After some discussions on another blog,  Artand , I am posting a few examples of some simple color exercises that can be useful in developing  color awareness and knowledge…These can all be done with colored papers, and can change one’s awareness of color distinctions. I think  the awareness can be hugely useful, as there is a constant flow in our every day experience of color mixes in shadows, reflections, windows, etc.

The first, above, is to find a color which will create an illusion of transparency…as with transparent sheets of colored glass or colored gels. Each ‘parent’ color, if it were glass, transmits only it’s color, and blocks the other colors. So…the overlapped color must be darker than either parent, and somewhere between them in hue. It’s fairly simple, and does not require a precise solution. An extreme example is the Red glass, over Green (Blue + Yellow), produces black. No color is transmitted.


This second example, above, is about creating the illusion of  ‘translucence’, the partial transparency produced by colored tissue or tracing paper. The ‘solution’ color is also between the two original colors in hue, BUT..also between them in value…i.e. it is darker than the lighter parent and lighter than the darker parent. The solution here can also be quite variable.


The third example is trying to create the illusion of colored light falling on different colored surfaces. The one on the left is meant to be a blue oval, falling on the gray background, a violet sheet and a pale orange sheet. The one on the right is of a warm (orange) light,  falling on the gray background and also on a yellow green sheet and a darker blue-green sheet.

These are quick examples done in Photoshop…I couldn’t face getting out the color-aid paper and the x-acto knife and the rubber cement! I could imagine hours of fiddling around.

But, the illusion in colored papers is compelling, and feels to be far more amazing, when you see the bits of paper come together and make a bit of magic.

I have always thought of color in a systematic way, as opposed to a more sensory or associative way. I try to describe color, and I think about it, in terms of hue, value and saturation. I don’t talk about peach, or lavender, or olive drab or…..burnt watermelon? But rather as “A light, grayed red-orange, or a very dark and grayed yellow green, etc.

I paint with a simple chromatic palette; Cad Yellow Med., Cad Orange, Cad red light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Thalo Blue, and Permanent green. No earth colors.

But; Ive always been a huge fan of the major colorists, Turner to Bonnard to Stella to Brice Marden, and know their thought ran in different and intuitive channels. I’ve been looking recently, a lot, at Peter Doig. An amazing painter, with a huge range of color, marking, and ideas for structure. All of his things have a vivid sense of specific places and people, percolating up through memory.