Color Basics – Using Color For Realistic Effects

Show Light and Form, Space and Distance

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Using Color For Realistic Effects

It is possible to manipulate the four characteristic in simple and basic ways to show light, form and space in your paintings. To be sure, there are many ways to use color in expressive and less realistic ways that will certainly work in your paintings.  But working with Chroma, Value and Temperature using the simple formulas listed below is and easy and almost fool-proof way to show light, form and space every time.

Form With Value

It is easy to show light and form with Value alone. Placing three different values in the proper locations will reveal what appears to be three-dimensional form on your two-dimensional piece of paper.  Knowing where to place each value is better understood by understanding the three conditions of light.

 Three Conditions of Light

There are three conditions of light – Light, Shade, and ShadowLight represents areas that are directly struck by the rays of some source of light.  Shade is often confused with Shadow.  Both represent areas that are not receiving direct light. The difference is that Shade represents areas of an object that are turned away from the light. Shadow represents areas where the direct light is blocked. Think of the difference as that between the shady side of a building and the shadow the same building casts on the ground.

Form In Color – Chroma, Value and Temperature

Rarely will you paint with black, white and grays only.  It is possible to show light and form with color by changing Value only.  This works best will colors that are inherently mid-value or dark. This is because it is then possible to get a broad range of values – especially dark values – without adding another color which then changes the underlying color. 

Getting even dark mid-values in light colors – yellows, oranges and reds – requires the addition of some other color. The result is a change in value along with a change in chroma or temperature or both.

Even when it is possible to show light and form with value without changing chroma or temperature, the illusion of light and form are enhanced by the effect each has to offer.

In objective reality, especially in sunlit scenes, the range of possible effects on chroma, value and temperature is vast. But, for our paintings, showing light and form is a simple as applying some simple “rules” for the different conditions of light.

Space and Distance

As with light and form, it is possible to show space and distance with only value. Quite simply by having the darkest darks in the foreground and the lightest lights in the background and visible transitions between each in the middle ground.

Also as with light and form, the visual impact is enhanced when color is introduced and both Chroma and Temperature are also varied.


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