COLOUR

Primary and derived colours

In the whole spectrum of colours there are three primary colours and three derived ones. Red, yellow and blue are primary colours (illustration 1). These colours are called primary because we can`t obtain them by mixing other colours with each other. Primary colours are so important because when mixed in pairs they make three other colours. Red colour mixed with the yellow one gives the orange colour, red with blue - the violet one, blue with yellow gives the green colour. Three primary colours mixed together give the black colour.

 1. Primary colours Mixing three primary colours together
Orange, violet and green colours can be  d e r i v e d  from appropriate mixing of red, yellow and blue colours. And that is why they are called derived colours (illustration 2).

2. Derived colours

One can easily notice that both tint and temperature of a derived colour depends on proportion of primary colours that are used to make it. Therefore if in the combination of red and yellow the yellow one dominates, the orange colour that we obtain will be brighter than when the red colour is dominant. If in the mix of blue and yellow colour more blue colour is added, the green colour will be darker than when more yellow colour is added.

Complementary colours

Now you already know that there are three primary colours: red, blue and yellow and three derived ones: orange, violet and green.

Do you know that pairs of colours placed opposite in the circle of colours when mixed together they give gray colour so they  c o m p l e t e  each other and that is why they are called complementary colours:

 red - green, blue - orange, yellow - violet. 3. The circle of colours

Pure and broken colours

 4. ANDRÉ DERAIN Charing Cross Bridge 1906 All primary and derived colours are pure colours. They make paintings bright and cheerful (illustration 4). The opposite of pure colours are broken colours. They are made by adding to each primary and derived colour some completing colour: green colour to red one, blue to orange and so on. Then vivid colours become more serious or sometimes even sad.
Try to perform an experiment. Take three white sheets of paper and put them down in front of you. Draw a circle on the left half of each sheet. Then, fill in circles with red, yellow and blue colour. Now stare at each circle close up for about one minute and suddenly point your sight at the right half of the sheet. On the clear half of the sheet you will be able to see a circle of the same size as the circle you have drawn on the left half. It is the same size but it is not the same colour. In the vicinity of the red circle you will see a red one for a moment, a violet circle - next to the yellow one and an orange one next to the blue circle. So, each of the three colours you were staring at induced its complementary colour.

This exercise confirmed a common everyday life rule. You have certainly seen a sunset many times. But, in the future, try to take an opportunity to see it one more time anew. Stare at the red face of the sun and then close your eyes. You will see the circle of the sun under your eyelid but it will be green (complementary colour of red). You can perform similar experiment with other complementary colours without even leaving your room. Stare at the warm yellow light of a lamp in the night-time and then look through the window - everything will seem to be blue or violet. This phenomenon which is connected with specific characteristics of our sight has sometimes been used by artists.

 5. PAUL SIGNAC Red tower. The view of Marseilles 1913 For example, the French artist Claude Monet painted the bay in Marseilles covered with sun. He showed gold-coloured sunshine and contrasted it with complementary blue and violet colour (illustration 5). So the painter treated shadows as if they lasted "in our eyes" after staring at the warm yellow colour and not as if they were gray. He or she concentrated on relations between coloured bruch strokes and on the harmony of colours in the work of art.

Temperature and relativity of colours

There are worm and cold colours in the world of colours. Red and orange colours (but also colours which are in their close vicinity in the circle of colours) are ranked as warm colours. Blue and green colours (and their "neighbours") are ranked as cold colours. Warm colours make us excited or sometimes even anxious while cold colours calm us down and soothe.

When you look at colours you may feel happy or sad. Our mood is influenced by colours. Painter can change painting`s mood using lighter or darker colours. It`s called the change of colour scheme.

We measure colours of a painting by the impression they make and feelings they evoke in us. But first of all we can`t measure temperature of a coloured stain because its temperature depends on surrounding stains.

 Illustration 6 Illustration 7

Perform an experiment. Put a red square in the middle of a green sheet of paper. Then put the same red square in the middle of an orange sheet of paper. Take a look at both red squares. They are identically red but the temperature of each red square seems to be different. Red colour seems hotter in the environment of the cold green colour than of the warm orange colour (illustration 6 and 7). And now try to do the same with blue squares put: them onto green and orange sheets of paper. Blue colour will seem warmer in the environment of another cold colour than in the vicinity of the warm colour (illustration 8 and 9).

 Illustration 8 Illustration 9

As you can see temperature of any colour is not steady but just the opposite - it is changeable and it depends on the temperature of a neighbouring colour. This rule of changeable temperature of colours depending on their neighbourhood is called the relativity of colours.

Contrast of colours

What is a contrast? It seams to be an antagonism of two different things, occurrences or expressions. A contrast occurs when after switching off the light we meet darkness or when we turn the radio switch the loud music is no more heard, there is silence. Try to find a contrast in your nearest surroundings.

 Illustration 10 We also know of a simultaneous contrast. It happens when two completely different things or occurences contrast with each other at the same time. Let's take a sun set. The ground is dark, while the sky is lighted with a magnificent red colour. How about a modern house with mountain peaks in the horizon (illustration 10). Between the building and the surrounding nature there are many contrasts. The smooth, wide surfaces of the walls and roof contrast with the jagged contours of the trees and restless mountains. We can say that in this illustration we see a contrast of shapes. Apart from that, the house is white, the vegetation is full of colours - black, yellow, green - the water in the lake, the sky, the mountain tops far in the distance are all of various tints of blue. Therefore in this painting we can also observe a contrast of colours.
In nature as well as in art the complementary colours contrast the strongest with each other. Therefore green contrasts the best with red, blue with orange and violet with yellow. These colours lie opposite to each other in the circle of colours.

In reality we have many types of contrasts - smaller and bigger ones. Every colour has many tints and that is why a stronger tint of blue will contrast differently with a weak tint of orange than a stronger one. Also a weak tint of green will have a different effect when placed next to a deep red colour than a light red and so on.

Range of colours and a colour accents

Here are two completely different paintings (illustration 11 and 12). There is however something they have in common. They were both painted in a narrow range of colours, which means that to paint them paints of similar colours were used, ones that lie near to each other in the circle of colours. In the first painting red and yellow dominate and thus we can say that it was painted in a narrow range of warm colours (illustration 11). The second painting is mainly made up of green and blue colours and it is therefore painted in a narrow range of cold colours (illustration 12).

 11. AD REINHARDT Abstract painting 1951 12. PABLO PICASSO Breakfast in the grass by Manet 1862

In paintings with narrow ranges of colours, no matter whether they are cold or warm colours, the colour contrasts have to be very small, subtle.

We speak of a wide range of colours when in one painting totally different colours meet, colours which are far away from eachother in the circle of colours. They therefore also differ in temperature - for example green, red, orange, blue and others. In such paintings the colour contrasts must be stronger, more obvious (illustration 13). What also happens is that an artist who is painting his masterpiece in a narrow range of colours suddenly notices that something is missing in his painting. He feels that it is too monotonous. He can then enliven his work, increase its force of impact even by adding a small contrasting stain. In illustration 14 this role is played by the red sky over the horizon.

 13. ROBERT DELAUNAY Windows 1911 14. ANDRZEJ WROBLEWSKI The blue chauffeur 1949

Such a coloured stain (sometimes several of them) usually of a higher temperature when added to a narrow range of colours we call a colour accent.

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HOW TO UNDERSTAND A WORK OF ART   1998