Friday, July 13, 2012

More about colour

Last month, I took a workshop with William Hodge, who taught for forty-two years at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Part of the two days involved Hodge critiquing the work of each participant, which was very valuable.   Hodge suggested I learn more about "atmospheric colour", and he recommended a particular text, "Color Workbook" by Becky Koenig.

This book offers a very complete discussion of colour in all its aspects. I found the six pages titled, "Color to Depict Form, Light and Space" very helpful. Koenig explains that, to achieve depth in art, colour in the background should be less saturated than colour in the foreground. There are four ways to achieve this: by adding white, black, or gray to a colour,  or by adding its complement to dull it down. For example, by adding a little violet to yellow, the yellow loses its vibrancy.

The key is to start with the background, and to gradate the colour from foreground to background so that it becomes more like the background. If the background is light, then the foreground transitions from dark to light.

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Georges de la Tour

Conversely, if the background is dark, the foreground transitions from light to dark.

These are ideas I would like to work with in my Cityscapes series, using my hand-dyed cloth to achieve colour transitions.

Other techniques used to achieve depth include using larger-scaled items, more detail, and more value contrast in the foreground. Even the simple overlapping of objects contributes to a sense of depth.

The Dessert: Harmony in Red, by Henri Matisse
Of course, one of my favourite painters, Matisse, often made little attempt to achieve depth in his interiors, flattening foreground and background into one.

In the painting at left, you can see how all the colour is highly-saturated, and how the pattern on the tablecloth and on the wallpaper is equal in scale and in detail.

This approach is usually attributed to the influence of Japanese woodblock prints on Matisse and his contemporaries.

They say one could spend a lifetime studying colour, and I think that might well be true.

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