Saturday, October 3, 2015

Color Dumb

Washing Day at Ink & Snow

Sort of a confessional about me and color: oftentimes I haven't a clue what to do. Which is really not all that different from anything else in my artwork, from ideas right on down to the doodle. Or, for that matter, deciding what to wear in the morning either: so my MO is usually just put something on, anything, and get on with the day, and by extension, just get on with the drawing. Or in this case, with the wash... just add water.

At this point in my life and artistic career, unfortunately all those color theory classes I took in college were completely for naught - aside from the debatable merits of learning the rules in order to break them: so effectively what taught me most was skipping straight ahead into screwing up. It ain't no different from what I continually and relentlessly drill my Beginning Drawing student about: practice, because familiarity with the tools is what will ultimately result in functional competency. Readers (and students) know me and my work as arguably pedestrian and comparatively unsophisticated in many things: I write about as well as I draw: but in the end does it work? Does it do its job - is it understood? Therein lies the rub, if not the eternal seesaw between the responsibility of the observer to interpret meaning, versus the part of the practitioner to impart it.

Nope... just not seeing him.

There is some irony in my deficiencies with this topic since the all-time record number of visits to this blog land on a color theory post from way back in 2011. I also achieved some modest renown long ago in the days of being a graphic artist working for Wood Center Student Activities, when we used to create enormous banners by hand using a set palette of poster inks. Hung up high and from a distance my designs were very captivating and effective, in no small part due to the complete abandon and unorthodox usage of bright and high-contrasting colors. These days I try and work more with earthy, subtle hues, but that might be on account of the beavers, bears and moose pelts populating my panels.

Pantone: Full-Spectrum Fail.

Now color is ostensibly just another tool in the toolbox, a means by which one can ideally accentuate certain aspects, say for example compositional cues or to better differentiate between foreground and background elements, or even to assign subtle attributes personality to characters. The relative degree of success in its usage hinges on the same criteria one employs with the linework, and over time it can develop more sophistication and nuance which may or may not matter at all in the end. But it can be the difference between buying bread at the store versus making your own as far as aesthetic appreciation and leavening ones own work with personal satisfaction. Mind you, I usually buy yummy artisan goods created by a local baker, so I'm somewhere inbetween.

dang it... that explains a lot.

I used to joke before our transplant to New England that I was retiring to Maine to do quaint little watercolors of the shore and lighthouses. Damned if that actually didn't happen (the watercolor part at any rate, certainly not the retirement), and under the pervasive influence of the Significant Otter, who through her many years of example and patent encouragement, I was inspired into experimentation with watercolor wash. And we all know how well that's been going... just call it a wash? But it's been a steady source of amusement, even though my application of color makes my watercolor acquaintances' eyeballs start to bleed (more of a crimson actually).

sample PIP petri dishes of colorful little dots

Not too long ago I got prescription eyewear for my nearsightedness in one eye, even though what with spending most of my time either reading or drawing it's never really been much of an issue (not so much according to my passengers when driving at night). Corrective lenses have recently come into attention also with the advent of some technological advancements (of doubtful veracity), and it got me wondering how well I would come out with another round of testing.

There are a few online options found on the internet, such as the initial swath of swatches posted above: that's from an online Pantone one based off the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue Test. I did pretty lousy with that one, and about as bad as with the more traditional PseudoIsochromatic Plate (PIP) Color Vision Test, of which the Ishihara 38 CVD version is also online. There I scored 'moderate" red-green color blindness, which might account for my never really being all that big of a fan of the PBS show. That was better than another 8-plate variation here, wherein I didn't even see seven of the eight plates. Which still was not as bad as this testing poster, of which I couldn't see one single line.

And here's another fun little timed test that incorrectly states it measures how well, or at least how fast, you can spot an "irregular color." So far as I can see (eh) the swatches are actually variants on the color's value, not its hue. Which would account for why I managed to score as high as I did. Similar results were made on another online test that deals with different values of swatches here.

I'll keep this in mind next time I'm out looking for worms. Which actually has to do with movement, not color, but whatever, I'm a hawk.

So does it matter? Heck no. Still doesn't mean I don't stop trying, almost every day sometimes - including hollering help from the studio for professional assistance... "Hey! What color is this?" Maybe this new "nameless" system of identification (via This Is Colossal) would be a formative tool, as it relies purely on just the color without any labels.

In the end I just put it all down to being "color dumb," meaning with enough training there still might be hope in the future for more reality-based interpretation, but until that day - along with everything else - it's just the way I see it. Now you know why I love line art most of all, especially the textural treatments of hatching, crosshatching, scumbling and stippling. And the meta-lesson in that I use the "wrong" paper, the "wrong" brushes, the "wrong" colors all in the "wrong" way... and it doesn't matter because it all still works anyways.

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