Activate Inspiration by Sharla Jean Hoskin
December 19, 2017
Some artists develop an intuitive sense of color and others desire to dig deeply into theory to apply to their work. Thorough color study can span a diverse range of arts, sciences, and humanities. The exercises below have their roots in the 18th and 19th centuries, when art and science merged to study visual perception.
Easy to See Simultaneous Contrast
Simultaneous contrast occurs when two or more colors are viewed in the same visual field at the same time. The difference between the two colors becomes emphasized. This difference occurs in the visual system and is not a property of the color itself.
Exercise #1: Test the impact of a color change on another color.
- Use colored papers or painted backgrounds
- Apply a foreground color using acrylic paint or paper
- Describe what you see
- Can you create a design that uses this effect to add more color variation?
The illusion is most apparent, if the amount of value contrast between the colors is small. The color with the largest area will influence the color of lesser area. The brighter, more pure color will impact the color that is more neutral. Grays and tans are particularly influenced.
The Impact of After Image
The study of visual illusions that impact color evaluation also includes Successive Contrast or After Image. Successive Contrast means viewing the stimulus color and the impacted color sequentially. The appearance of a color can be changed because of another color viewed previously.
Focusing on a color produces the sensation of the complementary hue once the original stimulus is removed. The after image:
- Appears after the original image
- Is the complement of the original color
- Is less intense than the original
- Drifts and moves with eye movement
- Can be seen in the absence of light, such as closing your eyes.
Exercise #2: Try the same experiment with a different pair of complements. Can you create a design that uses this effect to add more color variation?
Seeing is Believing with Visual Mixture
Post Impressionist paintings introduced a sensation of light using small areas of color that mix together when viewed.
Exercise #3: As the Impressionists you can create the same illusion of light using visual mixture.
- Find or create large squares of color. Additive complementary colors work very well
- Cut paper into strips
- Weave strips of color together
- Compare of difference of the colors woven together with the large areas of the colors. What do you see?
- Compare of difference of the colors woven together on different background fields. What do you see?
Exercise #4: Try this with a small printed pattern or when framing your artwork.
Visual Balance using Spinning Colors
Optical mixing can also be achieved using spinning color. This was a technique to study visual perception of color and color mixing in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Exercise #5: Do you need another color for your palette?
- Spinner toys from a novelty or dollar store work very well for this color mixing experiment. Please avoid the style that has been recalled containing lead.
- Try the technique:
- Find colored paper or use colored pencils, markers or paint to create a design using the colors in your palette
- Cut a circle slightly larger than the spinner
- Make a hole in the center that will fit over the spinner
- Lighting conditions and speed of the spin will influence results
- Give it a whirl
By exploring color theory and artistic application, I hope you have enjoyed these simple exercises and generated some new ideas.
-Sharla Jean Hoskin
To read more about color theory and quilting, check out Sharla’s article “Following the Creative Path of Color Theory” from our Fall 2017 edition of Surface Design Journal “Color” (pages 18-25).