Sunday, July 26, 2009


In response to Rhonda Carpenter's request for more information on my last post, I will describe what I am trying to accomplish.

Faber Birren devoted his life to the study of color. Perhaps the most complicated of all the elements of design. In his book "Creative Color", he devised this schematic shown above where you have HUE (PURE COLOR) WHITE & BLACK in an equilateral triangle. If you combine HUE with WHITE you create a color called a TINT. If you combine HUE with BLACK you create a color called a SHADE. Lastly, if you combine WHITE with BLACK you get GRAY. He places each of these between the HUE, WHITE AND BLACK. In the center is what is called a TONE. A TONE is created when you mix GRAY (BLACK & WHITE) with a HUE or when you neutralize a HUE by adding it's compliment. By adding a compliment you are in effect combining all three primary colors in some ratio. Even a small addition of the 3rd primary creates a dulled color. So, you can see that this "triangle" has lines connecting each to the other where there is some common element. The idea that he had was to draw a straight line through three connecting "words" and create a painting using only these aspects of color. Why? You would have a natural harmony because each element has a relationship with one of the others. This is also a way to establish mood.

So, within this concept, a HUE must be a pure color. Many tubes of paint are mixtures and already TINTS, SHADES OR TONES. Magenta was one of those colors that was already altered. It would not work with the HUE/TINT/WHITE painting, as I found out. I should have known in advance but it isn't always easy to see the subtle alteration of a color. Watercolor makes this idea more difficult because the TINT is created by adding water instead of white pigment. At what point does HUE become TINT? I don't really know but will use my best judgement. Another factor making watercolor so challenging for this project is the transparent nature of watercolor. With color glazing I am getting tones when I don't want them. An opaque paint such as acrylic would be much easier to create the effects. I struggle on! Above is my watercolor version of WHITE/TONE/SHADE.

Color can be parsed very mathematically but I am not interested in "exact". I am satisfied with "approximate". I am intriguied by the concept and the visual result of following these color design formulas. If I get a general approximation of the effect by following the guidelines, I am not going to stress over a minor infraction.

Just to complicate the matter further, consider the aspect of DOMINANCE. If there are three items to work with, they could be used equally or one could dominate and the other two could be very minor or one could dominate, one could subordinate and the third could be very minor....think "PAPA, MAMA, BABY" or two could be equal and the third could be minor. When you switch the players around into the different positions you see why one lifetime isn't enough to grasp it all!

I have set the challenge for myself to paint the same image using a different combination of HUE, TINT, WHITE, GRAY, BLACK, SHADE & TONE and see what it looks like. The more I understand the more I have a powerful tool to express my ideas.
I am not going to try for all the variations of dominance within each grouping.

Rhonda,is your head spinning yet ? Aren't you sorry you asked!


Mary Paquet said...

Excellent explanation, Myrna. I remember trying to grasp this in Mike Bailey's workshop. Certainly you have mastered the verbal description for your book!

Mike said...

Great exlanation, Myrna! And good on ya, Rhonda, for asking!! Spend the time to understand what Myrna is saying here. If you do, your paintings will jump to life!

Just for the helluvit, Myrna, let's throw in a 12 hue color wheel, too. Magenta is, indeed, a pure hue . . . .permanent green light is the complement. They live at 7 o'clock and 1 o'clock respectively. The BRAND of magenta is the trick. Some go crazy when they are tinted . . . .almost to blue!! A good example of that is the quinacridones. A true magenta will tint nicely without turning more bluish.

Understanding intensity or saturation is the key to understanding Birren's simple harmony strategies. Once that is grasped, it is easy to see how each of his harmonies is a matter of intensity dominance.

The intensity concept is what simplified all of Birren's mumbo jumbo for me.

RHCarpenter said...

LOL! Not at all, Myrna! Very interesting - I am a color addict and love learning more about color. So your painting used Color/Hue + Tint (the color with white added) + White (the pure white of the paper or white gouache? Is that right? Will enjoy seeing you pick 3 others and doing them, too. I might have to play with this myself - will print out your info and see what comes out of it - little color studies are sometimes so freeing and you learn so much with them. Thanks for taking the time to explain!

Cindi said...

don't know about rhondas head, but mine is a i think i got some of the info, but the rest is flying around and not sticking.. so i will be back a few (or alot) more times, to try and soak it in... thanks myrna, for taking the time to 'splain... and if i can get smart enough here, i'll be back to ask a question or three lol.. thanks again for sharing!!

Myrna said...

Mike, it was a quin magenta and it made an extremely low intensity orange. Now I will have to post about Intensity since we had such a raging debate about the term in WCBO! Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

meera said...

Thanks for the explanation! -- I will have to come back and read your lessons a few more times :0

Nick said...

...though acrylic can be just as transparent as watercolor, and watercolor can be entirely opaque. yes?

Myrna said...

Yes, Nick, true enough. Adding to the stew! However, I tend to use acrylic in a more opaque manner and don't generally use gouache with my watermedia. I am tempted to go that route for these exercises.

Dan Kent said...

If ideas are power - this one is powerful! I never heard of anything like this before - amazing! I will definitely have to give it a try.

teri said...

You have a wonderful blog here, I will have to take a day to read all the topics that catch my eye, thank you in advance for such an artful blog. I was drawn to your blog searching out info on Marianne K Brown, author of WC by Design. I have found this book inspirational and would like to communicate with her but find no web address for her. Any ideas?

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