Looking for Colors in Art

I am trying to learn more about color in a systematic way, and have been working through Color Theory Made Really Easy by Sandra Angelo (for sale used here).  The next step is Tertiary Intensities color charts (e.g. gradually mixing blue-green with red-orange).  I questioned the value of this exercise, since I don’t own any tertiary paints and never mix four watercolors together.  So I set those aside and looked at her next assignment, which was to figure out which color charts to use for various photographs.  I found this very difficult without those tertiary charts, and decided to try something easier; I decided to analyze the color in art, where every color has been deliberately chosen.

I picked up the book The Best of Pastel, collected by C. F. Pratt and J. Monafo, got out my color wheel and charts, and started with the first paintings, spending several minutes with each one, until I figured out the pattern of colors the artist had used.  I was astonished!  They really do this.  I mean, I had been limiting my palette to create harmony, but these paintings showed evidence of those triangles and squares on the back of color wheels.  I will show three examples.

Pink Tea Cup II, pastel, Marie Kash Weltzheimer

Pink Tea Cup II, pastel, Marie Kash Weltzheimer

To my clueless eye this at first looked like a nice pastel with some pretty colors.  Then I picked out that most of the colors are blue-violet on one side of the color wheel (see it not only on the tablecloth but in the shadows in the teacup), and its complementary, yellow-orange (grapes), and triad, red-orange (teacup), and yellow-green (grapes).  They’re gorgeous!

The Endangered Panda, pastel, Donna L Arntzen

The Endangered Panda, pastel, Donna L Arntzen

Next I saw this panda in the moonlight, and all I could see at first was the greyed green.  But I made myself decide it was a greyed blue-green, and then looked across the color wheel.  Was there red-orange in it?  No.  But when I looked wider on the wheel to the triad, yellow-orange and red-violet, and began to look for them, they leaped off the page at me.  See them in the face and lighter area above the head?  Marvelous!

Sunday Afternoon, pastel, Peggy Ann Solinsky

Sunday Afternoon, pastel, Peggy Ann Solinsky

But this one is just amazing.  It looks like a photograph, right?  But when I checked it out, I could only find two colors: blue and orange.  As far as I can tell, everything in this painting is a value or intensity of blue and orange, with either white or the white of the paper.  If this were done in watercolor, only two paint tubes would be required, but with pastel she probably used a range.

There were some paintings where I couldn’t find a pattern, and I noticed that those paintings hadn’t appealed to me, right from the start.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at paintings the same again.

I also learned that those tertiary intensity charts would be useful, especially for pastel, so I plan to do those next.

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