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A review of a book recommended by Robert Henri in his book “The Art Spirit”

Denman Ross’ book “The Painter’s Palette” is subtitled “A Theory of Tone Relations: An Instrument of Expression.” Ross’ primary purpose for writing the book is

Thinking of musical instruments and the laws of Counterpoint and of Harmony,
the question comes up whether it may not be possible for the
painter to convert his palette into an instrument of precision
and to make the production of effects of light and color a well
ordered procedure, a procedure which everyone can understand
and follow.
“After more than twenty
years given to the consideration of this question and to experiments
in the use of set-palettes, I am fully persuaded that it
is perfectly possible to make of the painter’s palette an instrument
of precision, an instrument which will serve him both
as a mode of thought and means of expression. He will then
use his palette very much as the musician uses his voice or the
violin or the piano.

Ross’ book is only sixty-four pages long and its main portion discusses the several palette systems or layouts possible for creating Ross’ desired “instrument of precision.” It is a technical discussion of the effects created by the artist’s pigments. The fundamental effect derived from the pigments is tone; a term including in its meaning both value and color: value being the quantity of light of a tone; color being the quality of the light of a tone.

Ross discusses in part one of his book the scales of values; in this case, he divides the scale between white and black into nine divisions: black, low dark, dark, high dark, middle, low light, light, high light, and black.

[ There are several sites on line where one can create his own scale of values; but
I prefer the RGB Gradient Maker.]

In my case,I have found that the scale of values used determines the focal distance of a painting; therefore, I use a twelve step scale; this gives me a four to five
foot focal distance for my paintings. I keep at my easel a printout of values
in relationships of one step, two steps, and three and four; really, it is five
as there is a white background. When painting, I will fit an observed value
into one of these relationships. My eventual goal is to be able to feel the desired
value step and not keep doing the mechanical comparisons: when painting or
drawing there is a perceived space from front to back of the overall scene and
between the object’s parts, between objects, and within the totality of the painting.

In part two, Ross breaks the color scale into the well known twelve step color wheel; he lays out two parallel lines of the twelve colors: one row is violet to yellow and below it is a row of yellow to violet. He does this in order to more easily to discuss values, warm and cool, and mixing pigments. Of the colors, violet is the darkest and yellow is the lightest; red-orange is the warmest and blue-green is the coolest; violet is neutral on the warm/cool scale as is yellow; the warm scale runs from violet through orange to yellow; the cool scale runs from violet to yellow through green.

Ross’ layouts of colors in its ultimate configuration, in my opinion, would
require a door size sheet of glass in order for there to be space not only for the
layout of pigments, the creation of the pure colors, and then the creation of
the needed tones; fortunately, Ross does provide progressively smaller palettes.

Personally, being a person of limited means, I prefer to layout my palette
according the areas being painted in the work session and the colors I anticipate
being used. Before reading The Painter’s Palette, in response to a video about Manet, I started laying warm and cool versions of each color I plan to use; I had begun a study of a figure in a painting using this system; but, upon reading Denman’s book, I changed my palette to a layout of two lines of pigments: on one side is the row of the warm pigments I want to use and on the other side is the row of cool colors. Hansa Yellow Medium is my warm yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow is my cool yellow.

Even though the study is not yet finished, the portions wherein I have used the dual row palette demonstrate a major leap forward in my understanding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am using Denman’s system on the legs.

One of the biggest problems I have encountered is that the color I am mixing changes color as I look at it. Also, I am taking Henri’s advice to focus on the dominant tone when determining the nature of the minor tones.

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Recently, I was given Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit” by a member of an oddball group of elderly conversationalists: we meet every Sunday on the Tate St.
sidewalk at the flower pot for coffee and donuts. (The donuts are free as they
frequently are delivered by an employee of the Salvation Army who is tasked with
distributing to spots throughout Greensboro extra donuts that are left over from
feeding the homeless.) We are all retired or almost retired who have time to
blather on Sunday mornings./

Henri’s book is, as the title page declares, a series of “Notes, articles,
fragments of letters, and talks to students.” It is a book that belongs in every
artist’s permanent library – between the times of having to sell down one’s library to make ends meet. The book stands among those few books that are able to fundamentally alter an artist’s understanding of painting. As it is nearly impossible to immediately implement in one’s art work every new idea one reads, one out of necessity returns to the books to gather more understanding.

For over twenty years I have managed to keep in my permanent library two key books: John Sloan’s “The Gist of Art” and William Morris Hunt’s “On Painting and Drawing;” each of these books have numerous underlinings and margin notes which increase in number with each reading. My copy of Henri’s book already has several underlines and margin notes even though I have only sat down and read of it a couple of times.

The reader can read Henri’s book cover to cover or browse by sections that interest him or focus on sections and paragraphs that pertain to the artist reader’s painting difficulties despite having a laughable art degree from today’s post-modernist institutions. (I swear one can get a better art education by attending classes at his local artists’ guild.)

Henri is generous to other artists of his era by mentioning two books on painting which he himself thinks are vital for an artist’s understanding: “The Painter’s Palette” by Denman Waldo Ross and ” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhythm,” also by Ross, Both books are downloadable as PDFs with a Google search. The latter book written in 1907 and the former in 1919. These books are in the lineage of Kandinsky’s”Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and Joseph Albers’ “Interaction of Color.”

I will cover the two Ross books in later book reviews. The books are available in PDF format:
“The Painter’s Palette”
” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhyth,”

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.

color-triangle_Y-B-RO

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:

Yellow_fifths

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.

letsPlay

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

As a colorist, I am disgusted by the color change acrylic paint undergoes as it dries. the image below demonstrates the change:

RGB representation of the scale of raw sienna to raw umber plus two steps just before gray.

RGB representation of the scale of raw sienna to raw umber plus two steps just before gray.

The color scale is based on the RGB scale of Raw Sienna to Raw Umber: the A corresponds to Raw Umber; A# and B are two steps below it short of gray. Raw Siena is analogous to C.
This means I will have to return to oil paints. I will finish the two I am currently working on, but most of the work done in the past four years is worthless.

Three Chord Ode Version II II

Digital Composition
October 2012


I began doing digital compositions as a way to make quick compositional and color decisions: Photoshop enables the artist to make rapid decisions over a few minutes that might take days or weeks when done in paint. I began doing compositions of arranged abstract elements put together to create a meaningful composition.
Doors2
Beginning in 2008, I was inspired by two musical references: the first was an off hand remark by some commentator that a renowned composer had recommended to the composer of “Porgie and Bess” the use of the diminished fifth; the second was listening to Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah” wherein he sings of “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift” (up to now, I thought that was “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fourth, the major fifth”; so my compositions were worked out accordingly).
August_Oxblood_III_small
I continued my experiments in composition and rhythm but now included using the color triangle to realize what I thought corresponded to Cohen’s musical reference. I began doing research on the musical chords using the piano keyboard as a guide. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a rocker musician, friend Tom Chaffee about the color chords. He quickly drew a circle and laid out the twelve chords around it. This was major revelation for me; I had never seen them laid out in this manner.
Tom explained how a musician might decide to play with the intervals between the notes to arrive at unique styles. I took this chart home and superimposed the color over the notes:
Chords_YisA_II
PianoKeys_colors
One can come up with a different layout, but I was interested in relationships and intervals.
After creating this color/chord wheel, I decided to experiment using my favorite country singer Emmylou Harris: I was curious about her statement about “singing the three chord blues” from her song “The Road.” I then located on line lyrics to a few of her songs and noted the chord changes and experimented with corresponding color changes.
Below: my most recent piece:
Composition-IV

I am continuing my discussion of John Sloan’s color triangle as presented in his book The Gist of Art. In his chapter on painting, Sloan illustrates the division of the twelve colors of the triangle, primary, secondary, and tertiary into harmonic color patterns; three colors are selected as the corners of a triangle within the major color triangle; the perimeter of the inner triangle defines the range of colors to be used within that chord. These colors are determined according to intervals of 5-4-3: Sloan declared that these measured intervals possess an inherent harmony; be it noted that these intervals are based on the Pythagorean right triangle which has sides based on the 5-4-3 model. Other patterns can be developed using other paradigms such as the musical scale: the colors are matched to the twelve notes of the musical scale: yellow to A, yellow-green to A#, green to B, and so on.
Minor Major Chords
The chords of the triangle can be separated into major and minor chords: a major chord is formed using one or two full primary colors; a minor chord is formed using no top level primaries. In each case, only those colors which fall within the perimeter of the chord triangle are to be used in the painting.
Fifths
I have included the above image as a reference to major and minor fifths. I do so because I have recently come to comprehend how these create space (air if you will) within a painting; they can also make color choices quicker. I will follow up on this in later posts.