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Juicy colour time! Colour 1: seeing warm and cool colour.

Scared of colour? Don’t know how to mix it? Welcome to our juicy colour series! Yay!

In this series of posts we will cover various colour exercises, mostly with the aim of starting to develop your eye…. and your understanding of using and mixing colour. Hopefully exercises that are fun and not mega boring.

Exercises aimed at:

  • developing your ability to see whether colors are warm or cool or where colors are heading. Eg is this blue more towards green or purple
  • improving your ability to see what other colours make up a color, so you can create/mix a specific colour.
  • understanding why some colours do and don’t work together and why you might like to sometimes use clashing colours.
  • your confidence in picking colour schemes for your art
  • maybe a little bit about how different cultures have used and discovered colour.

On the way we will cover a bit of color terminology; hue, tint, shade, saturation.

What we will not be doing is raving on about various color systems, industry standards, light spectrums or anything else that gets between me and my enjoyment of colours.

Ever since I have been a little kid I have been a bit of a color nut. My mum tells me that even when I was about 3 years old, I would only ever talk about specific colours: watermelon red, apple green, salmon, and that I would get pissed at anyone not on board. I also liked to make up my own names for colors. I wanted my room to be banana yellow [and with small bits of black like a banana…..]

Anyway I am still a color nut to the degree that some colours are just not even allowed in my lounge room and kitchen. There is no red, purple, pink or blue on display in my house. Seriously. I just don’t like them, [I do use them in my art, just not my decorating]. Yes I am wackadoo. The color embargo does not extend to my little kid’s room: I took pity on her and painted a huge rainbow in her room, which is of course a riot of color. Anyway, this is about you, so on to the exercises.

Our first exercise: Colour progressions, learning to see warm and cool colours.

Why is this even important? Because it is pretty hard to mix colors accurately if you can’t see  the various shades beyond the basics.

Have you ever tried to mix a realistic skin tone? For a white person do you start with white?Or the dreadful pig-pink that pre-mixed ‘skin tone’ usually is? A light skinned person can actually have pink, blue, olive or yellow undertones. Can you see those undertones?

A darker skinned person might have olive or red undertones, or even a very dark eggplant colour, but if you aren’t seeing it you won’t be able to mix it.

As kids, we all learn  that:

  • blue+red = purple
  • yellow+red =orange
  • yellow+blue=green

In theory this would actually work and sometimes in practice too. But it also depends a lot on which blue, red and yellow you use. Sometimes the terms warm and cool are used and I guess that most of us can see that orange is warm and green is cool. But what if I say a warm green? Or a cool red? What do you see in your mind then?

I prefer to think in terms of where the color is heading. Can you see that lemon yellow [a cooler yellow] is wanting to go towards green? But that as it ripens more the yellow can start to go towards orange? And that a lime that starts out as lime green will ripen to a very lemony yellow?

Above: these lemons go from lemon yellow- a cool yellow tending toward green [top right corner] to a mid yellow at the front and a chrome yellow-super warm yellow second from top on the right.

Above: these limes go from the warmest green [arguably almost yellow] top right, to classic lime just under the yellowy one.

If you use a cool blue [ heading towards aqua or green, like cyan] and a warm red [an orangey red] you will get a very dirty purple. And it’s not that this color shouldn’t be made but if you are trying for a pretty purple this is not for you.

Really its more like this:

  • warm blue+cool red = purple

Above: warm [orangey] red + cool [greeny] blue = dirty purple.

Above: A cool red+ a warm blue like ultramarine = a cleaner purple.

To add further confusion, a lot of books and websites disagree about whether it’s the purpley blues that  are cool or the greenish/aqua blues. So if you can’t tell, then think about where the color is heading.

When I use the term dirty, I mean a colour that has more gray or brown in it. And by clean I mean it has less grey in it. If you mix lots of colors together in even amounts you get grey or brown.

There are many different industry systems of understanding and talking about color but where one color starts and another ends is arguable. One person might regard the ultramarine I used above as purple, but it is considered blue in the art world.

Above: Traditionally ultramarine was made from ground lapis lazuli. 

So Juicy color exercise 1:

Make a color progression out of existing images. You can do it in one of two ways.

  1. Tear/cut images from magazines, old cards, wrapping paper, brochures and assemble them in a progression.
  2. Find images on google [or whatever] and chop them up in Photoshop to make your progression.

Chop out quite a few images of similar colored objects and see how smooth you can make your progression. Don’t choose images that are really dark or light. Lay them out in a line or as a snake as I have done, moving through each grade of colour. Try to ignore how dark or light the image is focusing only on whether its warmer or cooler, or if it’s easier to think about it heading towards one color or the other?

The act of arranging images as opposed to painting color swatches  [from your paints labelled cool blue or warm red], lets you start to analyze objects in the real world, and what colors you may need to add, to mix the color you want.

Above: Here is the color progression I made using pictures of only lemons and limes.

Starting with my ripest [almost orange], lemon [a Meyer lemon as it happens] and ending up with a very bluey green lime. Now that I’m looking at it afresh I would probably move a couple around in that mid-section especially.

Above: Another colour progression using only pictures of Turquoise. When you see the blue color at right, progress to the almost green aqua on the left you can see what good choice this blue would be to mix green shades.

These exercises are not meant to be perfect. They are simply a tool for training your eye.

If you do a few of these you will start to see the subtleties in the shades, and  then it can be quite fun to start looking at everyday objects and see where you think they would go in a color progression. Or even arrange a whole pile of objects in your house by colour. A friend of mine arranged her bookshelf by colour. It looked great but it was really hard to find a specific book!

The next colour exercise will be up very soon. In the meantime: happy colour progressions to you all. May  your  fuchsia days be bright.

One comment on “Juicy colour time! Colour 1: seeing warm and cool colour.

  1. Pingback: Colour 2: seeing the undertones. « Making Art

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2012 by in Exercises and tagged , , , .
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