I’m absolutely hopeless with matching my paint colours with those in my reference photo/objects. In fact at times my methodology doesn’t feel much better than ‘straight from the bottle’.
I have often tried to improve my matching abilities but it always ends in frustration. Sometimes it seems impossible to get the right colours. Skin tone would be a good example. No matter how many times I mix, no matter in what various directions I try to take the colour, I never can seem to get close to a match.
Here are three major problems I come up against.
- Because of adjacent, surrounding colours, the colour looks different in isolation than it does on the canvas in proximity to some other colour.
- The paint’s colour feels as if it changes when it is in a thick glob on the palette to when it is thinly spread on the canvas.
- Because I paint several layers one on top of the other, and in particular because I paint colour on top of a black and white underpainting, the colour I apply to the canvas is always going to be modified by what is beneath it anyway.
Now as much as I want to improve my colour matching skills, there is another school of thought within me. And that is that exact colour matchings are not particularly relevant.
This idea stems from the fact that in the end, despite a sense that I was way out with my colour matchings between painting and reference during the execution, my final painting seemed reasonably realistic.
But also, as Anthony has pointed out many times, with many different illusions (e.g. the blue strawberries [http://anthonywaichulis.com/a-rose-by-any-other-color/], or our inability to accurately describe the colours on a Rubik’s cube etc) we are very weak when it comes to colour determination.
From these optical illusions, can’t we extract a moral of the story along the lines that we needn’t care too much about precise colour details?
As was mentioned in this talk What Does Realistic Look Like (can’t find the link anymore sorry), the eye didn’t evolve to be precise, it evolved to keep people alive and able to survive and thrive in the environment in which they were in.
But when I think about it, I can’t think of any life or death situations where humans are reliant on being able to highly discriminate colours. Similarly I can’t think of situations where the ability to judge colour to the nth degree would have been advantageous (though I’m happy to be proved wrong here, if someone can think of some examples).
Let’s take the issue of berries for example. Yes it might be important to discriminate between ripe red berries and unripe green ones, but this hardly requires any profound level of colour discrimination.
Another example that I thought might counter my arguments would be camouflage. If we think of a crocodile hiding on a bank, we might be tempted to think that our ancestors might have evolved to pick up on minute colour differences between the crocodile and the grass/bush/vegetation that surrounds it.
However grass/bush/vegetation comes in all shades of green and brown. So I would therefore conclude that when a crocodile is camouflaged it’s not because its colour precisely matches its surroundings. In fact this suggests that a crocodile can be camouflaged precisely because humans are not great at colour discrimination.
Indeed, when we spot a crocodile hiding in the bushes what comes to the fore in my eye is that we recognise its key features: precisely those, I believe, that we would represent by a line drawing of it, which again comes back to what Anthony has often said about our eyes being drawn to areas of change, e.g. edges and boundaries etc.
Another aspect to this issue is the following. Last year I did a painting of a teddy in a sweater. The sweater was brown but in the painting I changed it to blue because I had a nice blue that I wanted to incorporate. Now the question is, is there anything wrong with this?
Here’s the thing. How would anyone know the difference? Sweaters come in all colours. So why would anyone care if the colour had been modified from reference to finished work?
I suppose a counter argument to that would be that the blue sweater is a (very, very weak) light source and therefore the (very weak) light it radiates will affect the surrounding objects. But then, if they themselves don’t have ‘fixed, standard’ colours I wonder how relevant that really is.
I think it would be appropriate to use the term canonical colour of an object (unless there is another term in use) to describe the ‘normal, standard’ colour of a given object.
Thus apples are red, yellow and green, the sea is blue, green, grey etc.
However it seems obvious to me that most objects don’t have a canonical colour. Furthermore, those that do – like apples for example – often show great variance between at least a couple of different hues. Moreover, given that the light falling on the apple can change dramatically, I’m tempted to say that it really shouldn’t matter too much what the colour of the apple is.
Because the observer of your art work doesn’t know the colour of the reference apple nor either the lighting of the original setting, there is surely great scope to be careless.
For example, suppose I get taken to court because my apple is accused of being too green. Now technically this might be completely true. I might look at my reference apple and think yes, it should be a yellower shade of green. However, I’m not in trouble, because even if I admit that the colour of the apple is too green (and I don’t even have to do this, because I can just claim it was a very green apple in the reference ) I can just say that the lighting was such that the apple took on that aspect of green.
But ever further, is there anyone who doesn’t know what this is?
It seems to me that in this day and age, we are very familiarised with seeing any object in any colour. A blue apple might have seemed strange to someone from the 18th century but to us, it’s hardly a big loss of realism.
In fact I would say that the Dutch masters could have gotten away with blue apples in their works such was the skill of their handiwork otherwise. The only situations where I could imagine a blue apple being problematic might be in impressionism and other loose genres, where line work is often minimal.