As promised in last week's post, today's begins a seven part Series on the language of painting. Enjoy!
Any language has a vocabulary that makes it work as a tool of communication. In the verbal language we have parts of speech--nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.- that categorize words according to
what they do or the role they play to enable communication.
The visual language we use in painting has its own vocabulary, too--the visual elements. Each element has a specific role it plays in how we see
everything, and so it is in the language of painting.
These are color, shape, value, texture, line, size and direction. Each of these elements do something that causes any
image to appear the way it does. They make it work.
THIS PART OF OUR SERIES LOOKS AT COLOR
Color's primary role in the language of painting is that it works like an adjective: it describes. It has three components that
work together to cause that action: Hue, Value, and Saturation (Also called Intensity or Chroma)
Each of these can do two actions: each can contrast and each can gradate. Contrast means to be different; gradate
means that two things different each gradually change without our being able to locate where one difference stops and the other begins. Each of these actions can vary from a short degree to a large degree. The combination of these actions creates every individual color.
Below you see the how a single green can both contrast and gradate in value, in saturation and in hue.
Let's dissect each of these characteristic and find out what role it plays in every color we see.
The hue of the color is its name, as shown in this traditional wheel. Tube names are not hues, neither are the generic names like magenta, cyan, olive, brown and ochre. These describe a
certain kind of color, but not the hue.
The tool we use to guide how we work with hue is the color wheel. It does not show value or saturation, just hues and
their relationship to each other. Hues side-by-side on the wheel can gradate into each other, but being different from each other, they can also closely contrast with each other, too.
Those opposite each other on the wheel require the hues between them to gradate into each other, but side by side, they are a strong contrast in hue from each
Saturation-The degree of purity or neutrality
When a hue's direct complement or another hue containing its complement is mix into the original hue, it reduces its saturation. We can talk about this neutralizing by using
approximate percentages. For example, a small amount of violet mixed into yellow might bring its purity down to 80ish% saturation whereas a larger amount of the complement might leave only 10ish% saturation. We can see this illustrated here and in the wheel below.
A highly saturated hue will contrast in intensity with a lower saturation, regardless of the value or the hue. Saturations can gradate by one being blended into
Value- The degree of light or dark
A value of a color is its degree of lightness or darkness. It is the only part of color that defines form because it tells us the degree of light and shadow a color lives in. And
value is the only one of these characteristics that can work independently (without hue or saturation) to communicate images.
We use the value scale as our tool for reading and translating values. We refer to each single difference in a value as an interval. The number of intervals between two values
side by side determines its degree of contrast. Gradation between values give us a smooth transition between these intervals.
So rather than each color being a single note, every individual color is made up of the three notes, hue-value-saturation making it a chord. It is how the painter moves the notes
around, creating new chords with each change, that creates the painting.
So when looking at color areas and using the language to communicate their color, the painter asks: What is the hue doing? What is the value doing? What is the saturation doing?
Remember, the doing is contrasting or gradating or sometimes both together, and it is how we do this that creates the magic!
Have yourself a colorful weekend!
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