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.


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.

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.

Creative Thought

I’m working on a painting right now from a photograph that I took many years ago. As I’m working on it the reality illusion (that’s my name for it) suddenly kicked in and the painting began to approach how I see reality. At least certain parts of it did. Often, I don’t know why a painting starts to do this but this time I have a clear recollection of what started the illusion.

The painting is of the edge of Burnaby Lake with grass growing at the side of the lake. I’ve always liked this photograph because of the back-lit grass at the edge of the lake. The duck on landing approach is an add-on that the image needed, it took me years to decide what the photo lacked. The painting was looking good but no reality illusion showed up, until I painted some shadows on some of the grass created by grass behind. Suddenly, even though some of the grass was still very impressionistic, the grass started to appear real and jump off the painting surface which is part of the reality illusion.

The illusion doesn’t always appear with every painting, and when it does, I rarely know what precipitates it. I’m reminded of a science fiction novel where two characters are looking up at a bridge with holes in the bridge deck; sometimes people are aware that there are more holes than can initially be seen but it’s only when they start moving that they become aware that the holes form a pattern. I think the reality illusion is like the pattern; but you don’t need to move to imagine it.

Most people envision the grass as having a single colour or perhaps a mottled appearance. An artist knows that there are many colours, and the grass exists in three dimensions where grass can cast shadows on other grass either in front of or behind. I think an artist trains him or herself, or is trained by others, to see these shadows and realise how they are formed. More than that I believe everyone has this ability, an artist is simply trained to see them.

Creative thought is often described as thinking ‘outside the box’, whatever the box might be. I believe that thinking ‘outside the box’ is creative thinking and is similar to seeing the bridge holes as a pattern rather than just holes, and I believe that everyone has this ability.

Trying to get Higher on Google

I haven’t been posting recently because I’ve been studying Dreamweaver and some of the latest HTML. Apparently, Google ranks your site higher if it is designed to be used on multiple platforms, like mobile, tablet, and desktop. This is mostly screen size so it likely also includes laptops.

I’ve felt for a while that it didn’t matter what size of screen you had when you looked at my Website but clearly Google cares and it certainly looks better if I design pages separately or interactively so they change depending on screen size.

In this case change the screen size by making it smaller horizontally. You don’t need to actually change the screen resolution, just make the screen smaller horizontally and you should see some layout changes. I’m not completely done with this yet so there could be some future changes. Apparently, Google uses the fact that these changes are included in its algorithm, so I hope to notice my website traffic improving. If not, learning about it was interesting.

I like this Tutorial but there are many others. Some are specific for Dreamweaver but you can probably find others for whatever application you are using; assuming, of course, that you decide to do it yourself. I highly recommend building your Website yourself.

Keep looking for Tutorials until you find one that keeps you awake.

Colour Match

I spend an outrageous amount of time trying to match colours; eventually I just give up and use something similar. I do try and create what I call ‘the reality illusion’ but I enjoy painting regardless. If the ‘reality illusion’ shows up I am very surprised and impressed. Colours should be supremely important for the ‘reality illusion’ but humans aren’t that good at matching colours, so I’m starting to wonder why I think it’s so important. Look up colour illusions on Google to see how prolific they are and how they work (actually you should Google ‘Color’ Illusions rather than the British spelling).

In a previous post I mentioned that I look for places on my painting to use whatever colour I’ve mixed that is on my brush. I can’t help but think that colour contrast has more to do with a life-like image than actual accurate colour since it is in comparison that colours are viewed. If you match a colour compared to another colour and it looks good there is no way to determine that it will still look good tomorrow than to compare it tomorrow. Today when I am comparing the colour, I might have had a good sleep, or not, and the colour of shirt I am wearing may contrast with the colour, or not. Many people will not believe that the colour of shirt I am wearing will have any effect on how I select a colour on my pallet but tests have shown that that is exactly what happens. So, if I select a colour today and a slightly different colour tomorrow, then I can pick whichever colour I like and have done with it.

Colour Analysis

I was watching a video on the Web about colour analysis. It would be nice to have my colour pallet all planned out and set up so the colours in my paintings matched or sometimes contrasted. I started looking at pictures of my paintings and realised that, for the most part, they already fall into one of the colour themes discussed on the video. I must do this unconsciously and pick scenes that fall into one of the colour themes discussed on the video.

I don’t try to analyse colour in my paintings but I spend a large amount of time deciding what photos to use and if I need to make changes. It’s pretty clear that a lot of artists do extensive analysis of their colour pallet, but they are far better artists than I. I remember being in studio many years ago and the father of the artist I was studying with set up to paint, and first decided on exactly what pallet of colours he would use. He carefully laid out the colours on his pallet, then proceeded to paint. This was completely foreign to me and amazing since he appeared to be just making up the image on the spot, but all of the colours matched or contrasted perfectly and he never looked at a photo; he just painted from memory, or imagination. I have never been able to do that.

Occasionally I need to add something to a painting. The painting presently on my easel needed a focal point so I’ve added a duck coming in for a landing. I will change the highlights somewhat and suggest the light direction but that is as far as my colour matching goes. One other thing I do to match colours is use whatever is on my brush in various areas of my painting. After spending time getting a colour correct, I take a moment and search the painting for other places where that colour can be used. I’m often very surprised that I find several areas where the colour is just perfect.



Dark and light

I’ve noticed that my reality illusion doesn’t usually appear until I add dark and light areas. One of the last things I do with a painting is add black to the darkest areas and white to the lightest areas. The human eye sees a larger dynamic range than most film or digital images. Digital images can sometimes see into the infrared and specialised film and cameras can see far into the Infrared and Ultraviolet range. Film registers about 5 stops of light in the visual spectrum, and photographic prints show about 3. The print range has more to do with paper and ink, a projected image is capable of much greater range.

When I say a stop that is a photographic ‘stop’. A ‘stop’ on a camera is generally a factor of 2, so 5 stops is about 64 times the amount of light between the darkest and lightest areas. However, your eye is also capable of changing its aperture, so depending on who you talk to and how they are parsing the data you can get into the millions. The Lumen is an exact measurement of light but not a measure of colour. I don’t know what the relationship is between a lumen and millions of colours. A photo print with a full 3 stops of dynamic range looks pretty good. I believe a painting with today’s pigments is better than a photo print but likely not as good as your computer monitor. Your monitor might actually be able to show millions of colours; a photographic print can not, but it can fool your brain. Your eye can see and your brain can process millions of colours but not equally in all parts of the spectrum; you are much better at detecting shades of green than red for example.

As an artist the way light is measured or how the units are named is immaterial. What matters is how it looks. I’m interested in how light is measured and how a photographic image is rendered but it has nothing to do with me as an artist. It’s likely possible to mix millions of colours with today’s paints but all I need to do is generally match the art with what I am seeing or what I mentally think I should see, and it starts to look real. As long as I can match what I’m painting to what I’m seeing, then knowing exactly how this happens is immaterial. Interesting but immaterial.


A little ghost story

When I watch a video purporting to be of a ghost I think of this (there are lots of these videos on the Web). Some years ago, my wife-to-be and I were living in an apartment, one day I made some tea and set it on our coffee table to steep. The tea pot was a very nice clear glass tea pot and the coffee table had a glass top. It’s a nice coffee table that we still have although we are looking for a new one; it’s long because it sits in front of our sofa and spans it from one end to the other, so it’s proving difficult to find a replacement.

As I was sitting waiting for the tea to steep, I was shocked when the tea pot began to slowly move towards me. It looked surprisingly like someone, or something, was pushing it, since the motion was not completely smooth as it stuttered slightly across the surface of the coffee table. I just froze and watched it move toward me. There was no discernible sound, just the steady movement of the teapot. This so alarmed me that I don’t think I said anything to my wife-to-be.

After thinking carefully about this, and doing a number of experiments, this is what I decided. The tea pot was a little wet and when placed on the glass table top made an air tight seal. The air between the pot and glass table top heated up, because the tea was hot, and began to lift up the whole pot. At first, I thought this was just completely impossible since a full teapot is fairly heavy but the amount of air trapped between the teapot and glass tabletop was small and the area of the bottom of the pot fairly large. I got my level and checked the table and it did have a very slight slope in the right direction. It was this that made me think I was on to something although the slope was completely unnoticeable without the level. I did a number of experiments and found that the tea had to have been just made so the water was hot and the bottom of the teapot had to be slightly wet. There were a number of variables so it didn’t have the same result every time but it worked most of the time.

I was watching a video of a child who appears to talk to someone not in the room and then something on the table tray moved. This certainly isn’t exactly the same as my moving teapot but it’s possible to put something down in such a way that it is unbalanced and small vibrations can make it appear that the item seems to move by itself when it’s sliding to a new stable location. Small movements of items, apparently without good reason, can be frightening but can also have a reasonable explanation. In this particular case the video presenter concluded that the child was talking to a spirit that couldn’t be seen on the video and the item on the tray moved because the ghost moved it.