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Thread: Jason's color theory

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    Post Jason's color theory

    Been lurking for more than a year now, figured it was time to register and post some... thought I'd start with something constructive and repost Jason's great notes in the old Sijun Color theory thread, and maybe with that as a base, people can discuss it, especially those of you who attended the Amsterdam workshop.
    Hopefully a thread like this doesn't exists somewhere on that I couldn't find...

    Jasons original posts can thus be found here:
    I've re-edited the main parts, and since most of the links to paintings that Jason provided are dead, I chased around the web and found some new working links.

    but first, a few disclaimers:
    - Are you ok with this edited repost of your old notes, Jason? If not, please delete this thread with my apologies.
    - This is edited down, for the full effect, take a peek at the original Sijun thread, where you can also follow different tangents, and listen to other people who have other great takes on this subject.
    - I can't be 100% sure I found the exact paintings Jason were talking about, do let me know if you find a mistake, or have a link to a higher-res version of any of the paintings, and I'll edit it in.

    Here we go, Jason Manley Color Theory notes:

    Light and thus color has three properties..VALUE (light to dark), TEMPERATURE (warm and cool or you could say bluer vs. oranger) and INTENSITY (brighter more saturated to more dull and less saturated)

    Colors have their opposites and colors that are closer to them in the color is close to green and purple but far from is close to orange and purple but far from green...yellow is close to ..and far from purple(get my meaning?) these colors that are farthest from each other are called COMPLIMENTARY COLORS.

    The definition of complimentary colors is any two colors that are maximum distance away from each other in the color spectrum...and that means that any two colors which have the absolute least in common would be compliments.

    Mixing compliments does not make colors darker in my experience...there may be a mixture that seems darker..but it is is simply less intense..less saturated. The value does not change (unless the compliments mixed are of different value in the first place)...just the intensity changes.

    Mixing compliments makes an entirely good variety of colors. it is these colors that hold your images together if you use them right...the impressionists used them A LOT..they are called transition grays. They can be orangish..bluish..greenish..reddish..any color you choose. All browns..and grays will seem like a color when it is used in conjunction with other colors.

    Basic compliments are below:

    red orange/ green blue
    warm orange/cool blue
    cool yellow/warm violet

    SHADOWS are often the opposite temperature of the LIGHT as well as the opposite color. Sunsets are a good example...the sunlight is warm and orangish...while the shadows tend to get bluer...the warmer the light...the cooler the shadows. If you are painting or using 3d lights then you simply paint or choose cooler reflective lights and shadow colors than that of the lights if you are using warm lights.

    Light is also often the opposite color as the shadow as well if you set up a green light then the shadows will look more red adding a red fill or reflect light.

    There is always color variation in any one value of light...look for will see it. Highlights are almost never pure white...unless you are making a black and white drawing...just as shadows are never pure black...unless you are in a vacuum or a black hole.

    Highlights contain bits of color from the main lightsource in a subtle degree. it is important to put bits of color in your highlight as that shows the viewer (whether they know it or not) what color the light is.

    all colors are RELATIVE to those that surround it.

    I donít ever use the color tools in Photoshop to dictate the colors of my painting. It is better to understand your colors from the start.

    The rules of color theory can be broken easily for different moods and different effects. None are meant to be "this is the only way it is" if ya know what I mean.

    Something that helps your colors to glow like light and not just look "whiter" is a thing that I call SAME VALUE COLOR VARIATION. Basically, if the forehead of a character is hit by a yellow light, I will also put subtle pinker yellows, greener yellows, oranger yellows, etc.. in the same area that are exactly the same value as the yellow light. This is something that art history learned from Monet and from the other impressionists (except for muddy Manet). Other artists before them used the same idea but the impressionists had more colors and exaggerated it when using this formula.

    The same thinking goes for all value patches of color..light or dark. If there is a patch of value and it seems green...then if you really look you will see other subtle differences in that greenish area of color and value. These differences are often in color only and the same in value.

    Take a matter what value you find, you will see subtle color in almost all patches of any given value. If you look at a dark shadow you will see broken pieces of color in it that range in color.

    You can exaggerate this as much or as little as you want...just like the impressionists! hehe

    The impressionists provide excellent examples of color theory at work. Their works are about light and color and thatís pretty much it...itís not about the subject matter but about the light...beautiful stuff indeed!

    Thatís how you get colors to feel like light...even in 3d we use this technique when making texture maps. It is the subtle color variation in the color maps that is present in actual light and on real surfaces that makes computer light sparkle like life.

    But this is only a rule and sometimes rules are stretched...pushed...or even broken.

    This type of color variation is almost impossible for a regular camera to pick up. That is why photos are poor at helping with color in resource material. but...if ya know all your color theory then you can add color theory to photo color and get your work to the next step.
    that is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about...the reason it looks brown but is made up of many colors is because same value color variation mixes optically. it is simply called OPTICAL COLOR MIXING

    Seurat(french 19th century impressionist) used his little dot painting to achieve the same thing...take a look:

    It doesnít have to be done with just dots though...the color variation can happen on the strokes of color as well.

    Take a look at all the subtle colors in each area of value:

    If you have a blue light you won't see an orange shadow like the fruit orange...but you will see that the shadow color is warmer...more orange than the light. It is very subtle....but also if your light is neutral in temperature you will get a neutral (neither warm or cool) shadow...its all RELATIVE.

    This is a theory that is taken from life and can be pushed around as you the artist see fit. Its only a theory, not a hard and fast rule. You can find exceptions as well.

    If you still disagree...take a painting class where you spend hours painting still life and landscape and figure realistically. I had 6 years (22 semesters) total of painting and drawing from life...I didnít see it at first either...but if you relax...look...observe...and see...than you will find the things that I am talking about.

    (.. notes continued in next post....)
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    (Jason's notes, continued)
    Avoiding muddy paintings:

    The solution to MUD is simple. If the value is correct and your color choice is correct then it is one of two things that is making it muddy. Try using the same color..the same value..just the opposite temperature. if you put a cool blue in the shadow and it looks like mud then put a greener and thus WARMER blue in its place...keep it exactly the same value.

    If your VALUE is right and your color is right then it is often just the wrong TEMPERATURE.

    Since your value and color are right...the only other properties of color that there are possibly wrong are TEMPERATURE or INTENSITY. Try bumping up the chroma as well...increase the saturation and or INTENSITY of the given color and or the given stroke and see if that helps your shadows to glow with life.

    Shadows will have COLOR VARIATION as well.

    Sometimes a piece of color next to the muddy color will make the mud look like a different color...all color is relative.

    If you put a piece of mud in there and it looks grey...add a bit of orange to the mud and make an oranger mud and place that next to the bluer mud...the result will be that your mud will look like color....the same thing that was spoken of earlier in regards to the placing of same value compliments to make light and or surfaces shimmer.

    Any given shape of value will have bluer parts...redder parts...greener parts etc...I try to put at least three colors in any given area of value to help the patch of color sparkle.

    PALETTE choice for mood:

    The easiest way to learn about color palette choices to suggest feeling is to watch film and notice what color scheme is used when you feel a certain way. An example would be "The Sixth Sense". When I was watching that film I paid close attention to what the artists did to keep me scared out of my wits. The characters would walk through dimly lit blues...grays...bits of orange etc...the kid's clothes were gray and dull blues....same with Bruce Willis...same with his momís clothes....there was almost no high chroma costumes or was often cloudy outside...all these things contribute to the dark..dim...intense...feeling that make us feel the way we do when we watch it. and story help a lot too...but color and lighting is just as important.

    The same devices used in film to suggest mood can be used in 2d or 3d work. Costume design...object symbolism etc...all have to be designed around a particular color palette for mood.

    Another example is the film "Arlington road" with Tim Robbins and Jeff Bridges. I watched this film with my rather happy go lucky roomate a couple years ago. the film is almost entirely dominant darks (only a little piece of light here and there...but the movie format is almost entirely in the middle value to dark range) There is a scene about half way through the movie and Iím watching...and my roomate says "wow..I really like this scene" I looked at the scene and didnít find it particularly interesting to listen to. Nor was it particularly intense in comparison to the rest of the film....what it did have was COLOR...for the first time in the film the scene was dominant light and it was outside with sunny skies (there was a filter used to bump up the chroma I believe).... right at the point where my roommate sees the light and the bright colors she says that.

    The scene with the color was used as an opposite accent to contrast the dark and dull scenes earlier and after. It was like a symbol crash in a beautifully dark piece of music. It stuck out in her mind. She didnít know why she liked it ...she just did. I know her well and sheís a sunny day girl if ya know what I mean.

    Over all, the color palette in both films were the same. Cool blues, grays, greens...lots of dark...lots of muted colors...with a bright color here and there. Both films have suspense and intensity and fear.

    if you want to think of the opposite color mood...think of happy brightly colored things with simple Barney, Sesame Street, Mcdonalds Playland etc...

    There are many ways to suggest uses color like a language. We as artists do the same thing...the more we know about this stuff, the more we can deliberately control our work and our moods in the work we create.

    Shapes also dictate mood...but thatís another story all together.

    Popping colors:

    Take a look at how Gerome pops his colors in the focal areas. Notice that the same colors are mixed and mingled around the piece and that they are also pushed down in chroma in comparison to the crescendo of color brightness in the areas of importance.

    Check the pic of the standard bearer for the mentioned theory:

    another good example is the duel after the ball...

    and sentinel at the sultans tomb...also see the japanese imploring the idol(and notice how the compliments are placed strategically in the focal area).


    Here is the exercise. It can be used for any palette you chose and not just the limited palette below. It should be done with all colors you use in any given palette in order to increase your range of knowledge about what colors are at your disposal.

    Doing this is sort of like doing scales if you are a piano lets you know your full range of notes that you have and are capable of using.:

    Take these four colors (indian red, burnt sienna, ivory black, and yellow ochre) and do mixture charts. You will also need titanium white or flake white.

    1 mix each color with every other color to a visual 50/50 mixture. Make a three or four step value scale down to white with each mixture. make a note of what colors are used for the mixtures. (Yes I know this is a lot of work..but it will pay me)

    2 mix each mixture to a 75/25 percent split and a 25/75 percent split and do the value scale to white for each.


    what mixtures make nice greens (relatively)
    what mixtures make nice warms?
    what mixtures make nice cools?
    What is your coolest mixture?
    what is your darkest mixture?
    what is your most intense mixture?
    what is your most....

    Remember...Rembrandt, Velasquez and many other artists only used the above colors and their stuff looks like it is full color in is all about where you place your colors and knowing how to mix your colors.

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