Color fifths

I apologize for the delay in posting. The past few months have been consumed by clearing and moving out of the family home and moving to Greensboro, North Carolina. The studio – what there is – is still coming into shape; but the apartment is small and it is a humid August and poor air conditioning. That being said, the painting below was completed in May.

Seaside Heights Boardwalk Jitney

I originally meant this painting to be only a sketch; to be a quick study of creating the sense of movement across the rectangular field; at the time, I was bouncing off of Gerome’s “Duel after the Ball” wherein the artist used the grid of the rectangular force lines to create a stage and dramatic movement. Gerome played the tripartite canvas division against the bipartite: the former was the stage and the latter contained the action and interaction of the characters. Similarly in my painting, the background is placed within the context of the tripartite system and the characters and the jitney are laced within the bipartite system. The painting was to be done with think strokes of paint; but, I soon became concerned about the quality of the piece; and I also became more interested in how areas of color melded into related adjacent areas. Finally, I began to experiment is glazing in order to more intense colors.

As to the piece’s structure, the cart pusher initiates the movement. His back foot is planted on the vertical force line of the left (the bipartite system has three major lines dividing the rectangle into four sections). His forward foot crossed the leftward major dividing line of the tripartite system; and his head is just on the line. The pusher has set up the rightward movement. The back cart edge is released from the tripartite force line and comes under the influence of the center force line; the strength of this center line is increased as the back cart wheel is directly on the line as the head and torso of the female passenger. The forward struts of the cart’s cab come under the influence of the right side tripartite division line and, combined with the legs, increase the sensation of rightward movement. Because the eye seeks like relationships, the viewer’s eye is also cast back to the head and forward foot of the pusher. The forward section of the cart is elongated in order to increase the pull and release from the right hand force line on the quarter mark.

Overall, I think the painting achieved the initial goal of creating a sense of movement across the canvas.

In terms of glazing, I was able to increase my ability to predict how a color will change when overlaid by another. I was able to accurately predict the changes using the color mixing triangle.

The shadow under the cart was reworked four times in order to get a smooth transition from one color to the next. My initial thought was to use diagonal brush strokes as I applied the paint in order to recreate the planking of the boardwalk; but the result proved to be clumsy and distracting.

I also made extensive use of color fifths.

For the past few years, I have made use of a color’s fifths. By that I mean using the color triangle (as I wrote below in the entry “The Color Triangle: Mixing Pigments”) to determine the fifth colors from a root color and use that relationship to determine pigment mixtures.


The color-triangle_Yellow-Blue-Red-Orange; note that the colors purple, violet, red-violet, and red would be adjusted so that their intensity would lie along the edge of the shaded triangle.

Using yellow as the root and basing the chord on the Pythagorean right triangle of 3, 4, 5; the other chord colors are red-orange and blue; red-orange is three from yellow, blue is four. On the color/note wheel, yellow is A, blue is C#, and red-orange is F#. This gives us the following right triangle:


The yellow, blue, and red-orange chord with yellow’s fifths: red-violet and purple; the fifths of the other two colors are indicated.

it is also possible to keep yellow as the root color; but make the four side yellow to red, and the three side yellow to blue green. In this case, red-violet possesses the relationship purple had in the above figure; and purple now possess the relationship red-violet had.

The right triangle shows yellow at the right angle and the movement is clockwise to blue and then red-orange. Let’s call the right angle position the root position; therefore, yellow is the root color.

I then indicated with red lines the two colors that are fifths of yellow: red-violet and purple. As can be seen in the above figure, the fifths of the other colors in the triad are:

  • the fifths of blue are red-orange and yellow-orange;
  • the fifths of red-orange are blue and green.

Note that the fifth red-violet divides the hypotenuse – five color range – in a natural manner into three and two. Whereas, purple seems to be in a relationship to blue as though it was its sharp : C to C# so to speak. The natural division may be a reason why the yellow-red-violet relationship seems more attractive.


I played “put the fifths descending from yellow.”

I discovered in one of my failed acrylic paintings that using the fifth of a color gives air or breath to the painting at the same time it is creating distance between colors.

In painting these fifths, one’s eyes become accustomed to the relationship between a color and its fifth; so, it becomes easy to determine when one has mixed the true fifth. Here is a key understanding: one can train his eye to recognize the particular relationship he is seeking: the color relationship, when achieved just seems to harmonize; there is a visual “yes”; in fact, many times when the right color is found, the color just seems to disappear.

The relationship creates an implied line between the two colors; in fact, the color intensities withing the relationship can be adjusted to incorporate an emphasis on a compositional power line or intersection of the implied power lines.

My use of the fifth has become an integral part of my painting, not only because of the breath the fifth seems to give; but also, because the painting seems to come alive