"There is a logic of colors, and it is with this alone, and not with the logic of the brain, that the painter should conform." Paul Cézanne

Color Questions

Q. Why do colors look so different in various lighting?
Lighting has a huge impact on the appearance of colors. Without getting too technical, here's a summary. Incandescent light, like most home lighting, is warm with a yellow or orange bias. Most fluorescent light leans toward blue. When you view colors in daylight, then artificial light, you see these biases affecting the colors.
For more on lighting read these articles.

Q. Who decides which colors will be popular in home decoration, clothing and cars every year?
A. The Color Marketing Group and the Color Association of the United States are trade associations that forecast popularity of colors based on current selling trends and educated guesses about new colors that might stimulate the buying public. The group studies the psychology of colors and "color personality" of consumers and selects colors that will have the broadest range of appeal in different applications. Ask your framer about forecasts in mat board colors so you can keep up-to-date on the trends.

Q. Is it better to use black paint or to mix blacks? How do you mix black?
A. There are times when you might want a solid black for a specific effect, but on the whole I prefer to mix blacks for livelier color. Neutral tube colors, such as Lamp Black and Ivory Black, seem very dull, especially next to high intensity hues in a painting. It's important to use the colors in the mixture throughout the picture for the sake of harmony. One mixture that makes especially rich, transparent darks and blacks is Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo or Winsor Green. To give the mixture a bluish cast, add a little Phthalo or Winsor Blue. Another good combination is French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. Experiment with different pairs of complements (opposites), using colors of similar tinting strength. If the colors don't make black or gray, they are probably near complements instead of complements. Exploring Color pp. 50-52.

Q. What is "local color."
A. Local color is the actual color of the objects you are looking at, whether painted or natural, regardless of the light shining on them.

Q. Should I use Payne's Gray or Ivory Black for the neutral in my painting?
A. Most grays have a tendency to dull a picture, whether used in mixtures or for neutral passages. French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna make a gray that is almost identical to Payne's Gray, but has the advantage of leaning toward the cooler blue side or the warmer sienna side. It's much better to mix your grays from any complementary colors you're using in your painting, such as Viridian or Phthalo Green and Permanent Rose or Alizarin Crimson. However, use these colors throughout the painting so they don't stick out like a sore thumb. (If you mix a warmer green and red, both having less blue, you make a beautiful brown.) Exploring Color pp. 50-52.

Q. What is a complementary color?
A. Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel. They have two effects on each other. When you place them side by side, they appear to vibrate. When you mix them, they neutralize each other. Exact complements will make neutral gray and black when mixed. Because paints are seldom precisely complementary, their mixtures will usually have a bit of color bias, for example, if you mix blue and orange complementaries, you may get a blueish or orangeish gray or even brown. This means that the colors you used are probably near-complements instead of true complements. These mixtures are much more exciting to use than tube gray or black. Exploring Color p. 48-50.

Q. Is color learned or intuitive?
A. Both. "Color personality," reflected in your natural responses and preferences to particular colors, is largely intuitive. However, most artists learn color first by imitation, using the colors recommended by teachers or books. Eventually, if they pay attention to their own preferences, they introduce colors they like into this learned palette and quite often develop a consistent color style. Sometimes they get stuck there and keep repeating themselves, so it's useful to learn a variety of color systems, such as limited palettes, split- primary color-mixing, compatible triads and color schemes, that provide flexibility and creativity to the color selection process. Once you've learned them, they can be used in so many ways that the intuitive responses to colors are given much more freedom than by trial-and-error.

Q. What's the best way to set up your palette?
A. Group your colors according to hue (reds, blues, for example), temperature (warm or cool), intensity (bright or earth colors) or in the order of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet). The main thing is to be consistent. Leave spaces between groupings for new colors to be added. Exploring Color p. 37.

Q. What colors make a good basic palette?
A. The actual names of the colors may vary according to medium and brand, but you can mix good clean colors every time using a warm and a cool of each primary color if you learn the split-primary color-mixing system. These six colors will do the job: Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Magenta or Permanent Rose; Winsor Red or Permanent Red; New Gamboge, Indian Yellow or Cadmium Yellow Medium; Winsor or Cadmium Lemon (not nickel titanium); Winsor Blue (Green Shade) or Phthalo Blue (Green Shade); French Ultramarine. See also Exploring Color pp. 48-49.

Q. What do you use for earth colors if you use a limited basic palette?
A. I think you can make just about any earth color there is by mixing your other colors with Burnt Sienna. For example, Raw Sienna (BS + New Gamboge); Brown Madder Alizarin (BS + Alizarin Crimson); Olive Green (BS + Hooker's Green); Burnt Umber (BS + French Ultramarine); Payne's Gray (BS + French Ultramarine). Exploring Color p. 50.

Here are some helpful color articles and projects.

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