Colour in Painting
COLOURS IN FINE
Use of Colour in Painting
In keeping with its status as one of the leading "visual" arts, painting is heavily dependent upon the use of colour for its impact, mood and depth. The impact of colour on the visual senses of the viewer is extremely potent and even one tiny dab of brightly coloured pigment in an otherwise monochromatic picture can transform the work. Even the earliest exponents of prehistoric cave painting (30,000-12,000 BCE) were experts in the use of primitive pigments, as exemplified in the monochromatic Chauvet paintings, the polychrome Lascaux murals and the vivid paintings at Altamira.
With the invention of oil painting in Europe during the early 15th century, which greatly improved the colour luminosity and richness achievable by both tempera on wood panels and fresco mural painting, the practice of colour painting took a significant leap forward.
What is a Hue?
What is a Shade?
What is a Tint?
What are Primary colours?
The effects of colour can be purely optical (eg. draws the viewer's eye), emotional (eg. cool colours like blue or green have a calming effect, while red or yellow are more stimulating to the senses), or aesthetic (eg. the beauty that springs from the juxtaposition of two or more harmonious colours), to name but three. In keeping with the principles of colour theory and the layout of the colour-wheel, all these effects on the viewer will also vary according to the combination of hues (actual colours) present, their luminosity (the degree of light or dark they possess) and chroma (the purity of the hue). In addition, a colour's impact varies according to its neighbouring colours on the canvas. A grey surrounded by blue will appear cool, while grey surrounded by yellow appears warm. A final influence on how colour is perceived, is the overall range of tones present in the painting - known sometimes as the tonal key. A dab of (say) yellow on a canvas with an overall low (dark) tonal key (eg. a Rembrandt picture) will have different impact than in one with a high tonal key.
The earliest principles of colour theory in fine art were set out by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) in his treatise "On Painting" Della Pittura (1435), and by the High Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks (c.1490). In any event, the importance of "colorito" was taken especially seriously by the great Old Masters of European art, who were experts in the mixing and application of pigments, and meticulous students of the tonal effects of light. They understood the principles of colour theory - including colour-hues, intensity, and tones - and knew exactly when to use certain colours and how to harmonize them across the canvas. Seen from a distance, their skill levels are even more impressive due to the lack of manufactured paints, and the fact that most pigments (some of which were extremely expensive) had to be ground by hand, a messy and time-consuming process. Further colour theory appeared at the end of the Baroque with the publication of Isaac Newton's Opticks (1704). But the practice of colour painting only really changed during the 19th century when Impressionism startled many art critics with its revolutionary light-related optical theories and colour practices, which introduced a whole new pictorial language into fine art painting. For more on this, please see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.
What are Secondary Colours?
What are Complementary
What are Tertiary Colours?
The colour (hue) of a paint which comes from its pigment, is mixed with other basic ingredients as follows:
What are Analogous colours?
What is the Colour Wheel?
MEANING OF ART
QUESTIONS ABOUT FINE ARTS
Watercolour and Gouache Paint
No. Acrylic paint is the fastest-drying, and its colour changes slightly as it dries. Watercolour is also quite fast-drying and watercolours also change hue during the drying process. In contrast, oil paint dries much more slowly, and its hues do not change. Moreover, as it dries, more paint can be added, to create exceptionally rich colours. These attributes of workability and luscious colour tone make oil paint the preferred choice of most master painters.
Stone Age Colour
Egyptian Colour Palette
Classical Colour Palette
Renaissance Colour Palette
19th Century Colour Palette
Pigments and dyes are the ingredients that impart colour to the paint. The word "colourant" is commonly used for both dyes (and other dyestuffs) and pigments. The basic difference between pigments and dyes is solubility (their ability to dissolve in water). Whereas a dye is, or can be made, soluble, a pigment tends to be more insoluble. Thus pigments must be ground into a fine powder and then very thoroughly mixed with their carrier liquid, such as oil/water, before being applied. Pigments can be made from dyes via a special process.
Most paint-pigments come from metals (metallic ores or compounds) or plants, although some derive from animal or fish products, as well as charred wood or bone.
Artist Pigments Derived From Metals
Artist Pigments/Dyes Derived From Plants
Artist Pigments Derived From Animal/Fish
Artist Pigments Made From Charred Wood/Bone
Colour Painting During the Stone Age
Colour Painting in Egypt
Colour Painting in Ancient Greece and
Colour Painting in the Renaissance
Academic Traditions of Colour Painting
20th Century Colour Palette
20TH CENTURY PAINT
A-Z Paint Colours
Colour Painting During the 17th and
19th Century: Impressionism and Other
Expressionism/Colour Field Painting
Impressionism coincided with the invention of the collapsible tin paint tube in 1841, by American painter John Rand, which made more pre-mixed colours available in a convenient medium. In addition, paint manufacturers like the Sherwin-Williams Company began urgently trying to perfect a formula that would keep fine paint particles suspended in Linseed oil. In 1880, after more than a decade of chemical research, the company produced a formula that far exceeded the quality of oil paints then available. Since then, artist-paint manufacturers have produced an ever-growing range of pre-mixed oil paints, virtually eliminating the need for hand-ground pigments, and revolutionizing the practice of oil painting in the process.
In addition, the appearance of acrylic painting in the 1940s (initially developed by the German chemist Dr. Otto Rohm) has provided painters with an even more convenient alternative to slow-drying oil colours. Thus technological advances in the manufacture of oil-based and now acrylic-based pigments has (and continues to have) a major influence on the theory and practice of colour painting.
New Synthetic Colourants
The laboratory invention of synthetic pigments to replace the more costly colours made from organic or other naturally occurring dyestuffs, has also had a huge impact on paint manufacture, and thus on fine art painting. One of the first modern synthetic pigments, discovered by chance in 1704, was Prussian Blue. Many other natural pigments were successfully synthesized by chemists, including Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Umber. By the early 19th century, more synthetic blue pigments had been created, including French ultramarine, an artificial form of lapis lazuli, along with laboratory versions of Cobalt and Cerulean Blue. In the early 20th century, organic chemists created Phthalo Blue, a synthetic pigment with enormous tinting power. By the end of the 19th century, thanks to both the organic chemists and the paint manufacturers, a wide range of oil paint colours - such as red, crimson, blue, and purple - had become available in affordable formats. Furthermore, because many pigments were now being made from chemical components under laboratory conditions, much higher standards of quality and consistence - in the composition and durability of colours - became possible. Thus in 1905, chemists were able to develop the Munsell Color System, a measurement system which became the foundation for a series of colour models. Among other things, the system classified colours by hue, value (lightness), and chroma (purity of colour).
One of the major developments in colour painting during the 20th century has been the creation of a number of colour systems designed to classify and standardize the attributes of pigments, to improve manufacturing and labelling consistency. The main systems include:
Before listing some of the most famous exponents of colour work, it is important to remember that, (as described above), between roughly 1400 and 1800 painters were severely circumscribed in their application of colour, due to prevailing academic theories of fine art. Colour was an integral but supportive element in the process of picturemaking, and artists were obliged to be extremely subtle in their choice and use of pigments. Thus the greatest colourists were those whose palette captured and celebrated the precise mood of their picture, rather than those who employed the most vivid pigmentation. Only later, in the 19th century, did painters feel at liberty to treat colour as an independent form of expression and endow it with the importance it deserved. Modern colourists are therefore noted for much greater freedom in this area.
van Eyck (1390-1441)
17th Century Colourists
Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
18th Century Colourists
19th Century Colourists
Vittore Grubicy De Dragon
Van Gogh (1853-1890)
20th Century Colourists
von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
de Stael (1914-55)
White is a balanced mixture of all the colours of the visible light spectrum, or a combination of two complementary colours, or three or more colours, like additive primary colours. It is neutral or achromatic (devoid of colour), like black and grey. It is added to pigments to create tints or lightened hues.
Shades of white include: Cream, Ivory, Magnolia, Old lace, Seashell. White Pigments for this colour include: Bismuth white, Bone white, Ceruse, Chalk, Chinese white, Cremnitz white, Flake white, Tin white, and Titanium white.
Red (the word derives from Old English "Read" and the Indo European root "reudh-") is one of the additive primary colours of light, complementary to cyan, in RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colour systems. In addition, Red is one of the subtractive primary colours of RYB (Red, Yellow, Blue) colour space.
Red Pigments include: Alizarin crimson, Cadmium red, Carmine, Cinnibar, Folium, Indian red, Kermes, Light red (English red, Prussian red, colcothar, and Persian red), Madder, Minium, Safflower, Sinopia, Terra Pozzuoli, and Vermilion. Shades of red include: Alizarin, Amaranth, Burgundy, Cardinal, Carmine, Carnelian, Cerise, Crimson, Fire engine red, Fuchsia, Magenta, Maroon, Orange-red, Persimmon, Ruby, Rust, Scarlet, Terra cotta, Venetian red, Vermilion.
Pink is a pale tint of red, obtained by
adding white. The word was first used in the late 17th century to describe
flowering plants. Shades of pink include: Amaranth, Brink pink,
Carmine, Carnation, Cerise, Cherry pink, Coral, Deep carmine, French rose,
Fuchsia pink, Hot magenta, Hot pink, Lavender rose,
The colour orange is mid-way between red and yellow in RGB colour space, and is one of the tertiary colours on the HSV colour scale. The colour is named after the fruit which was first imported into Europe as "naranja". The word "orange" was first used as a colour-term in 1512. Previously, the colour was simply known as yellow-red. Shades of orange include: Amber, Apricot, Burnt orange, Carrot, Peach, Mandarin, Portland Orange, Pumpkin, Tangerine.
The tertiary colour brown refers to dark yellow, orange, or reddish hues. Brown pigment can be obtained by adding black or their complementary colours to rose, red, orange, or yellow. The first recorded use of brown as a colour term occurred around 1000 CE.
Brown Pigments include: Asphaltum
(Bitumen), Bistre, Mummy (Egyptian brown), Sepia, Sienna, Umber and Van
Dyck brown. Shades of brown include: Auburn, Beige, Bistre, Bole,
Bronze, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber,
Yellow (the word comes from the Old English "geolu", or "geolwe") is one of the subtractive primary hues. Its traditional RYB complementary colour is purple, violet, or indigo; its complementary colour in both RGB and CMYK colour systems is blue.
Yellow Pigments include: Aureolin, Aurora yellow, Cadmium yellow, Chrome yellow, Fustic, Gallstone, Gamboge, Gold, Indian yellow, Massicot, Naples yellow, Orpiment, Quercitron yellow, Saffron, Turner's yellow, Turpeth mineral, and Yellow Ochre. Shades of yellow include: Amber, Apricot, Beige, Cream, Flax, Gamboge, Golden yellow, Lemon, Metallic gold, Mustard, Papaya, Peach-yellow, Tangerine yellow.
Grey (also gray)
The term grey, first coined in England around 700 CE, describes the tints and shades from black to white. Low in chroma, these, colours are known as achromatic or neutral colours.
Grey Pigments include: Davy's grey, Neutral tint (lampblack, Winsor blue and alizarin crimson), and Payne's grey. Shades of gray include: Arsenic, Bistre, Charcoal, Davy's grey, Feldgrau, Payne's grey, Silver Slate.
In the subtractive system, Green is a secondary colour obtained from a combination of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan. But it remains one of the additive primary colours. In the HSV colour wheel, its complementary colour is magenta - a purple hue with an equal mixture of red and blue light. On the RYB colour wheel its complementary colour is red. The word green derives from the Old English "grene" or "groeni", words closely related to the Old English word "growan", meaning "to grow".
Green Pigments include: Emerald (Schweinfurt green, Scheele's green), Hooker's green, Malachite, Oxide of Chromium, Sap green, Terre Verte, Verdigris, and Viridian. Shades of green include: Army green, Asparagus, Bright green, British racing green, Celadon, Emerald, Fern, Frog, Jade, Lime, Moss green, Olive green, Pine, Shamrock green, Viridian.
Can refer to a variety of colours in the blue/green section of the spectrum. It is sometimes called aqua-green or blue-green, and used to be called "cyan blue". Analogous colours include "baby blue", "turquoise" and "aquamarine".
Blue (derived from the French word "bleu") is considered one of the additive primary colours. On the HSV Colour Wheel, its complementary colour is yellow. On a colour wheel based on traditional colour theory (RYB), its complement is orange. The English language commonly uses "blue" to refer to any colour from navy blue to cyan.
Blue Pigments include: Azurite, Cerulean, Cobalt blue, Cornflower blue, Egyptian blue (Alexandrian blue, Vestorian blue), French ultramarine, Frit, Indigo, Phthalocyanine blue, Prussian blue, Smalt, Ultramarine, Ultramarine ash, and Woad. Shades of blue include: Air Force blue, Azure, Baby blue, Cobalt blue, Cornflower, Denim, Electric blue, Klein blue, Midnight blue, Navy blue, Prussian blue, Royal blue, Sapphire, Ultramarine.
First used about 1400 to describe violets, the term usually describes a shade of purple, that is, a mixture of red and blue light. Violet pigments include: Archil and Tyrian purple. Shades of violet include: Amethyst, Fuchsia, Heliotrope, Indigo, Lavender, Lilac, Mauve, Purple.
Black reflects no light, and is not a colour of the spectrum, nor does it appear on the colour wheel. Even so, as a pigment it is added to other colours to create darker variants or shades. Black Pigments include: Black lead, Ivory Black, Lamp Black, and Vine Black.
For more about colour pigments in painting, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART