One of the essential reading texts for A Creative Approach is Colour: A workshop for artists and designers by David Hornung. I did the first four assignments from this workshop and included the results in my sketchbook.
I initially struggled with the terminology, as although the terms value and hue were already familiar to me in relation to colour, I was not used to chromatic grey, muted colour or prismatic colour. Once the book got to the stages of samples of chromatic greys with a broad range of hues and narrow value range I got stuck! I enlisted some help from my husband who, fortunately for me, used to be a lecturer in the BBC teaching technicians how colour television worked from the first basics of how the eye sees colour. A few explanations later and I went off to tackle the colour studies.
Each of the four assignments had two parts, the first part to produce samples in a broad range of hues and broad range of values, and the second part to keep a broad range of hues but key them to a narrow value range. Each sample was approx 6″ x 6″ and the shapes used were the same in each sample so the focus would be on the colour rather than the design. I purchased a new set of Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache in the recommended colours as given in the book, painted colour swatches and applied them as collage to a base colour painted directly into my sketchbook.
To test the samples where I was trying to key the hues to a narrow value range, I converted each image to greyscale.
Sample 1 – chromatic grey, broad hue, broad value
Sample 2 – chromatic grey, broad hue, narrow value
Greyscale image of sample 2
This greyscale image shows where I got the value of the green/yellow piece wrong. I re-read the book and it does say that yellows are always light in value. I made the mistake here of using the same base grey to add to all the hues I mixed, and I should have used a darker grey to make that adjustment to the yellow.
Sample 3 – muted colour, broad hue, broad value
Sample 4 – muted colour, broad hue, narrow value
Greyscale image of sample 4
Now this just proves that although I thought my values were quite close in the above sample, in reality they were really a long way out! I have distinct groupings where I got some of the values to match really closely but not across the full range of hues.
Sample 5 – prismatic colour, broad hue, broad value
Sample 6 – prismatic colour, broad hue, narrow value
By this stage I was actually running out of paint even though I had purchased new tubes to do these exercises!
Greyscale image of sample 6
Not particularly good on the value range in this sample either, although I deliberately steered away from yellow as I was keying to a dark value.
Sample 7 – broad saturation, broad hue, broad value
Sample 8 – broad saturation, broad hue, narrow value
Greyscale image of sample 8
This sample was pulled together by eye from all the colour swatches I had already mixed. I got reasonably close for much of it with just one darker and one lighter value jumping out.
This section in the book then finishes with free studies where the student is encouraged to play with colour without any constraints.
Half my paints had run out so I was limited in what I could do. This first one uses some of the swatches left from the samples above as the base layer. I then played with yellow, red and the two mixed to see how the colours changed across the background and depending on how they were applied.
Free painting in this next sample, again with my limited paints. I actually really like this sample, I think the limited hues unify the piece and the broad brush strokes show freedom and the liberation of the constraints of the earlier samples.
Now I really had run out of paints so I raided the leftover painted swatches. For this next piece I chose graduating greens for the background and then random strips of other hues on top. With this it is possible to see how the foreground colours seem to change depending on which green they appear against..
Finally a playful piece mixing circles and strips at random.
This was a very time consuming set of studies but very worthwhile. I gained a much greater understanding of the interplay of colours from working through the exercises rather than simply reading the book. I learned how my eye could be tricked with its reading of values, and how hard it is to mix a broad range of prismatic hues to a narrow value range. I learned that yellow really always does have a lighter value and that the line between a chromatic grey and a muted colour is very blurry.
Hornung, D (2004) Colour A Workshop for Artists and Designers Laurence King