Making Art

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Colour 2: seeing the undertones.

Today’s blog is about being able to see what colours are making up the colour we want to mix. Hopefully you tried the previous colour exercise, in the Colour 1 post and now feel a little more confident with seeing what type of a basic colour we are looking at.

Is it an orangey red? Or a pinky red?

Above: I’m sure you can all tell that the watermelon is a pinky red, a coolish red? And the red splodge on the peach is a warm red going toward orange. But can you also see that if we were to mix the watermelon red we would just need a hint of orange in the mix? You can see it most easily where the fruit meets the white bit.

Before we go much further I want to quickly cover a few basic terms, that we will be using.

I’m sure you know:

  • the primary colours; red, yellow, blue
  • the secondary colours; a mix of two of the primary colours, eg green, a mix of yellow and blue
  • tertiary colours; a mix of 1 secondary and one primary colour, eg adding yellow to purple, [ gives you a ochre-ish brown].

The trick with the tertiary colours is that the mix of colours can be in any gazillions of possible proportions, giving us the endless variety of colours we see.

The others terms we need to know are:

  • Hue – another word for colour
  • Shade – a colour + black
  • Tint –  a colour + white
  • Tone – a colour + grey
  • Neutral gray – a mixture of black and white
  • Value – the lightness or darkness of a colour
  • Saturation – the brightness or dullness of the colour. If you think about a photograph, slowly draining away the colour until you were left with only the b&w tones left.
  • dirty colours – this is my own term. A colour made up of lots of other colours. If you got a mid blue and added some grey to it and a dash of orange, you are going to dirty up that blue. Its opposite, the clean colour, is a primary or secondary colour with no grey or black added.

So when we look at most objects in life, apart from the primary colours used [overused] in kids toys most colours are made up of a number of colours mixed together. Or they are a shade, a tint or a tone of  a colour.

Every season companies like Pantone bring out trend reports, that suggest colours that will be popular.

They also supply exact details of how to mix these colours, in a variety of mediums, fabric dyes, printing inks and digital representations. One colour in the report for 2013  is ‘Grayed Jade’ which Pantone describes as: ‘Grayed Jade, a subtle, hushed green with a gray undertone, brings about a mood of quiet reflection and repose’.

The ‘Grayed Jade’ is bottom right of the two rows of colour.  You can see that it is basically a light grey mixed with a cool green.

Above: to make a colour close to the ‘Grayed Jade’  you mix a light grey with a cool green. If you mixed the same green with white instead of gray you get a minty green.

Lets do another of the weirder colours. As described by Pantone: ‘A warm neutral, Linen is light and airy, providing a nude like basic’. The ‘Linen’ is second from the left, top row.  It’s a funny colour, it’s got white, orange, maybe a tiny bit of black.

Above: I don’t know if you can see the difference between the two colours I have mixed? The one with a bit of black in it just has that slight dirtyness to it.

Lets do one more but something with a variety of similar tones.

Above: In the picture of the grapes above you can see that you would need a variety of related shades. The  4 colours are made up of varying amounts of a purplish blue and black. Red is added to all but the top blue colour and white is added to get the two lighter shades. If you were painting these grapes you could use the 4 colours I mixed plus white for the highlights.

Start looking at everyday objects and see what colours you think make them up. After a while you begin to realise you don’t have to own a hundred different tubes of paint to get the colour you want.  Mixing great colours is more about sharpening your eye, than buying every possible shade.


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This entry was posted on September 28, 2012 by in Exercises, Making art and tagged , , , .
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