Part 2

Project: Understanding colour

Research Point 1: Artists using Chevreul’s colour theory

To start, a couple of definitions to clarify: (accessed 30/9/19) Good clarification of definition of terms hue, tone etc

” Hue refers to the origin of the color we see. Think of the Hue as one of the six Primary and Secondary colors. In other words, the underlying base color of the mixture you’re looking at is either Yellow, Orange, Red, Violet, Blue or Green.

“Color Theory defines a True Tone as any Hue or mixture of pure colors with only Gray added. To be precise, this definition considers Gray as truly neutral. In other words, there are no additional pigments in the Gray other than White plus Black.

Chroma = measure of intensity of the hue, how diluted with white, black or glaze

What is Chevreul’s colour theory? (accessed 30/9/19) (accessed 30/9/19)

Rules of thumb from the above website:

  • A dark color put next to a light one makes them both look brighter.
  • Dark next to bright makes the bright one look brighter.
  • Dark next to light makes the light seem lighter and the dark darker.
  • Warmer colors look warmer when placed next to cool ones.
  • Cool colors look cooler when placed next to warm ones.
  • A bright color next to a muted color makes the muted one look more dull.
  • If two colors are of a similar brightness, the less bright they’ll both look when placed next to each other.

Artists using this:

1. (accessed 1.10.19)

George Seurat – used a multitude of dots to create his paintings so that instead of mixing the colours on his palette, he allowed the viewers eyes to mix them on the canvas. In the LHS close up detail, dots of yellow, orange, blue, violet and red can be seen which then begin to look greenish when viewed a little further back (top right side above head) and look properly green when viewed as a whole – clever!

Georges Seurat, La Parade de Cirque

2. (accessed 1.10.19)

Van Gogh was very enthusiastic about Chevreul’s theories and used complementary colours in his search for colour harmony and to convey mood. He explained this in letters to his brother Theo: “I have painted the walls pale violet. The ground with checked material. The wooden bed and the chairs, yellow like fresh butter; the sheet and the pillows, lemon light green. The bedspread, scarlet coloured. The window, green. The washbasin, orangey; the tank, blue. The doors, lilac. And, that is all.”

The picture below shows the colours as they were thought to have been painted and before time faded them. He uses complementary colours galore: violet walls + yellow bed/chair, green yellow bedding and pictures + violet red bedspread, blue wash basin + orange table.

Van Gogh, The Bedroom 2 (enhanced colour), 1889

3. (Accessed 1.10.19)

Here Monet uses adjacent colours of blues and greens which harmonize and add to the vision of a tranquil water scene. He adds energy with complementary colours of the red boat next to green weeds, plus yellow masts with violet shadow (hard to see that though).

Claude Monet, The Red Boats Argenteuil, 1875

Mixing greys – anachromatic scale

Just black pigment in white (no colour). Mid tone grey also painted onto ends of line at both white and black ends. The grey at the white end looks to be a much darker tone than that at the black end (especially in the photo), although they are the same ie from above “Dark next to light makes the light seem lighter and the dark darker”

Primary and secondary colour mixing

Colours with the most chroma – identifying my most intense primary colours, those with no trace of other primaries in their hue.

Yellow = Medium yellow acrylic

Red = crimson with just a touch of phthalo blue

Blue = Ultramarine

Mixing my primary yellow in a graded sequence through to my primary red – mid point is a clear secondary colour of orange.

Mixing my primary yellow in a graded sequence through to my primary blue – mid point is a clear secondary colour of green.

However, mixing red through to blue gives a dark murky mid point colour. Tried mixing my own violet – Rose Madder with small amounts of Ultramarine and Phthalo gave the best result. Perhaps Rose Madder would have been a better choice for my primary red???

Lines 1,2,& 3: Scales of colours but this time using consistent tonal values by adding a little white – ie the red and blue have white added to lighten their tone to that of the yellow. Mid-way across red to blue scale (line 3) should be a brownish grey, but I’ve got purple.

Purples Violets

I’m getting a bit confused by what to call the various mixes between blue and red – the above chart helps: Violet is on the blue side, purple on the red side.

Broken or tertiary colours

Line 4 above: wrong as I forgot to add white to get consistent tones.

Line 5 above: orange red to green blue with consistent tones. Extra white added at mid point and should be grey – mine is more of a dull pink (my scale seems rather biased towards the orange red side unfortunately).

Scales of secondary colours (with consistent tones) – mid point = broken or tertiary colour

Line 1: orange to violet gives mid point brownish tertiary colour

Line 2: violet to green gives mid point dark grey tertiary colour

Line 4: first try at green to orange (I started from RHS) but I became orange too quickly

Line 3: second try at green to orange (better this time) and gives a mid point ochre/mid brown tertiary colour.

***These are great colours for any type of landscape painting, all really natural and earthy – very useful ***

Complementary colours

Tertiary colours all appear to be variations on grey, mossy green and brown – the colours we find in nature.

This is because they all contain a mix of all three primary colours in slightly different proportions eg the violet red and green yellow has more yellow and red primary colours in so the tertiary colour is more orange. The orange yellow and violet blue has mainly yellow and blue hence tertiary colour is greenish. The orange red and blue green has mainly red and blue in hence tertiary is dark grey/violet.

This may have been a rather tedious project but I’ve found it really useful discovering how to mix various colours. Definitely pages of my sketchbook that I will refer back to regularly. (Who would have thought that pink and green made orange?)


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