Relative Color: Why Color Relationships Are Important

by Dec 28, 20210 comments

Are you seeing how inter-connected colors are?

How we “see” a color is influenced by the colors surrounding it.

Paying close attention to color relationships, what’s known as relative color, is a crucial part of both learning to see and to paint.

In this video I’ve got a quick demo to show you how our perception of color shifts depending on its context.

Rough Transcript:

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last day, about one of my favorite quotes from Wayne Thiebaud. He said that as far as I’m concerned, there is only one study, and that is the way in which things relate to one another. I think that that really encapsulates everything about painting, looking at paintings and learning how to see, how to see the world, especially how to see color.

You know, Thiebaud passed away just day before yesterday, on Christmas Day. So I think he’s on the top of mind for a lot of us artists.

Thiebaud was a colorist. He was a master colorist. And if you look at just the edge of a shadow of an object, one object within his painting, you’re going to see an entire range of colors from warm to cool light, to dark, bright, to dull and everything in between, because he knew how to look closely, mostly at the subjects that he was painting and how to remember that and how to translate that experience into paint.

So I want to think about, and talk to you today a little bit about how to process what he meant by that, how to take that idea of the interconnectedness of everything, the interconnectedness in particular of colors and apply that to painting.

We have a tendency or really strong tendency to see objects and colors as individual elements and not look at how they’re related to each other. We’re kind of hard wired that way as predators, but it means that we sometimes skim over the relationships and we need to kind of zoom back out and take into account how they’re connected.

We need to look not just at the thing, but the thing that’s next to the thing. The key to understanding color is to understand that we perceive a color in relationship to the collar next to it. So how we interpret that color as being lighter, dark, brighter closer to red or closer to green, or warmer or cooler.

We see all of that in relationship to the color it’s next to, not in isolation. That’s the key to learning to see, and then to go from seeing to being able to create that experience in your own paintings, whether you’re an observational, representational painter or not, it’s a real key to understanding how colors interact with each other and how your viewer is going to look at them.

So let me show you some examples of what I’m talking about on a really simple level. Let’s take a look at how our perception of color shifts depending on the color next to it.

We’re going to be working with this fairly neutral blue, gray, and then comparing it to other colors based on their value, intensity and their temperature.

Let’s dive in.

I’m going to create over here a nice square of our blue gray.

Give us two of them and we’re going to compare value.

I’m getting a lot of texture in there as well, unintentionally.

So I’m going to compare one with a really dark color. This is a dark purple.

I kinda liked that that little strip of blue gray ended up there in the middle of it.

And then we’re going to go with a light, slightly more intense blue.

What we can see there is exactly same blue, gray appears lighter when it’s next to a dark color because of contrast and it appears darker next to a light color. So these two do not appear to be the exact same value. Colors influence each other.

And our next one, we’re going to take. Let’s see if I can scrape this a little thinner so that it’s going to read a little flatter and we’re not going to get so much cast shadow.

And in our next one, we’re going to look at, that was value, we’re going to go to intensity.

So I have a slightly duller, terracotta color. It’s a slightly dark orange, and we’re going to put that here in the top comparison. And then we’re going to go with a more intense version of the same color underneath.

This color is more pure, more intense. Top one is duller.

And what will happen when we are comparing. dull to dull, and bright to dull, is that the blue gray here will appear a little bit more blue because it’s next to its close compliment up here.

The blue gray appears not as intense. It’s a little bit dollar because this orange is not as intense as the. So the intensity of the color it’s next to is going to affect our perception of the intensity of the original color.

So scrape this one down too. And this time we’re going to look at the temperature, the apparent, warmth, or coolness of the.

And we’re going to compare what it looks like when it’s up against a warmer color and when it’s up against a cooler color and how that shifts our perception. So for our warmer color, we have.

Rather for our cooler color, we have a fairly intense blue. It’s ultra Marine blue mixed with white.

So there’s our cooler.

And we’re going to compare that with our warmer Terra cotta color.

And what we’ll see is how does our perception of its temperature shifts.

So here where we’re comparing temperature, the blue gray appears warmer when it’s next to a cool color. It appears cooler when it’s next to a warm. It appears lighter when it’s next to a dark color and darker. When it’s next to a light color, it appears more intense when it’s next to an intense color and dollar when it’s next to adult color.

So hope this gives you some ideas of ways that you can explore. And understand more the interconnectedness, the relationships between colors. So I want to wrap up by going back to what Wayne Teebo said and applying it specifically to color that he said that the way in which things relate to one another is the.

And that is the key to learning, to see color and to be able to really implement it effectively in your paintings. So keep in mind that you’re going to be able to translate that by understanding, contrast how color is similar or different and how value, intensity and temporary. So I hope that’s been helpful and that y’all have been having a great holiday period here.

We’re in that in-between law between Christmas and new years. So if you’re looking for something to do, that’s not too heavy in the studio right now. I would suggest that. You explore a little bit and experiment with how colors shift and change when they’re up against different colors and you shift those aspects, do some observation of.

What you see and looking at those relationships, are they lighter or darker? Are they brighter or dollar? Are they warmer or cooler? Ask yourself those questions and let me know how it goes.

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