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Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
Managing color in design
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Managing color in design


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How color works and why you should know: Color for design students

How color works and why you should know: Color for design students

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  • 1. Managing Color to Create Better Art
  • 2.
    • The colors we see are a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum:
    • When spectral lights hit our eyes, the eyes react by:
      • 1. Activating three separate kinds of color receptors (called cones)
      • 2. Exciting two brain centers, R-G and B-Y
    • These create in our brains all the colors we see.
    • “ Additive” color (adding lights) uses red , green and blue light to produce the other colors.
      • You see this in “afterimages” when you stare at a color
      • Two at a time in equal amounts produces secondaries: cyan, magenta, and yellow.
      • Combining all three primary lights (colors) in equal intensities produces white.
      • Varying luminosity eventually yields the full gamut of our color vision
      • Demonstration of examples in Photoshop document
    • Pay attention to two things here:
      • how “opposite colors” in the scheme are complementary,
      • and how cyan, magenta, and yellow are secondary colors.
  • 3. Pigments
    • Paints, dyes, inks, and natural colorants create colors by “subtracting” (that is, absorbing) some wavelengths of light and reflecting what we see.
    • Black absorbs all wavelengths and reflects none.
    • In most color printing, the primary ink colors used are cyan, magenta, and yellow .
      • Note that these three primary colors are the secondary colors created by lights.
      • Each of these is created by the absorption of all other lights leaving only the color we see.
    • Cyan is the complement of red; i.e., cyan acts like a filter that absorbs red and reflects a mixture of green and blue back to our eyes. Thus, magenta is green’s complement, and yellow is blue’s complement. Combinations of different amounts of the three inks produce a full gamut of colors.
    •  Mixing these primary pigments in theory yields black.
      • (However, because pigments and papers are not perfect, printers add K, or black.)
  • 4. The Color Wheel
    • For many centuries before all this scientific theory, artists sensed that certain colors juxtaposed against others were more exciting, even though they didn’t know why.
    • They used a circular color wheel consisting of three equidistant pigments that were believed to create all the colors we see. They were blue, red, and yellow.
    • We now know that this is not how we sense color relationships.
    • However, we still use the three-primary color wheel. “The solution is not to discard the color wheel, but to use it intuitively and alertly, as a compass to color improvisation.”
    • See demonstration of the evolution of the color wheel, in workshop
    • (See more modern color wheels at )
    • Using a color wheel, see how orange is opposite of blue. Blue plus its complement should yield black. (Blue absorbs red and yellow but not blue; add blue, and the mixture absorbs all lights, leaving no light--or black.)
    • In , see the Physiology of color.
    • Note: Michael Wilcox, the color expert, says there is no “pure” hue, so the practical color wheel should be modified. More later.
  • 5. Working with Complements from the Color Wheel
    • Because complementary pigments in the color wheel represent colors that our eyes and brains actually perceive as opposites, the juxtaposition of these colors is visually exciting.
  • 6. Pointillism: Painting Light with Complementary Colors
    • During the 19 th century, in an age of artistic enlightenment, Impressionist artists tried to employ the science of light to their paintings.
    • Pointillism is a painting technique in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image.
    • In theory, tiny points of complementary colors next to each other would simulate additive effects of light
    • Georges Seurat developed the technique in 1886, branching out from Impressionistic techniques.
    • The bright effect of pointillist colors arises from avoidance of pigment blending; instead, something closer to the effect of mixing lights is obtained by painting small dots of pigments near each other.
  • 7. Describing Colors
    • When we talk about the color of an object, we are referring to its hue. Hues have myriad characteristics.
  • 8. Every Pigment Has a Color Index Value That corresponds to a spot on the color wheel
    • Before you buy a paint, you can look it up by its P value (PY, PB, PR, etc.)
    • And you can look up where each would be on a color wheel at:
    • Find the ratings and everything you need to know about any commercially available paint at: . Click the color at the top and you’ll find brands with names and color numbers.
    • More resources in your handout
    • However, there are more common ways to describe pigments:
  • 9.  Temperature Bias - Warm vs. Cool:
    • The terms “warm” and “cool” have been used as descriptors since the 18 th century.
    • Warm colors are often said to be hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included;
    • Cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue green through blue violet, most grays included.
    • Color scientists now reject the idea but it is still a useful concept for painters.
  • 10.  Saturation, Purity, or “Brightness”
    • Saturation of color refers to purity, or the amount of color vs. neutral gray or white.
    • In painting, we desaturate colors by adding the complementary color in the color wheel.
    • Demonstration with Photoshop Color Picker
    • See
  • 11.  Value
    • Every color has a value of light to dark. In watercolor painting, we vary the value by “thinning” the mixture with more water. This is the way we shade objects.
    • See
    • Change the color values and see how they “recede” in .
    • Note: We rarely see black in nature, even at night. Therefore, unless trying to achieve special effects, painters should not add black to their paintings; instead, to make areas darker you can thicken the mixture, add layers, or add a complement to the mix if your colors are dark to begin with.
  • 12. Describing Paints Physical Characteristics of Pigments
  • 13. Ingredients:
    • Watercolor paint consists of four principal ingredients
    • Pigments :These will be natural vs. synthetic, mineral vs. Organic.
    • Arabic gum: A binder to hold the pigment in suspension and fix the pigment to the painting surface.
    • Additives: (Glycerin, ox gall , honey, and preservatives. These alter the viscosity, durability, and color of the pigment; also, how the paint “moves” with water.)
    • Solvents : Used to thin or dilute paint. Affects application and evaporation speed
    • The organic/chemical/mineral composition of pigments each confers specific characteristics.
  • 14. Watercolor Characteristics:
  • 15. Transparency
    • Transparency refers to how much shows underneath the pigment
    • Transparent" colors do not have titanium dioxide (white) or most of the earth pigments (sienna, umber, etc.)
    • Cadmium colors are also considered to be opaque.
    • Transparency charts are helpful
  • 16. Permanent/Light fast vs. Fugitive: How long does the color last on the paper?
    • Often paints made from organic pigments are not permanent, or are “fugitive.”
    • Look at the labels . We now have permanent mixtures that were fugitive only a few years ago.
    • Often, permanent pigments are also staining
      • (Some fugitive pigments may be those labeled “Lake” or alizarin.)
  • 17. Staining vs. Nonstaining:
    • A staining paint is difficult to remove or lift from the painting.
    • The staining characteristics of a paint depend on the particle size of the pigment.
    • Staining is increased if the paint manufacturer uses a dispersant to reduce the paint mixture time, because the dispersant acts to drive pigment particles into crevices in the paper pulp, dulling the finished color.
    • Also the composition of the paper affects staining qualities
  • 18. Granulating:
    • Pigments notable for their watercolor granulation include viridian (PG18), cerulean blue (PG35), cobalt violet (PV14) and some iron oxide pigments (PBr7).
  • 19. Flocculating or “Clumping”
    • Good for achieving a range of values in a single hue
    • This contrasts with the trend in commercial paints to suppress pigment textures in favor of homogeneous, flat color.
    • Ultramarines or alizarins are flocculating
  • 20. Toxicity:
    • Cobalt, Cadmium, Chromium-based paints are toxic.
    • Look at the labels. “Conforms to ASTM D4236” means the paint is nontoxic
  • 21. Other Characteristics
    • Value Range
    • Blossom
    • Diffusion
    • Hue Shift
    • Chroma
    • Drying Shift
    • Ratings of these characteristics by commercial paint name can be found at: . Click the color at the top and you’ll find brands with names and color numbers.
  • 22. Brand and Grade of Paint
    • Brands and categories will affect the richness of color
    • Artist quality paints are usually formulated less fillers (kaolin or chalk) which results in richer color and vibrant mixes.
    • Student grade paints have less pigment, and often are formulated using two or more less expensive pigments.
    • Demonstration by Jeanne Dutton of student or academy grade vs. artist grade
  • 23. Your Personal Palette: There Are No “Pure” Colors and how all this information applies to you: The 6-color Palette
      • Jan Hart’s 6-color palette
    • The Wilcox 6-primary palette
  • 24. The Wilcox Color Method
    • To mix a secondary color, use two different primaries (arcs) whose arrows face toward or away from the desired secondary color (ball).
    • Both colors pointing toward yields a more pure color
    • One or both facing away makes a less pure color.
    • To achieve a neutral, mix two directly across the center; you’ll need to add enough of the adjacent primary to finish the final mix.
    • All colors are “biased”
    • The arcs are primary colors
    • The balls are secondary colors
    There are no “pure” colors; all colors contain more than one hue Michael Wilcox, “Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green,” ISBN-10: 0967962870 ISBN-13: 978-0967962870; see the wheel at
  • 25. Jan Hart’s 6-Color Palette
    • 6-color palette of “warm” and “cool” primaries: (all these are transparent. you may want to make it 12, and have opaque, etc.)
    • Also, Jan Hart’s 6-color palette in “The Watercolorist’s Guide to Exceptional Color,” ISBN: 9781600580529; pp. 48, 50, and 68.
  • 26. Your Favorite Neutrals
  • 27. Hands-on Session
    • Mixing black and brown with “cool” and “warm” primaries
    • Mixing gray with cool and warm hues
    • Making secondaries by the Wilcox method
    • To mix clean neutrals, try to use transparent paints.
  • 28. Color Schemes to Unite the Colors In Your Painting
    • Color theory has long had the goal of predicting or specifying the color combinations that would work well together or appear harmonious.
    • The color wheel has been adopted as a tool for defining these basic relationships.
    • Combining different parts of the color wheel creates various psychological effects: Harmonious/restful, exciting
    • For more explanation, see:
  • 29. Complementary: Vibrant
    • The juxtaposition of complementary colors (opposite on the color wheel) results in visual excitation.
  • 30.
    • Colors next to each other on the color wheel are called analogous colors. They tend to produce a single-hued or a dominant color experience, which is supposed to evoke a feeling of harmony.
    Analogous: Harmonious
  • 31. Split Complementary: Vibrant but Less Tense
    • This color scheme employs a range of analogous hues, "split" from a basic key color, with the complementary color as contrast. It creates a more “chordal” (like a musical chord) rendition of colors than would simple complementary colors.
  • 32. Triadic: Vibrant, Primitive
    • This color scheme adopts any three colors approximately equidistant around the hue circle.
    • Tip: Make one color dominant
  • 33. Tetradic: Rich, Full
    • Tip: make one color dominant
  • 34. Monotone or duotone:
    • Truly single-hued, printers or photographers sometimes employ a duotone color scheme, generated as value gradations in black and a single colored ink or color filter; painters sometimes refer to the same effect as a monochromatic color scheme.
  • 35. Tip:
    • Unless the subject is a riot of flowers or a carnival, choose your theme. To add interest to an analogous or monochromatic scheme, some artists use tiny bits of a complement or a primary color for excitement.
  • 36. More Tips on Painting
  • 37. Determine the Key
    • Overall light vs. dark impression of a painting
    • The term key has to do with lighting in television; the more lights on a scene, the higher the “key.” The same applies to painting.
    • Decide on the key of the painting as a whole and make that value range 2/3 of your painting
  • 38. Decide on the Temperature
    • Decide on the temperature: Do you want a warm or a cool setting? Is the painting describing morning or afternoon?
  • 39. As a rule, don’t use gray or black for shadows. Painting Shadows:
  • 40. Shading Objects
    • When shading an object, use darker values of the same hue as the object. The shady side of objects is also a slightly cooler color.
  • 41.
    • The shady side also reflects light from the surface below. Remember, the light bounces both ways.
  • 42.
    • Cast Shadows are an interplay of the surrounding colors; they contain the colors of the surface beneath, the atmosphere, and a reflection of the color of the objects that are casting shadows. They are not black.
    Painting Cast Shadows
  • 43.  
  • 44.  
  • 45.
    • Things far away have little contrast and are always bluish. The bluer, the farther away they are.
    • Overlap various elements within your composition so that some are forced forward or backward in the scene.
    • Use less detail, texture, and definition when painting objects in the mid-ground and background of the landscape.
    • Paint with lighter values and less contrast for distant elements
    • Distant objects should not have shadows darker than mid tones.
    • Use cooler colors to push elements farther into the background.
    • Use warmer, darker colors to bring elements forward into the foreground.
    • As elements recede in the distance, paint them at a much smaller scale than objects in the foreground.
    Painting distances
  • 46. Painting morning light vs. afternoon light
    • Have you ever noticed that as a train approaches you, the sound is higher, and as it moves away, the sound gets lower? Spectral lights work in the same way.
    • Because in the morning the sun is speeding around the earth toward us, its light waves actually get squeezed a tiny bit, creating shorter waves which result in a bluer effect. Likewise, in the afternoon, as the sun hurtles away from us its light waves become a little longer, moving into the redder part of the spectrum. This is called the Doppler shift.
    • .
    • Therefore, even when painting sunny daytime scenes, paint with cooler colors to represent morning and warmer yellows and oranges to achieve afternoon lighting
  • 47. Tips
    • Test your colors on a small sheet before you apply
    • Use ceramic, Corelle, or china to mix your paint. The paint doesn’t bead so you can better see your mixture right on the tray.
  • 48. Read More