Posts Tagged ‘hue’

Reconsidering the Color Wheel, Part 2

Friday, June 15th, 2012

In order to understand the pigments in my own watercolor palette better, I decided to chart my paints. I wanted not only to indicate the complementary pairs but to record gradations of intensity, carrying the color from one high-intensity hue, through the balanced gray, across the wheel to the high-intensity complementary hue. In the process, I had to correct some of my own erroneous assumptions, like the yellow/purple pairing.

Munsell style color circle

As I wrote last time, rather than relying on the old tried and not-so-true three-primary color wheel, I turned instead to the color theories of Albert Munsell.

Since not all the paints in my palette corresponded precisely with the major and minor hues in the Munsell circle, I chose those that seemed closest. I ranked similar colors outside the circle, roughly in order of hue, to help me better judge what each of their complements would be without having to chart my entire palette. Not having a single purple-blue paint to complement my Winsor Lemon, I combined Brilliant Blue Violet and French Ultramarine Blue to create the appropriate blend.

I did not use any ready-mixed gray in the color wheel but made a swatch of Payne’s Gray, outside the wheel, for comparison purposes. No black or white paint was used. If you want a list of the specific paints I used, send a request to

Reconsidering the Color Wheel, Part 1

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Most of us learned about the “triadic” color wheel back in grade school (though we didn’t go so far as to call it that). That’s the one that shows equally spaced primary colors—yellow, red, and blue—separated by secondary colors—orange, purple, and green. Because of this early and well-ingrained training, the concept of an alternative color chart can be difficult for some of us to grasp.

The Munsell color system, in contrast, spaces yellow, red, and blue at less regular intervals around a circle and includes purple and green as additional “major” hues located between red and blue or blue and yellow, respectively. Then, centered between each pair of these five hues is a “minor” hue that combines the two major hues that flank it. Hence, the Munsell circle reads: red, red-purple, purple, purple-blue, blue, blue-green, green, green-yellow, yellow, and yellow-red, which brings us back to the original red.

The Munsell color system is considerably more complex than this, incorporating value and chroma variations as well as hue to differentiate and identify specific colors. But you have to start somewhere, so I looked first at the most basic hues.

The Munsell color circle is particularly useful in identifying complementary hues that will produce a neutral gray. In childhood, most of us were taught that the complement of any primary color is the secondary color that appears directly opposite it on the color wheel. However, these pairs of complements don’t always produce a neutral gray when combined. Yellow and purple, for instance, made an orangey brown, not gray. I knew that in order to make a neutral gray the purple would have to be bluer to balance out the warmth of the yellow. The purple-blue indicated in the Munsell circle proved a much more satisfactory complement to yellow. So I have begun using the Munsell system to find truer complements for all the colors.

Next time I’ll write about how this applies to my own watercolor palette.

Reevaluating the Palette

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I’ve found that it’s a good idea to periodically review the paints in my palette. Not only do I consider which ones I’ve made good use of and which I haven’t, but I also find it helpful to update my charts that show how they interact with one another. While doing that this fall, I made some discoveries that will help in my paint choices for the coming year. Among other things, I have found that there are several paints that could be dispensed with or be replaced with a more satisfactory alternative.

Palette, December 2011

Of my five yellows, I found that three are very similar in color but behave differently in use. The yellow ochre, a semi-opaque that tends to muddy my mixes, will not be replenished when it runs out. The similar raw sienna is more transparent and poses less of a mixing problem. It provides a more subtle and slightly warmer underwash than the third similar color, quinacridone gold, which is stronger and more lively for mixing with other colors. New gamboge is also a rich, warm, more intense yellow that is good for mixing. And the bright, cooler Winsor lemon is needed for the lightest, clearest yellows applied over reserved white.

In the brown realm, burnt sienna is my standby, supplemented by burnt umber for my darkest darks (often mixed with indigo) and the more red-toned brown madder, which I also love to pair with indigo. I’ve tried sepia but found that that’s another color I can dispense with.

It has perhaps been a mistake to rely too heavily on the transparent reds—permanent alizarin crimson and permanent rose, more recently supplemented with the lovely quinacridone red and quinacridone magenta. Being transparent, these are fine colors for mixing, but I find the quin red a bit wimpy on its own. I need a good rich red to punch up a painting. A transparent scarlet lake is a new acquisition that I hope will fill the bill. It has a warmer cast than the cooler reds I’ve been using.

Though I have a purple (Winsor violet), I seldom use it, usually preferring to mix my own from the colors used elsewhere in the painting. This helps to maintain a sense of color unity throughout, rather than introducing an unrelated hue.

Of my blues and greens, Payne’s grey (which I consider a very muted blue) is my least used. Cerulean, being opaque, doesn’t blend well with most other paints (though permanent rose transforms it to the startling and lovely hue my father used to call “sky-blue pink.”) Cerulean is fine as a sky color but is largely limited to that use. And I find that the hue is very similar to that of Winsor blue (green shade), which is more amenable for mixing. French ultramarine blue and cobalt blue, on the other hand, are both workhorses and must-haves, as they are both useful for skies, water, shadows, and blending with other colors. The muted indigo (a premixed blue blend that can be subtle despite its powerful pigments) has become a personal favorite and almost indispensable to me. A new acquisition is Manganese Blue Nova, a Holbein paint, which creates a lovely range of greens when mixed in varying proportions with quinacridone gold. Though I haven’t used them as extensively, I enjoy the liveliness and mixability of my Winsor blue (green shade) and Winsor green (blue shade), from which I can achieve a good range of aquas and turquoises when blended together. Their transparency seems to lend them both to successful mixing with other colors. Permanent sap green has become another of my workhorses, as it is a good supplement to palette-mixed greens and is, in itself, easy to vary for great foliage.

I like the clarity and vibrancy of the transparent colors, particularly the quinacridones. And I’m less concerned now than I used to be about whether a pigment stains or can be lifted off the paper. So, as you see, as my tastes and needs change over time, I expect my palette selections will continue to change as well, both adapting to and contributing to the evolution of my work.

Approaching the Abstract

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I had intended, this month, to show a painting that digresses from my usual approach. Upon reflection, however, I decided that, because of its radically different character from my usual style, it would be unwise to post it here. Most of my work is figurative; this piece was decidedly abstract. It’s generally not a good move to publicly introduce a radically divergent style to an otherwise consistent body of work.

The photograph upon which it was based was shot in Scotland by Fiona Shearer. She was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it as a painting subject. Instead of posting either the photograph or the abstract painting itself, however, I have chosen to post a figurative interpretation of the scene, entitled “Snowy Dunes” (#110202) and to write about my creative thought process as I reevaluated the scene and “restated” it into the abstract version.

Snowy Dunes

The scene seemed to me to be metaphorical. In order to present the same concept in abstract terms, I elected to simplify and alter the elements in the scene that inspired me, to suit and express my interpretation of the literal image. In other words, to show what the original scene “said” to me.

I conceived, in my mind’s eye, an image of family dynamics. The lowering sky suggested to me a brooding, stormy threat of trouble just beyond the horizon, outside the family unit represented by the land. I saw in the shrub-covered dunes a series of rounded, feminine forms, acting as a defensive barrier stretched between that trouble and the purity and innocence of childhood, as indicated by the unsullied white snow in the lower right. Meanwhile, I recognized in the road, straight and thrusting, arrow-like, into the distance, a dynamic and aggressive image of masculinity, driving into the problem head on, working in partnership with the feminine counterpart to protect the innocent while under-girding and guarding her.

The white of the snow represented to me childhood innocence. In my abstract version, I allowed the white to gradually take on color of the masculine and feminine hues, indicating a growth toward maturity as youth gradually takes on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. The hue representing femininity reached its greatest intensity where it confronted either threat or the masculine presence. Similarly, the masculine hue, like surges of testosterone, became most intense when juxtaposed with femininity, when challenging the perceived threat, and where reinforcing the protective shield between trouble and innocence. Despite all the parental efforts, a faint reflection of the brooding and troubled sky dimmed some stretches of the unbroken snow. Yet, at the core of both the feminine and masculine forms, remained pristine pockets of child-like innocence.

Every aspect of the painting, including my use of hue, value, hard and soft lines, and juxtaposition of colors and values, has a meaning to me. Yet another viewer might read something entirely different into it. Part of the pleasure and delight of abstract art is its enigmatic character: It is left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Any other explanations, whether or not it coincides with my own, could be legitimate and correct. Abstraction allows the viewer’s imagination free rein, and, because it is based on individual interpretation, no response is wrong. In the same way, I will leave to your imagination my painted, abstract interpretation.

Why not try one of your own?

A Limited Palette

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Wave to Me Frondly

Viewers may wonder how a painter can create a color-rich scene without using a palette overflowing with paint choices. The key to successfully using a limited palette is in choosing a few primary-based paints that work well together and that blend to create the supplemental secondary and tertiary hues needed.

In “Wave to Me Frondly” (#110108), I used only four paints–three primaries and a secondary color: new gamboge, indigo blue, brown madder, and sap green. (Despite it’s name, “brown madder” actually is considered a red.) All four of these colors have a warm cast, which helps to convey the warmth of the sun-lit scene.

I began with a background wash of a mixture of new gamboge and brown madder, varying the proportions as I washed them across the paper so the background wouldn’t be all the same flat blend. Most of the fronds are painted with a blend of brown madder and sap green, with some indigo blue added in the darkest areas. A pale wash of pure indigo tints the highlights on the fronds, and an extra bit of new gamboge brightens the sun-kissed spots on the leaves. I dropped in some extra areas of brown madder at the end of the painting process to help balance the nearly-finished painting. But no additional paint colors were needed.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010),“Staying Out of the Mud” (March 1, 2011), and “Selecting Paints” (to appear later this year).