Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Color is White?

Actually, the question could be, "what color is anything?" but I've chosen white because we often, as painters, get hung up with the color of something we're trying to paint, and white seems to cause the most problems of all.
Here's our first example:

that sample cropped from the painting is part of the white teapot. "But it's not white!" you say.


What happens to us as we stand before a landscape, or a beautiful still life arrangement, is that we look at the objects and think of what they are in a literal sense. "That's a white house", we say to ourselves. Or maybe, " I'll be painting that beautiful white ceramic bowl with the blue design on it."

What we are really painting is how our eyes react to the light, or lack of light, on an object.

A better way to approach painting anything, no matter what the object, is to first ask a couple of questions.
1. Is it in the light or in the shadow? (news flash: it has to be in one or the other!!)
2. Is the value darker or lighter than what it is adjacent to?
3. Is the color warmer or cooler than what it is adjacent to?
4. Is it getting reflected light?
5. Is it part of the focal point of this painting?

I'll be looking at those questions a little bit in the next few posts. For tonight, here's the first one.

1. Is it in the light or in the shadow?

What we're really painting is how our eyes react to light. So, forget for the moment what you think the literal color of something is. Forget that it is a "white house" and just look at how the light is falling, or not falling on it. Paint that color, whether it be a pale yellow or a deep purple, or a greenish orange. A good rule of thumb is that if something is in shadow, it's probably darker than you think it is.
Another consideration, especially troublesome with white, is that you almost NEVER use pure white. A white ceramic bowl, in the light, will still not be pure white. You must leave room for that very brightest spot of highlight where the light hits the high point of the object. THAT highlight MIGHT be pure white, but if you paint the whole lit section of a bowl white, then you have nowhere to go to put the highlight. So, consider a "light white" for your lit section, and a "dark white" for the shadow side.

Next post: Cows and values!

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