LESSON THREE - COLOR BASICS
Working with color can be intimidating. That's why it's best to start simple, and limit the colors on your palette, and play with mixing the colors you want. Here is a simple diagram of the color wheel. The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, and from these you can mix any other colors. I've also shown the mixtures of the primaries, which give green, purple, and orange. With the three primaries, plus white you can do a complete painting.
There are three main elements when we talk about color: HUE, VALUE, INTENSITY.
The hue refers to the color on the color wheel, eg., red, or blue. The value refers to the lightness or darkness of the color. If you squint at the color wheel below, you will see the values are similar fro the red, blue, and green, even though they are different hues. The intensity is the strength or purity of the color. If you add a lot of white, or some black into a color, the intensity will be reduced and the color will not be as pure or strong. These three are the elements you work with as you use color. How bright or strong do you want a color? Here in Hawaii, most days the sun is strong and the colors are intense. On a cloudy day, the light will be more muted and you'd lower the intensity.
Color also has an emotional component. Reds are fiery, blues are cool and moody, yellow is bright and lively. You can take advantage of these attributes depending on what emotion you want to arouse in the viewer. Here is an exercise I did with the same scene in varied colors. Each has its own "feel" or emotion. This brings up another topic of local or realistic color, versus
using color strictly for emotional purposes. Today art allows for any variation. Here is the painting I did after these color studies of this river scene. It in no way looks like the colors of the actual scene, yet it works. That is the goal in all our painting, a beautiful scene no matter which direction we take.
Another aspect of colors is warm versus cool. In the studies above the yellows and reds look warm and bright. The blues and greens are cool. An important element is how we perceive warm and cool colors. Warm colors seem closer to us, and cool colors recede or seem further. This follows nature in this respect as things further away will often have a bluish or purple tint as we look through more air or atmosphere when we look far away. You can enhance this distance by slightly exaggerating the distant blueness while keeping the closer colors warmer and brighter. The painting below shows the cool colors and atmospheric perspective in the background distance, while keeping the foreground colors warmer, along with the middle ground tan rocks. If the background mountains had been painted with a dark value, or warmer colors, they wouldn't recede like they do and the painting wouldn't work as well at showing the distance.
Mixing colors across the color wheel provides a grey range of color as these "complementary" colors tend to dull each other. This is the best way to create greys as they will then have beautiful shades within them versus trying to use a mechanical looking grey by whitening a black color. (Blacks do have some color components in them and each is a little different but a better grey comes from the mixtures across the color wheel.)
Another "trick" of painting is to use a limited palette, or only a few colors. This insures an overall compatibility between elements, and makes you push the values, shapes, and the variation within limited colors to create the painting. I used very few colors here.