Many years ago I was taught to mix a perfect red, yellow and blue before mixing any secondary colors. This practice led me to create a great deal of dull, muddy colors in my paintings. For nearly three decades I resisted learning the science of light. I thought if I memorized specific formulas my colors would improve. I was wrong. When I finally studied reflected, refracted, transmitted and absorbed light waves as they relate to color vision I was able to develop new habits of mixing colors. I now experience great pleasure experimenting and playing with the color in my paintings. After gentle nudging from other artists, I agreed to offer workshops teaching the fundamentals of light and color in a simplified form that can easily be understood and applied by an artist. For plein air painters, the understanding of the sky as a secondary light source, the sun being the primary light source, is advantageous. The goal of the weekend workshops is to share my resources, my references and my passion for painting with other artists who want to continue to push themselves beyond their current knowledge, capabilities and techniques.
Five artists attended the first Color: Light & Pigments/Glazing Technique workshop held this weekend at my home in Lebanon Township, New Jersey. As I expected, three hours was not long enough to cover the Color : Light & Pigments portion of the workshop. The Saturday morning lesson carried over into the afternoon session. Future workshops will dedicate an entire day to Color: Light & Pigments 101.
Better weather allowed us to paint outdoors on Sunday when we applied the color lessons to the technique of glazing in oil over an acrylic underpainting. The image above is Tari’s underpainting. She chose colors that are the complement to the colors she will glaze using oils. The thin layer of acrylic paint dries within ten or fifteen minutes allowing the plein air painter to begin glazing with oil paints without losing too much valuable time. Composition and values are worked out in the underpainting. By doing so, the painting begins to have a personality, or an energy, before the first brushstroke of oil is applied. The understanding of additive and subtractive color mixing allows a painter to “play” with color freely when using the glazing technique.
To recap the morning Color: Light and Pigments session:
Every color interacts with whatever color is adjacent to it and changes its appearance as a result of the ineraction of the two or more colors. A color mixed on a palette may appear totally different once it is applied to the canvas (paper). The painter must remain observant and make adjustments when necessary. Knowing what to add to a color to create the desired effect is the result of understanding what happens when Light and Pigments mix.
The primary colors of light are: Red, Green and Blue (Red & Green produce Yellow, Green & Blue produce Cyan, Blue & Red produce Magenta) For some artists it is easier to think of the three primaries of light as Green, Orange and Purple which coincide with the secondary colors of pigments. You will find the primary colors of light listed this way in some art books. If you look at the gels on stage lighting you will see that they are green, red and blue. Mixing of colored lights is “Additive”. When all three primary colors of light are mixed the result is White. If complementary colors of light are mixed i.e. green and magenta, the result is White.
The primary colors of pigments are: Red, Blue and Yellow. Red & Blue produce Purple, Blue and Yellow produce Green and Yellow and Red produce Orange. We perceive an object being yellow only because light waves that the cones in our eyes translate into “yellow” are reflected by the object. Fortunately, a bit of orange and a bit of green light waves are also reflected by all pigments that we perceive as yellow. Red pigment reflects mainly red light waves and also some purple and orange light waves. Blue pigment reflects mainly blue light waves and also some purple and green light waves. When Blue pigment mixes with Red pigment the blue pigment absorbs the red light waves and the orange light waves reflecting off the red pigment. the Red pigment absorbs the Blue and the green light waves that reflect off of the blue pigment. The only light waves that are left to travel to the cones in our eyes are the purple light waves. The same logic follows when yellow and blue pigments are mixed and when red and yellow pigments are mixed.
In future posts I will add links to sites I find useful for reference and inspiration. I will also begin to list books that have been useful to me as I journey toward stronger, exciting, breathtaking color in my paintings.
The images below are quick samples created for this weekend’s workshop showing a simple scene using four different colored underpaintings and a variety of initial glazes over the underpaintings.