Our ideas about a color differ from what the eye really sees, and we’re generally convinced that these preconceptions are accurate. Use the following technique to isolate and evaluate color.
We humans are pretty smart. We know that the tree in front of us is the same color as the tree of the same species on the distant mountain. Knowing this makes survival easier. Imagine if we looked out and gasped, “Holy smoke, look at that hillside covered in pale bluish purple trees! Those must be really strange trees!” In order to be productive and effective, we have learned to interpret the distant color as the same as the near color.
We identify an object and decide that we know what color it is. This is useful in daily life, but not in painting. The colors that we actually see vary a great deal depending on light, shadow, atmosphere, distance, and reflections.
To check this out, put a small hole in the middle of grey paper. Fully extend the arm holding the paper. Close one eye and use the other eye to look through the hole. When you eliminate the visual clues about what the subject is, you can study the color alone. Ask yourself, “If I had no idea what this color was attached to, how would I describe it?”
Last week I took a class plein air painting in Boulder’s community gardens.
What color do you think those distant trees on the mountain are when you’re standing right in front of them? If you paint them that color instead of the color that you see, they won’t appear to recede.
In my effort to explain this concept, I grabbed the lid from my take-out coffee. It worked well for the purpose: So, if you don’t want to make a hole in the middle of grey paper, try this when you get your next coffee to-go.
Naw, no one will think you’re weird if you look through the little sip hole exclaiming, “Wow – the trees really are blue!”.