Colour    Artlark Classes  Penny Bearman November 11th 2010

Now in a way I feel that all the other issues such as texture, tone, line and composition are just the pre-amble before the main “stuff” of paint-which is of course colour.

The most obvious way to start thinking about colour is to make a colour wheel. This is a way to put colour into a logical sequence, but being circular it is a continuous sequence.
The 3 primary colours divide into 6 colours with a “warm” and “cool” version:
Lemon yellow (cadmium yellow pale), deep yellow (cadmium yellow),
cadmium red, alizarin red, ultramarine blue, phthalo blue.
If you lay these colours in the above order, it will be possible to overlap the yellows with the reds, the reds with the blues and blues back with yellows again to create the secondary colours of orange, purple and green. You should be able to see the full range of each secondary, from for example the yellowest greens to the bluest ones.
Once you have made a colour wheel, with 6 divisions allowing an equal space for each primary and secondary colour, you will be able to look at the opposite colours, the colours diametrically across the wheel. These are called “complementary” colours.

Complementary colours are useful for 3 main reasons: firstly they balance a painting; if there are lots of greens in your picture, putting something red in will make the picture look fresher. Instead of using a bright red you might want to make the sky slightly pink. Secondly you can use complementary colours to emphasise an important part of your painting; so if you want a red dress to stand out, paint green colours all around the dress. Thirdly, complementary colours can help you in the colour mixing process; when you have a green that is too bright, like a child’s paint box colour, you can make the colour more neutral by adding a bit of red. Which red to add will depend on which colour is exactly opposite the shade of green on the colour wheel.

Another function of the colour wheel is that it will help you to decide which half of the wheel is “cool” and which is “warm”.
Colour temperature as a concept has great creative potential because it utilises how our brain interprets distance. We create the illusion of depth by making distant colours cooler and near colours warm.
It is only when we are in control of colour temperature that we are fully in charge of the picture plane, and can insure that viewers of your paintings are looking in the right place!
If one of the important features of colour is that cool colours appear distant, another important feature is the psychology of the human eye or brain that looks for the depth in the painting. I don’t know whether this is because the resting focus for our eyes is distant vision, and that we have to use greater effort to focus on near objects, or whether it is a feature of our brain struggling to interpret pictorial depth; but whatever the cause, we tend to notice warm colours first, and look in a sequence of colour towards the coldest colours.
This means rather conversely, that if you want an object to be noticed, make it cool! If you don’t like something in your picture, warm up its colour!