Pure Colour

I don’t believe there is such a thing.

I think of colour as light, so black would be the complete absence of it. Light is simply various frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum and we can’t see much of that spectrum. When artists talk about ‘pure colour’ they are usually talking about a specific pigment and many natural pigments can reflect a very narrow band or bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Don’t get confused about this because I don’t think it maters much to most artists, at least it doesn’t mater much to me; the only reason I’m talking about it is that I’ve heard the term used seriously incorrectly by several artists. This post was written because I read an article where the term was used and it was used as if it meant something specific and technical. I’ve noticed that many very technically minded people have very low opinions of artists, who don’t understand some of the more technical aspects of the world around us but I feel those technically minded people are sometimes blind to the beauty around us. I’m often reminded of a lady I met in university who saw colours in mathematics. She saw equations, and numbers, as colours and manipulated them accordingly. I asked her about a red sign and she called it ‘empty’ she liked green because it was ‘fuller’. I was often jealous of what she saw because she described it beautifully.

I don’t pretend to understand what she was seeing and I understand that it is explained as a crossing of connections in our brains associated with the visual cortex. It even has a name, Synesthesia. But it makes me wonder what we would see, and what our art would look like, if we had the eyesight and visual system of the Mantis Shrimp.

So, if I were going to give advise, I would advise to ignore anything that used the term ‘pure colour’ and concentrate on what you see. Our vision, as imperfect as it is, is still the method used to view art so it is the best tool we have to create it.

Light and dark

I’ve read a number of articles by people who have tried to explain our visual impressions in very technical terms and integrate it with art. This is very difficult because many of them don’t actually know the technical aspects of how we perceive the world and those that do are trying to fit a very square peg in a round hole. I’m really interested in the details of how we perceive the world and I admit to being one of those people trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but I find it increasingly difficult.

 

Lately I’ve found it easier to stop trying to understand how we view the world and simply experience it. Artists have no trouble with this and tend to do it naturally. Perhaps that’s what makes them artists. I have never considered myself an artist, so continue to struggle with technicalities and as I age, I find it less difficult to ignore the technicalities and just go with how it looks. My paintings certainly appear to look better to me as a result. In all honesty, it may be my vision that has a lot to do with this (I notice that I’m using my glasses more often). I spent a fortune on my glasses but my TV is now awesome.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5sCkng9tLo

 

I try to create my paintings so that they have a realistic look to them. At least sometimes I forget that I’m looking at a painting and the painting springs to life. I don’t sculpt, I paint; but I’ve noticed that the reality illusion can appear in sculpture too. Scientists and doctors have a fair understanding of how humans perceive the world but there is little understanding of how an artist perceives it, or that an artist may perceive it differently.

 

The Veiled Nun is a sculpture in the national Gallery of art In Washington. It is carved in marble and shouldn’t be in any way transparent, but the veil looks transparent to me.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSsrXVBLTdc

 

As I read more about our visual system and how it works, I try to incorporate it into my paintings. This is frustrating and it’s easier to simply, at least momentarily, forget about the technicalities and paint what I see.

 

Now for something completely different

We have had a problem of late with sales phone calls. The phone rings and I have to get up to answer it but no one is on the line. Instead after saying hello, more than once, a recording starts giving a spiel for some product or service. Sometimes there is a warm body on the line but again they are trying to sell me something, and it usually takes them a moment to realise they have another warm body on the line. This is what gave me the idea for a partial solution.

 

An interesting aspect to these sales calls is that the call display shows some bazar location, so the calls are being spoofed as to where they originate from. They could actually be coming from that location because it’s quite easy to make a long-distance call from anywhere in the world so long as they have a fairly modern phone system. I’m inclined to think this location is part of the spoof only because it’s unlikely that a phone room would want its location to be known at all. Occasionally the caller obviously cannot speak English and often lately the calls are being targeted to non-English language speakers. Eventually the calls will likely be targeted for all of the major languages spoken in the area.

 

These sales calls are annoying, so much so that I am no longer quick to answer the phone. My solution, or at least partial solution, is to answer the phone normally but after I say hello, I only give the caller a second or two to start talking then I hang up. Most people start talking pretty quickly after they hear a hello. So, this method generally separates the computers from real people, or people using computers to dial for them. This might not eliminate sales calls completely because some are actually real people, but I think that most sales calls originate from an auto-dialer these days. There are benefits to an auto-dialer; it dials all numbers, listed or not, and it can be set to dial any series or set of numbers. I rarely get call backs because most auto-dialers appear to be set to only call a given number once, although I’m sure this is just a changeable setting. I don’t think I miss any important calls as a result because if a caller really needs to talk to me, they will call back.

 

I’ve been doing this for awhile now but I haven’t noticed any reduction in sales calls but it does save me time answering the calls I do get.

Light and dark

I’ve read a number of articles by people who have tried to explain our visual impressions in very technical terms and integrate it with art. This is very difficult because many of them don’t actually know the technical aspects of how we perceive the world and those that do are trying to fit a very square peg in a round hole. I’m really interested in the details of how we perceive the world and I admit to being one of those people trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but I find it increasingly difficult.

 

Lately I’ve found it easier to stop trying to understand how we view the world and simply experience it. Artists have no trouble with this and tend to do it naturally. Perhaps that’s what makes them artists. I have never considered myself an artist, so continue to struggle with technicalities and as I age, I find it less difficult to ignore the technicalities and just go with how it looks. My paintings certainly appear to look better to me as a result.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5sCkng9tLo

 

I try to create my paintings so that they have a realistic look to them. At least sometimes I forget that I’m looking at a painting and the painting springs to life. I don’t sculpt, I paint; but I’ve noticed that the reality illusion can appear in sculpture too. Scientists and doctors have a fair understanding of how humans perceive the world but there is little understanding of how an artist perceives it, or that an artist may perceive it differently.

 

The Veiled Nun is a sculpture in the national Gallery of art In Washington. It is carved in marble and shouldn’t be in any way transparent, but the veil looks transparent to me.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSsrXVBLTdc

 

As I read more about our visual system and how it works, I try to incorporate it into my paintings. This is frustrating and it’s easier to simply, at least momentarily, forget about the technicalities and paint what I see.

 

Recognition.

When I’m doing a portrait, whether it be in pencil or paint, getting a likeness can be a problem. Sometimes it happens quickly and largely mysteriously, but i’ve found that the better I know the person the harder getting a likeness becomes. I’ve often thought that this is due to trying to put too much character into the portrait rather than just drawing what I see, but as I’ve already said it is mysterious.  I’m working on one now that I’ve restarted two or three times but I still haven’t got a likeness. When I say I’m working on one now I mean I’m thinking about one I started close to a year ago and have not finished yet. Maybe after I finish what is on my easel I will go back to the portrait.

I think I know what the problem is with this particular portrait, but it got me thinking about caricatures; what is it about caricatures that allows me too instantly know who the caricature represents? Caricatures exaggerate certain aspects of an individual, and that might enhance recognition, but they aren’t particularly accurate portraits, even though it is often obvious who the caricature represents. Not being a caricaturist, I’m not speaking from experience, but I think there are two parts to it; the first is an exaggeration of physical aspects and the second is depiction of an aspect of character; a special interest for example. I have a feeling that exaggerating one aspect of character is likely better than several. This should be best if you know the subject well, but most caricaturists have to talk to friends and family to get the character information, so it’s not a case of knowing the subject well.

I’m inclined to think that I need one or two aspects of an individual to get a likeness. Do they have a high forehead or a large nose? Once I get a likeness then the rest of the portrait seems to fall into place and it does seem mysterious.

Perspective

I was writing a post saying that perspective didn’t add to the reality illusion.

I’ve changed my mind.

I think perspective can significantly add to the illusion of reality in a painting. This painting is very early in the process and I’ve only got a bare minimum sketch and have started to fill in some areas. I don’t know if the sketch is correct until I’ve started to fill in paint areas. Until I start filling-in I don’t know for sure if I really like it. If I am trying to match the painting with my imagined idea of what it should look like then perspective is certainly part of it. At other times I have used perspective tools like a vanishing point but this painting doesn’t benefit from that. At present the coffee cup is a little too impressionistic for me. I remember doing things like this in painting class years ago and the exercise was to ignore any thought of perspective; or reality for that matter.

I typically do a very rough sketch and then start filling-in areas. When something looks wrong, I fix it and continue to do so until it starts to look right. A little wrong is OK but this is definitely too much. Perhaps the amount of wrongness that I will accept defines some of my style. Wrongness can be for many reasons but rightness only exists in our mind when what is on the painting matches with our internal view of the world.

Boring Brown

I’m presently doing a portrait of my daughter’s significant other. When I say I’m “presently” doing it means that I haven’t finished it yet and it is propped in my studio so I can look at it periodically. It is not on my easel and I am not working on it regularly. Sebastian is shown sitting in a dark room in Italy, a few hundred years ago. The room is very dark with likely dark brown walls, but if I paint the walls dark brown it just doesn’t look right.

It looks more realistic if I add some colour to the dark areas. I’m working from imagination here but it definitely looks better with some colours added in. I think when we are actually in a room with some very dark corners our eyes can’t cope with the low contrast and as a result our visual system makes up extraneous colours probably from lighter areas of the image, or perhaps a window. I bet our art would be pretty fantastic if we had a visual system like a Mantis Shrimp.

I’m convinced that the actual colour in these dark corners would be in the dark brown to black range, but in the absence of colour or other visual information our brain creates it. Like it does if we stare at a colour for a while then look away. We still see colour but it’s usually the opposite colour that we were looking at. I’m sure a researcher involved with vision and colour would have a more detailed explanation. Our visual system seems to take a set and then when our vision is rebounding from that image, we see the opposite colour for a while.

I think this adds to what I call the reality illusion, the problem is, how do I replicate that in a painting. Contrast in a painting is far less (I suspect by at least several orders of magnitude) than reality. If I add small amounts of colour to the dark areas, we interpret it as our visual system playing tricks and it seems to add to our perception of how much contrast we are seeing. Technically it may be bringing other photo receptors in our visual system into play. Or at least fooling our brains that those receptors are being used, which may enhance the illusion that we are looking at reality.

Interpretation

I noticed today that while looking at a painting and interpreting the shadows in a certain way, I see similar shadows in the same way in other areas of the painting. This isn’t just a result of the time of day since the scene is a room on a bright day. As a result of this constant interpretation of shadows, it is only necessary to paint one area carefully and the resulting interpretation will be used by the viewer in other areas.

I’ve been told this by a couple of teachers; it’s only necessary to paint a, or the, principal area carefully and the rest of the painting can be done quickly as it will be interpreted in a similar way. I said earlier that I notice this today but that’s not quite right. I’ve known this for a long time and been told by teachers but this is one of the few times that I’ve actually noticed it. I believe that we continuously interpret what we see, so when one area becomes complete and matches our mental construct of what we are seeing, the entire painting is re-interpreted and can change depending on that interpretation.

As a result, I take this one step further and paint a picture so that most of it sort-of matches what I see, then pick a spot and increase the detail until there is no doubt as to what it is or how to interpret it. Other areas of the painting may not be particularly realistic but they will be re-interpreted based on the one area where there is no doubt. This must be similar to how we view the world because if I do it right the entire painting takes on a realistic quality or illusion. I describe this as jumping off the canvas.

Foreground Background

I’m watching Bob Ross paint a campfire and it’s remarkable how he went about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5bXkI0-pEg

I would likely paint each component separately and try to match various colour hues to denote the placement either foreground or background. But he paints the fire light and shadow first then continued on with details. Curiously this is sometimes how I paint, at least it’s often how I think of it, but Ross took it to an extreme with this particular painting and it worked.

It’s unfortunate that Bob Ross is gone but his videos live on.

Colour Change

I recently wrote a post about matching colour. I was going to write more on that post but have decided to write a new post.

I am working on the latest on my easel and trying to match colours in a forested area in the far background. I spent some time trying to decide what colours to use. I began painting and noticed that the colours had changed. I painted a little more and noticed that the colours had changed again — a bit, so I went through the whole colour matching process again.

Had I been painting in plain air this would be more understandable since colours change during different hours of the day, but I was using a printout so the colour wasn’t changing; my perception was. I remember one of my instructors telling me to never completely paint over a colour because the first colour likely wasn’t wrong. I believe our perceptions of colour change based on surrounding colours so trying to match a colour will never work the first time because the surrounding colours will always alter our perception. This has been backed up with research over the years. I’ve also read that our perception of colour changes depending on our mood, but I’m going to stick with a more physical reason for the moment. In graphic design it is common to work in a room with the lights off, windows covered and the entire room painted medium grey (medium grey is darker than you think). I remember one of my instructors telling me to always use an under-colour wash because the canvas white is so blindingly white. You would think that a white canvas would make it easy to match colours but the opposite is true.

I’ve always used a wash on my painting surface because I believe it shows through or adjusts the final look of the painting; so, a warm wash should make the painting look warmer. To be clear, the colour wash adjusts my perception of the colour. There may be some ‘show through’ because many paint colours are somewhat transparent but I’m going to stick with the idea that it’s my perception that is changing. As a result, I often use a wash that is a pretty starling colour; if I want the painting to appear warm, I use a rather brilliant yellow, red, or yellow-ocher, and if the painting is going to be cool, then ultramarine blue makes sense. These are usually light washes rather than highly saturated colours but I don’t see a problem using highly saturated colours other than it can make preliminary sketches difficult to see.