Happy Thursday! Lately I have been really focusing on color. We take it for granted that the sky is blue, the tree trunk is brown and the grass is green, but have you ever really looked at how many other colors you can find in nature or inside your house? Look at the difference in the colors in the photo below. I chose this one because it really does not seem very colorful. You see water, a dock and chairs. There is sun shining from the left. You assume that water is blue, wood is brown or gray, and the chairs are brown. Have you noticed that when items are in sun or shade, they change colors? Have you noticed that light and shadow have their own shapes that are not necessarily related to the item you see?
If you are an artist or a photographer, you probably already know this, but it can go so much deeper. I have been reading lots of books on color mixing, identifying color and how it changes in the light and defines shapes. One of the best books I have found is a book by Arthur Stern called How to See Color & Paint It (ISBN 978-1-62654-063-7 Churchill & Dunn, Ltd. 1964). It has been around for a long time but I heard about it for the first time when I saw it referenced in an article in an art magazine ( sorry, I can't remember which magazine it was.) It is based on a concept used by 16th and 17th century old masters such as El Greco, Velasquez, Rubens and Vermeer. Stern says that they saw and painted the world as a patchwork of color spots, a term coined by Charles Hawthorne . Stern pointed out that the lesson of the masters is "if you put the right color in the right spot, the color spots will link in the viewer's eye to produce a convincing image of nature."
I got excited about it and went directly to Amazon, searched and found it! Your local book store or art store might have it or be able to order it for you, as well. I love it because it's a series of exercises designed to help you focus on painting what you see rather than what you know ( is white really white or black really black?) The first exercise is painting a roll of toilet paper in a specific set up box that he instructs you how to make (it took me five minutes, a small cardboard box and a few pieces of construction paper.)
My favorite tool from this book is one that I now use every day. It's called a "spot screen". Take a small 2" x 4" neutral gray card (I didn't have gray so I used a white index card and just colored it gray) and turning the card vertically, with a hole punch, make a hole (about 1/4' in diameter) in the middle about 1" from the top.
Now look at a specific item and name the color. Then look through the spot screen. What color do you see? Likely you will find that there are many colors on that dock, in the chair or in the water. If you are mixing paint, look at the item, name the color and mix what you think the color is. Then take your palette knife (or whatever tool you use to mix paint) and hold it up next to the item, looking through the spot screen at the mixed paint on the palette knife right next to the color of the reference or item you are viewing. You might be very surprised as how different the color that you mixed is from the color you see through the screen. I use it every time I paint now. It's especially useful mixing colors on one item or structure when part is in sun and part is in shade.
Now using the spot screen, look at the photo one more time. How many colors do you see when you move the spot screen around? Do you see the transition between dark and light in the water? Is the dock really all one color? Try it! Let me know what you think. Has it helped you identify color, mix colors, see the difference in color between sunlight and shaded areas? How many colors do you actually see? Please leave your comments below.