Initial stages of Project 3

Stage 1 – Introduction and preparation

The course notes begin with a very brief introduction into the huge topic of colour. I tried some quick mixing of paints to create colour wheels, first in gouache then in watercolour. I already had some gouache paints from starting the exercises in David Hornung’s book and was familiar with the idea that pigments have a colour bias or overtone. I used six co-primaries, to get the most vivid colours when mixing – for example lemon yellow when mixing green and golden yellow when mixing orange. Both types of paint went reasonably well, except for lack-lustre violet, and to quote Hornung (page 17) “when the goal is a ‘pure’ violet, those obtained through mixing will always be a little disappointing”.

Next was some exploration with red and green, complements so I was expecting some nice muted colours and maybe chromatic grays. I’ve been noticing a lot of red/green combinations around lately – not the brash christmassy look but muted, the red still rich but greens trending to towards chromatic gray. (side note: grey/gray is particularly annoying to spell. I suspect I will vary depending on what I’ve most recently read. Wikipedia just told me that “grey” is the British spelling, but the edition I have of Hornung uses “colour” (definitely British) in the title and “gray” in the text. Microsoft Word spell check thinks both are just fine, in UK, Aust. and US english. Bah!!)

Stage 2 – Colour perception

The first exercise looks at the interaction of colours. I think I got some good variations in the turquoise squares in the top set and the red in the bottom. My camera had some issues processing the colours – in particular the line around the turquoise on red is not apparent in life and doesn’t appear to be a shadow.

Observations and my interpretation: The turquoise on lemon yellow looks dark and drab (influence of the much higher value of the yellow). On the blue-violet it is much brighter and more saturated (difference in value – the hues a not so different which is interesting), while it is almost lost on the green (just too similar). On the dark red it looks most like its “real” colour (difference in value, close to complementary colours).

The red looks dark and dull on the golden yellow. It is unexciting on the pale blue and lost on the fuschia. It appears lightest on the dark violet. It looks most pure and saturated on the green, its complement.

In the second exercise we needed to put a small grey square onto different colours. When looked at hard, the grey should appear a little different – a tendency to the complement of the surrounding colour.

I searched quite a few shops but wasn’t able to find paper or card in a flat, mid grey. There would be a blue or green or red cast, or only dark and light, or a textured effect. In the end I used Word to create a white to black gradient and a series of distinct values of grey, and printed it on matt photo quality paper. Then I found the point which appeared to me between “light” and “dark” and used that for my grey squares.

The result (above) was disappointing. I could talk myself into the square on the red looking a little green, but I wasn’t convinced. Then last night reading Itten (p. 53) I found “When achromatic colors occur in a composition and adjoin chromatic colors of like brilliance, they lose their achromatic character. If the achromatic colors are to retain their condition of abstraction, the chromatic colors must be of different brilliance. … When gray is used as an active component in a color composition, then the adjoining chromatic tone must match the gray in brilliance”  (using the bopk’s spelling (bah!) and “brilliance” being close if not the same as “value”).

So I tried again, this time using different grays trying to match the value of each background colour.

Here is the result, in colour and in grayscale to see how close I got to the matching value. Generally my matching wasn’t too bad (better than I expected), with the exception of the fuschia. To manage complexity I stuck with the discrete sequence of greys I’d already printed and often I had to choose between lighter and darker.

The exciting part is that when I stare at one of the grey squares I really do start seeing a tinge of the complementary of the surround. I can’t do one after the other, my eyes seem to get tired of the game. Still, very pleasing.

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In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

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