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All About Color

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All really great points! I am very much enjoying the dialogue and questions you guys are coming up with, definitely keep it coming. I am working on a write up for the answer for the black/white question and I promise it will be the next thing I address. I wanted to put it out for the equinox as I thought it would be very fitting to discuss the opposites on the day of equilibrium but alas work schedule and sickness got the best of me.


I actually struggled quite a bit with the realization that I was not able to see the full spectrum of color. That there were colors out there that I would never be able to see. (Fun Fact: The animal who can see the most colors is the Mantis Shrimp with 16 color receptive cones! Fitting as he is quite colorful himself) Why we developed the way we did and other animals developed differently remains a mystery. Scientists can make educated guesses and we can try to reason out potential theories. I personally believe that the development of our particularly enhanced perception of red and green was likely due to environmental navigation in some way, though the variety of specific theories as to what triggers may have caused it I don't have an opinion about.


I think it is important when discussing color to be specific in our vocabulary in order to not only reduce confusion within our own conversations and debates but also to be able to put some of the common misconceptions to rest and educate others. I am grateful to all of you who are here exploring the world of color with me!

Edited by Rainbow Sculptor
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Black and White are an interesting topic to discuss because it kind of depends on your perspective, I'll explain. We've discussed how our brains process color emotionally, to better understand white and black we need to do a brief review of how our eyes physically process color.


Our eyes see color as a result of light. Without light, color doesn't exist. Light waves get absorbed or bounce off of objects and the wavelengths that bounce back into our eyes are processed as visible color. This means that an orange is not inherently orange in color, just that it absorbs all the other wavelengths of light EXCEPT orange which bounces back into our eyes and we process that light as the color orange. So, what does this mean about black and white? 


Well, white and black don't actually have specific wavelengths of light. What we see as black is actually when an object absorbs all visible wavelengths of light. So black is not exactly a color as much as the absence of color. Oppositely white is what we see what all wavelengths bounce back at us and is therefore the combination of all colors combined. So white and black don't necessarily even exist. What we've been discussing here is called Additive Color Theory and it refers to how color functions in terms of light. This is the basis for computer screens, TVs, and how we see color in the natural world. However, that is dealing with color purely in the context of light and as painters we are interested in white and black as they relate to paint and psychology.


We know through experimentation that when you mix all colors of paint together you certainly don't get white. Maybe closer to a black but more likely a muddy brown color. Paint is a deposit of pigment or molecular coloring agents and is part of Subtractive Color Theory. In this context black is certainly a color because it is the result of combining all 3 primary colors. Obviously this isn't a true black, but close enough. Historically we've created black pigment through charcoal, metals, animal bones, the sooty residue from oil lamps, and more recently chemical combinations. According to Subtractive Color Theory then white would be the absence of color. You cannot add together any combination of pigments to create white. So then what's in a tube of white paint? Well, we create white pigment from ground up chalk, bone, or by using chemicals like zinc and titanium. The white of our paper is a result of bleaching the tree bark or pulp used to make the paper. So white could be considered a color in terms of pigment chemistry.


In terms of color psychology we know that white and black have pretty significant associations. White often being representative of purity, innocence, spirituality, cleanliness, simplicity, perfection, and openness. Black being perceived as it's opposite. Things like mysteriousness, power, things that are hidden, formal, powerful, serious, elegance, fear or death. So we certainly have an emotional response to these neutrals.


You may be thinking "Christie, you haven't answered the question of whether white and black are colors, only left me with more questions" ...yes, unfortunately that's probably true but let's zoom out a little.

We have the source of the color in question (either as a pigment/coloring agent or as a wavelength of light), we have the method in which the color is transmitted, and finally how our eyes are perceiving it and brain is processing it. 


Question: Are Black and White colors?

Answer: Black is not a color as it absorbs all wavelengths of light and therefore is the absence of color. BUT a black object may not be entirely black. It is a combination of several pigments that are absorbing most wavelengths of light but not all. In reality an object we call black may actually be reflecting some light. In the science of physics a black object absorbs ALL light. White is always considered a color because it reflects the entire visible spectrum of light back into our eyes. 


Conclusion: The colors we see are very rarely ever perfectly one thing. It is simply the degree to which we are perceiving the various wavelengths of light into our retinal cones for our brains to respond to. Scientifically speaking, black is not a color and white is. However, psychologically speaking we respond to them emotionally the same as any other hue and as painters we utilize these pigments on their own and to manipulate other pigments. I hope that helps to better understand this slightly more nuanced topic of color theory. 

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Thanks for this - informative, but even better in that you're accessible to ask questions of/discuss points.  I've tried to read color theory books before, and just end up either more confused or yawning.


On 9/20/2021 at 10:02 AM, Rainbow Sculptor said:

For me personally, I hate the color combination of yellow and blue.


This made me LOL involuntarily, because you would hate my office, where I'm currently sitting and reading this

4 hours ago, Corporea said:

I am trying to come to grips with my irrational dislike of orange, so hopefully this will give me some insight! ::D:

It's not irrational if you grew up in the 70s. :lol:

I have a similar dislike of the color orange, and I know mine goes back to my mother's home decorating in the 70s.  Orange was a predominant color, and I've tended to avoid it ever since, unless we're talking fall foliage viewing trips. 

Interestingly (to me, anyway), I forced myself to paint a mini using a Yellow/Orange color scheme a friend wanted a couple years ago, and liked it so much a wound up painting a whole skirmish unit in the same scheme.  Ever since then, I've found that I'm painting more and more orange not so much because I like the color, but because for some reason I've found it one of the easiest for me to get "right" (using Reaper MSP Triads, of course).   Which leads me to my color theory question for Rainbow Sculptor:

Are there colors that are easier to paint, or is it merely (as I suspect) just a matter of preferences and relative skills? 

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1 hour ago, kristof65 said:

Are there colors that are easier to paint, or is it merely (as I suspect) just a matter of preferences and relative skills? 


I think there are colors that are easier to paint, blue/purple/green come to mind in most circumstances. The warmer side of the spectrum tends to give people difficulties. Yellow paint is notoriously thin because there are no substances to create yellow pigment from that are both vividly pigmented AND opaque. Therefore we end up having to do lots of layers, utilize underpainting, and tweak a lot more than other more naturally vibrant paints. Value tends to have a lot to do with it in my experience. Painting lighter values tends to be more challenging then mid or darker values. Red I find pretty easy as it covers well, takes to white/black well, and can be mixed pretty effectively with other colors in a predictable way. I'm sure there's a lot of variation between what type of paint your using, what medium your working in overall, and as you pointed out skill level and preference. That's my two cents on it anyway lol

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Limited Color Palettes

Limited color palettes are one of my favorite color schemes to use. It’s super easy for beginners to get beautiful pieces with a harmonious aesthetic but even if you’re really experienced as an artist it’s a way to take the stress out of mixing a whole bunch of colors. I figured this would be a fun thing to discuss as we're going in to the holiday season, time for painting minis gets tight, and this is a great way to still work on your painting and minis without wasting a bunch of time stressing about color schemes.


How-To: Pick two colors (complementary colors work great but it can be any two colors) plus black and white. That’s it! You’re done with the super stressful color picking portion of mini painting! Wasn’t that easy?

How do you make a whole piece out of just two colors? Here’s my formula for getting a great range of hues to use throughout your piece. Note: you will get better results if you pick a warm color and a cool color but I’ll talk about those a bit later.


In this example we started with blue and orange. These are complimentary hues, meaning they fall directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

The left column has a mix of 70% blue with 30% orange. The top one is mixed with white, the center is a straight 50/50 mix, and the bottom square is our main hue mixed with black.

In the center column there’s a 50/50 mix of the blue and orange. The straight mixture is in the center square, that mixture adds white for the top square, and with black for the bottom.

In the right column you flip the percentages to favoring the orange. So 70% orange with 30% blue. Tinted on top (adding white), shaded on bottom (adding black), and a straight mix in the center.


Now to talk about warm and cool colors. This can be a bit tricky because usually people just assume that if it’s red it’s warm and if it’s blue it’s cool. That’s simply not true! Each hue has it’s own spectrum ranging from warm to cool. The very center of that spectrum represents the True Hue or the most pure version of that hue. The best way to illustrate this is to show you the spectrum of a hue and compare the extremes.179497624_GreenSpectrum.jpg.684c74507c64ce719e295c06da43c7cc.jpg 

Here we're looking at Green. All of the colors within that arc are considered Green but on the cooler side we see a more turquoise or blue-green color whereas on the warm side we're shifting into that kermit-like yellow-green. This shift happens in every hue. It seems to be easier to explain these secondary colors but what about red and blue? They are all warm or all cool right? no. They too have a spectrum. The warmer side of red is more orange, the cooler side shifts towards purple and gives us a magenta. The warm side of blue is in that violet/magenta side, the cool side gets closer to green and gives us turquoise.


It's a little easier to see on a color wheel but can be more difficult when you're staring at two paint bottles and trying to figure out which one is warm or cool. 



As a color leans more to one side of it's spectrum than the other we call that it's bias

Here's another side by side comparison of our primary colors in the warm and cool versions side by side for comparison.



Knowing what the bias is for the color we're using allows us to predict better how it will mix with other colors. 


Mixing the reddish blue with the bluish red creates a vibrant magenta color. They are both biased towards each other and will therefore maintain much of their saturation when mixed. Using that same cool red with a warm red, as in the example on the right, will give us more of a brownish maroon color.


As a side note for color mixing: directly mixing the true version of complimentary hues (hues on opposite side of the color wheel from each other) results in gray. The colors neutralize each other and we're left with a mid tone of blah. Though it is difficult to find a genuinely TRUE version of a hue so you'll usually create a chromatic gray or slightly colored gray. That's okay, and can be a really fun thing to play with. Keep it in mind though when picking out those Reds and Greens for Christmas minis! Red and Green are complimentary hues so when they are mixed 50/50 they will give you gray.


Now that we have a little bit better understanding of the characteristics of the specific colors we're choosing and a simple and fun way to start playing with those hues, let's not let ourselves get paralyzed by the mountain of choices we have in Reaper paint we all have in our studios!

Edited by Rainbow Sculptor
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