Thursday, November 19, 2015

Making Color Decisions

It's been a month of decisions... about house repairs and family events, but mostly having to do with the color of rusty metal. Who would have thought it could be so exhausting to figure out if one antique sleigh bell is more metallic grey or rusty brown?!

Each bell is different. And there are a dozen. And it's taken a month.

Karen O'Neil (at the Art Students League) told us painting is just spots of color, one next to the other. Compare how they are similar or differ. Sounds easy. So when I get frustrated or overwhelmed (by a dozen similar, but very different, rusty bells) I try to remember to break the process down to this simplest form.

How you compare is by considering the three properties that describe any color:
  • Hue - the common color description or name (red-orange, blue-violet ... and on and on)
  • Value - the lightness or darkness of a color, lighter tint or darker shade
  • Chroma - the intensity or saturation of a color, how vivid or greyed out it is
Hue, Value, Chroma chart

So... that's all you need to know. Well, not exactly "all", because it's all relative!

Which is where decision-making comes in. Is one area warmer or cooler (hue) than the shape next to it? Is it darker or lighter (value)? More dull or more colorful (chroma)? With a subject as neutral as old metal and leather on weathered wood, those distinctions are slight but significant.

Mixing the right general color is obviously important. Sadly, I seem to be of the Goldilocks school of color mixing -  "... this porridge [color] is too hot! This porridge is too cold..." and after multiple tries eventually, hopefully, mixing a color that is "just right!" That's how it goes for each color... each time.
one bell evolves: color shifts to less chroma, more subtle values
In representational painting, where the goal is to represent a realistic image, many more color decisions are made because shifts in hue, value and chroma are very subtle in real life. Careful depiction of light and shadow is what creates realistic form and the effect of light is different on every part of an object... x 12 bells = tons of decisions!

So, I'm also focused on following the advice of my painting coach, Todd Casey, and wherever possible, wedge a finer gradation of color between two tones to create the tiny, realistic transitions that round a form. And at the same time honor the distinct character of each object (a dull rusty bell compared to a shinier one).

Vintage Sleigh Bells, 12x18"
Last month I was fully entrenched in sleigh bell color queries when our Todd-led painting group met. But, before they arrived, a crew was here to replace our brick walk. At 7:30 am the first question of the day was "do you want tan or grey sand between the bricks". 

No samples to consider, just "tan" or "grey". My response: "what color grey?" And so it began. For the next 5 hours it was pretty much a matter of asking that same question.

It's exciting ...and actually exhausting. When decision overload sets it helps to take a break and step away from the sleigh bells. Fortunately, like Goldilocks, we have snack!

painting group snack on Halloween

Thanks for joining me on my painting journey.

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