Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Attributes of Color: Terms of Confusion



"Low Tide Rocks" 6x9 pastel
Private Collection

While I'm traveling for the next few weeks, I am re-posting some of my older blog posts.  With that in mind, here is my next re-post, from August 17, 2011.


Above is a 6x9 pastel demonstration I did today.  In it, I tried to capture the sense of light and shadow by playing warm and cool colors off one another.  In the shadows on the beach, I started with a bright (intense) purple, and then dulled it down with a greyed (muted) green, followed by a dark (low in value) blue.  Why all the parenthetical terms?  Let me explain.

Sometimes when I have a new group of students and we talk about color in the plein air landscape, questions arise. Is "tone" the same thing as "value"? When you say "brighter," do you mean "lighter"? Well, yes, tone is value. No, when I say "brighter," I suppose I should say "more intense."

Part of this has to do with the fact that each attribute of color may have more than one acceptable name to describe it. Another part has to do with an inadequate art education. I can't do much about the first, but I sure do my best to help with the second. So, for the record, here are the attributes and the different things they may be called.

Value. (Synonym: Tone.) How light or how dark a color is. This has nothing to do with the hue of a color. It can apply equally well to a purely neutral grey. A tint is a light version of a color, often with white added; a shade is a darkened version of it, often with black added. There is an absolute dark (black, the absence of all colors) and an absolute light (white, the presence of all colors.)

Temperature. (Synonym: None that I can think of.) How hot or how cold a color is. Sometimes related to color, e.g. blue is "cool" and reds are "warm," but not necessarily, as you can have a cool red and a warm blue. I would argue that temperature is relative in that there is no color that is absolutely cold or hot; temperature of one color depends on the temperature of other colors adjacent to it. Think about it - the color wheel has zones of warmth and coolness, but it has no beginning or end.

Chroma. (Synonyms: Intensity, richness, saturation.) How pure or how greyed the color is. A color may be muted, neutralized, calmed, dulled or greyed by the addition of a complement, white or black. When speaking of pigments, since no pigment is absolutely a single, precise color, the addition of any other pigment, no matter how close on the color wheel, will cause a certain amount of greying. Chroma has nothing to do with value; you can have a light rich color and a light dull color and still have the same hue.

Hue. (Synonym: Color, but it is an unfortunate term because color is really a sum of all the attributes - hue, chroma, temperature and value.) Hue is a particular color's place on the visible light spectrum.

(First posted August 17, 2011)

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