To understand light is to understand Color.
All colors go toward either blue or yellow. Weird, but true. Even reds. All light sources have a color too. Warm or cool. Again, weird, but really fascinating.
A flag of a “learning/beginning ” artist is painting a red object red, and the object stays red in the highlights and then also gets painted darker red, (or worse) all black in the shadows. Nope. Reality doesn’t happen that way. A red object as it gets closer to the light source will “rotate” around other colors until reaching the color of the light. So that red apple (sitting in the warm, yellow-y sun) will become more orange-red, then orange, then yellow-orange and then yellow in the highlights. Because that is the color of the light. What does this look like? Study the apple in the photo above. It shows this concept pretty well. It can be better seen in real life. As the apple gets lighter, it is no longer red, but more orange and then more yellow- because the light source is yellow. Squint. You will see it. Cool huh?
Great paintings typically have a clear color to the light source and it is interesting to study how those colors on the objects/models rotate “toward the light”. (I love this phrase)
I recently came across these 2 paintings below by artist Rob Rey and they are great examples of light source color and how color rotates out from the source as the light drops off. They are appropriately called “Bioluminescence” I and II. The mouse is clearly the source for the warm light and it is so beautiful the way the light hits the lanterns. Very warm color as everything gets closer to the mouse, and getting cooler and bluer (yes, blue-er as well as darker) as it goes away from him and hits the lamp on the right. (it is subtle– look hard) The light is yellow-orange for sure. Everything is kept very warm and as the lanterns get more “lit” (closer to the source- the mouse) the surfaces get more yellow-orange as it “goes to the light… Think of the lanterns as going through these jumps through color until it gets to the light source. It helps to look at the color wheel below it.
So as the light across the floor gets darker and further away from the source, not only does it get darker in value, but it also gets redder. Then more violet.
Looking at the color wheel above to understand what is going on, the hue family of yellow-orange is rotated to the “top” of the wheel. This is the color of the light- the mouse. Now look at the painting above again and see how all objects “go to the light” moving through these colors. I often put a color wheel next to me while I am painting with the color of the light at the “top” of the wheel (like above) to remind myself that a particular color represents the color of the light and everything else needs to fall away from the source.
The next painting below has a bird as the source of the light and it is clearly now a cool light. So the color wheel gets rotated – blue-green would now go on “top” of the wheel this time. As everything moves away from the bird, more blue then green appears.
Notice the closest lantern in the foreground, ….see how the form rotates toward more greenish as it goes into the shadows? So as the lantern gets darker, its color rotates toward green which is warmer than the source…. (got more yellow in it…so yes, green in this case acts warm.)
This is a bit of a deep dive into color and light this week, but it can be very helpful to understand how the local color of an object is not fixed. It is always affected by light.
I will be posting an upcoming online workshop on Color and Light this Spring- be on the lookout for it!
If you have questions, let me know and keep those color wheels handy while you paint….