trap colorTwo-Color CartoonsPainting a Street Scene with Gradated ColorTheodore Lukits and his Theory of ColorHow Darwin Verified ColorSeago's Restraint with ChromaTen Tips for Painting Rainbows

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