So what is Color?
"Color... is the result
of the physical modification of light by colorants as observed by the
human eye (called a perceptual process) and interpreted in the brain
(which introduces psychology)."(Meyer, p1) Therefore, there are three very important factors to describe
color: 1) the light source, 2) the colorant, and 3) the eye-brain
combination. The first two can be penned down by science, but the
third is quite elusive. There is actually also a forth component
that the color scientist typically leave out, but is important to the
astronomers and the artist alike; atmosphere. Atmospheric absorption
occurs when the transmitted or reflected light is absorbed by gases in the
air. Astronomers encounter this phenomena in the color (absorption
spectra) of the stars. Artists encounter it when viewing objects at a
distance, such as mountains.
Down and dirty, as an
artist what do we need to know?
White light can be thought of as a
mixture of all colors. This is known as additive color.
When the light strikes an object some
of the colors making up the white light are absorbed, while the rest is
reflected to our eyes. This is known as subtractive color because
some of the white light has been removed (absorbed) by the pigment in the
(example: a red circle absorbs all of the colors
from the white light except red which is reflected)
Receptors in our eyes send signals to
our brain informing it of what colors were present in the reflected light.
Then our brain forms the image.
As the distance between the object and
our eyes increases, more of the reds and yellows in the reflected light
are absorbed by gases in the air making the object appear less saturated
The artist has to try to reproduce the light
absorbing qualities of the object and the affect of the atmospheric
absorption, if there is any, by mixing paints. To better understand how to
undertake this mission it helps to understand how mixtures of light and
pigment behave. One organized approach is the use of a color
geometric solid or the more common two-dimensional color wheel.
There are essentially two primary color
wheels: additive and subtractive. These two color wheels are
complements of each other and for some reason give most people much grief
in understanding them. They are both covered in depth in the
subtractive color wheels. The idea behind this tertiary color (3
primary colors) wheel is that mixtures of cyan (light greenish blue),
yellow, and magenta (a bluish red) can be created that simulate the the
same absorption and reflection of light exhibited by objects in nature as
they are viewed by the human eye.
You might recognize these colors as those
used by color inkjet and laser printers. This color wheel is the
more accurate version of the historical primary color wheel consisting of
blue, red, and yellow. It works fairly well.
As I mentioned earlier, color geometric
models such as the color wheel we just looked at were developed by both
artist and scientist. All of them have strengths and weaknesses and
were not necessarily developed for the same purposes, although some have
tried to adapt them to other purposes. Sometimes successfully, most
often not. One main point to remember is that additive color
geometric models are only valid for light and cannot be used to describe
subtractive colors created by mixing paints.
The next section,
color science, explores the nature of
light in more detail. It also describes the relationship between the
additive and subtractive color wheels and the color models developed to
accurately describe color. If you wish you can skip that section and
continue with Artist's Color Wheels.
© 2007 Marc J. Surrency. surrencystudios.com. Physical or electronic reproduction in whole or part
is unlawful without written permission of the artist.