Sunday, July 27, 2014

 Color Theory and the Lies We Believe
By Sarah Jane

   While most people have no use for color theory, artists need an accurate understanding of color because it affects how an artist identifies, creates, and uses color in a painting. Many people have come to believe that studying a particular color model will limit them in their possibilities, but in reality it’s when one really begins to study color theory that the doors open, and possibilities can be seen in numerous ways.  Proper usage of color greatly enhances and enlivens good technique and style.  Most unfortunately, color theory is all too often incorrectly taught, making it virtually useless in most cases. It would be useful to examine traditional color theory, the history of primary colors, and the purpose of color theory, color perception, and finally, CMY color theory.

   All across the United States, our schools are teaching color theory. Starting from a young age, children are taught that there are three primary colors from which all other colors are mixed. These three colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue. They are primary, therefore they cannot be mixed by any other colors.  Mixing equal amounts of any two of the primary colors creates the secondary colors—Orange, Green, and Purple. These colors are then put into a wheel with the primaries forming an equilateral triangle and the rest of the colors filling in the spaces to form a complete circle. Complementary colors are those directly across from each other on the wheel. When mixed, they create brown. What is not taught is that it is impossible to get a saturated green or purple from the primaries. Creating a bright pink from red and white is impossible, and it is indeed possible to mix red and blue, the supposed “primaries” that cannot be created. The model doesn’t even begin to stand up to minor scrutiny when compared with what is known scientifically. This fail in color theory may be why many artists claim that color theory isn’t important to study because it can only be used as a vague guideline anyway.

   Though there are many different systems for organizing color, it has long been accepted that all colors can be mixed from just three colors. Aristotle was the first to present this idea. Though the belief that these three colors are yellow, red, and blue, has been in existence since medieval times, it was not until Francois D’ Aguilion, a Jesuit mathematician, embraced them as the primary colors from with all other colors are mixed, did it gain popularity and spread. Interestingly, though many ancient painters were well aware of the primary colors, it was not the painter’s common practice. In fact, it was said to be an unsatisfactory method for mixing colors. Many things are wrong with this theory.  A deeper look into color theory shows that there is actually no such thing as a primary color. No three colors, no matter what the colors, can produce all other colors. The problem is not that we use and teach primary colors, but that we give them definitions that are untrue. Primary colors must not be taught as fact. A proper definition is as follows: “Primary colors are sets of colors that can be combined to make a useful range of colors. For human applications, three primary colors are usually used, since human color vision is trichromatic.[1] While color organization is extremely beneficial, it should always be kept in mind that our color systems were created to aid us, not limit us.

   The purpose of color theory is to create a system that organizes color into an understandable structure that helps us to describe and reproduce color. The invention of primary colors helps artists simplify the vast array of colors we have to work with, as well as gives insight into the makeup of individual colors as they relate to the whole color spectrum. The color wheel helps organize those colors in a way that allows color relations to be easily viewed and studied. Yet, it is important to note that as helpful as color models are, they are still only man’s feeble attempts at organizing the vast amount of complex color information that we have.

 There are many theories regarding what color really is and how we perceive it. Part of the reason color theory is so unstable is because of the controversy on this subject. Scientists cannot prove much of the theories regarding color perception. Since all of our models of color theory are based off of color perception, it is impossible to boldly proclaim any one theory as fact. Some say that color is in light, while others say that light has no color. Some believe that color is purely a sensation of the mind, while others believe it is a mixture of the above stated views. 

   Despite the controversy in how we perceive color, it is generally accepted that Newton’s conclusion of seven basic colors in the light spectrum, is correct. Based on this discovery, two color spectrums have been developed: the additive spectrum and the subtractive spectrum. One deals with light and the other with dyes, inks, and pigments. Physicist Thomas Young (1773 – 1829) discovered that when mixed together, Red, Green, and Blue light created white light. These colors relate very closely to the way it is believed that we perceive color through the R G B receptors in our retinas. Thus, Red, Green, and Blue are considered the primaries of the additive spectrum—the spectrum of visible light. The subtractive spectrum, called subtractive because wavelengths of light are absorbed when mixing one or more colors together instead of added as in the additive spectrum, has a different set of primaries. These colors are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. An interesting observation is that the primaries of the additive spectrum (Red, Green, and Blue) are the secondary colors of the subtractive spectrum, and likewise the primaries of the subtractive spectrum are the secondary colors of the additive spectrum.  This is because of the reverse effect of dealing with light addition verses light subtraction. Complementary colors are opposites, providing you use the correct color wheel. When mixed, they  should result in gray or black, not brown as conventional color theory teaches. A complementary color is the color that is left when you eliminate the hues that makeup a particular color. Cyan is made up of green and blue, thus leaving red as it's compliment. [look at the diagram below] An easy way to find a complementary color is to use the afterimage test. The longer your eyes rest upon a color, the more fatigued the stimulated photoreceptor cells become. This in turn causes them to lose sensitivity so that when your eyes are returned to a blank space, those colors remain muted and the paired primaries shine through strongly. Notice that in no way does the conventionally accepted color model of Red, Blue, and Yellow primaries fit in with these scientific discoveries. If Red and Blue are both primaries of paint, as traditional color theory tells us, then how can they be primaries of light too? 

Traditional color theory is just that, traditional. Discoveries in science have long since surpassed it, and it’s time for artist’s catch up. While there is still much to be discovered, many speculations of the past have been proven false. No favors are gained by holding onto these old theories. It is especially damaging when untrue theories are presented as facts by schools and art teachers. Only some of the ideas presented work, thus frustrating students and causing them to disregard color theory as a reliable source. Even through a glance at a science book, it is easy to see that traditional color theory no longer has any standing in our evolving knowledge. Peeking into history, shows that it's makeup possibly never even had any scientific basis to begin with, and was merely speculation. While some artists may get along fine without ever studying color theory, it is helpful for others to have an organized way of viewing such a complex subject. There is a large variety of color wheels and triads to choose from, but at the present, the CMY system seems to be the most scientifically accurate. However, in the end it comes down to what is most useful for the individual artist. Not only are there different styles to consider, but a landscape artist's palette may be different from a portrait artist's, and an illustrator's palette from a cartoonist's. As long as it is remembered that all color models are an attempt to organize an already existent world of color, studying it will only serve to further enable the artist to see new possibilities in color mixing and harmony. 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Class of 2014 / senior pictures

                      Thanks Angie for doing my senior pictures! You did a fantastic job, and it was fun to work with you. :) 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

breakfast with Sarah

1 piece of toast
1 fried egg
1/2 avacado
splash of lime juice

inspired by Hannah Nicole

Saturday, February 15, 2014

getting at it

"One of the most effective ways we sabotage ourselves from a life in the arts is by waiting for that imaginary day when "it" will be "easier." We think of going to the page or to the easel, and then we think, "It's too hard. If I wait a little, it won't be so hard." 
Waiting for art to be easy, we make it hard. We take our emotional temperature and find ourselves below normal, lacking in resolve. We would do it, we know we could do it, but we decided to wait until the doing of it is more effortless.
The truth is that getting at it is what makes getting at it easier. Each day that we write creates a habit of writing in us... It is easier and softer way to work today, if only for a few minutes, no matter how hard or impossible it seems. 
Most of us want not only to do it but to do it well. We want not just to write but to write brilliantly, not just to paint but to paint a masterwork. 
When we are not working, it is not because we are lazy. It is because we are frightened. We have bought into the idea that in order to work we must be able to work "well," and we are afraid of working poorly.
"I am willing to work poorly" is often a very good place to start. By surrendering our grandiose expectations, we come down to size. Being willing to work poorly, we may actually work very well. Some of the best work is done on the worst days. Some of the finest ideas lie at the very bottom of the well. 
It is the doing of work that makes work easier, the simple doing of work no mater how hard it may feel to begin."
 ~Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

in which we talk about being creative

Ever felt like a dry piece of bread? No ideas, no inspiration...  just dry? Have you ever wanted to be creative but just didn't know how? What is creativity anyway? Well, put on a pink top hat with sparkles + blue diamonds and put your mind on a roller coaster because we are going on a wild ride! We're going to look at three things to help you learn how to use your creativity: feelings, imagination, and action. 

First, let's define Creativity.
 Creativity is the use of imagination. You know, that thing you used as a little kid.
Okay, now we can go on.

#1- feel it
You're happy. How do you express it? Do you say, "I'm happy" or do you with twinkling eyes say "I feel like I am smothered in chocolate mint ice cream, covered in sprinkles, with cherries between my toes."... get the memo? Creativity starts when you have one foot in the box, and one foot out. 

#2 -one foot in, one foot out
So how do we do this one foot in, one foot out thing? Open up. Loosen up. Allow your mind to travel the roller coaster. Nothing is impossible... if you want, elephants can stand on one foot on top of a grape... and bananas can wear sparkly dresses and talk. Let yourself imagine in vivid greens and corals pinks. 

#3 -do it
Take that image you have created and put it into words, or paints, or music, or whatever you do! Practice. The more you use your imagination, the better you will get at it. Your life will be like teacups full of sunshine, and smiles dripping with joy.

And because I think it's important, I'm going to throw in a couple extra tips:
 - Creativity takes work. Eventually, you may find yourself having ideas flying into your head like a lady bug, but many times, frankly, it takes work. So, chose to be creative.
- Don't be afraid to fail. Not everything works, k? Not all my ideas develop. Sometimes that little idea turns into something great and that big idea? Well, it got stomped on and  thrown in the trash. Just keep swimming!

A couple misconceptions: 
- Only creative people can be creative. Psh. Some people are naturally creative, but that's doesn't mean you can't be creative too. Kids are creative right? The key is remaining creative when you grow up. Open your mind up... think like a kid again. Remember: anything is possible!
- Creativity starts with a completely original idea. This is huge... and totally wrong. Creativity can start from anything. You see a flyer with bright colors and it sets something off in you, later you see an umbrella with tiny monkeys on it, so you go home a paint a cup with monkeys and and bright colors. See? It's not stealing, it's inspiration and that's totally fine and dandy. 

We've looked at feelings, imagination, and action... and we've even looked at a few tips and some misconceptions!
Are you feeling creative yet? I am! So what are you waiting for? Get busy!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

pink skies for mama bear

In honor of Suzanne Lee Snyder
October 19, 1958 ~ January 22, 2014
and all other breast cancer
warriors, survivors,
and heroes.

You can read of Suzanne's fight with breast cancer here.
Thank you Haley Jane for allowing me to paint your beautiful photograph!