Color Theory: Shadow and Depth Share the Same Color Base

Painting Is a Lie That Helps Us See More

An important part of being a true artist is exploring visual knowledge. In this series of small 10×8″ paintings I tested my hypothesis that the hue (color) of shadows would have similar hues in spatial depth. The idea was gleaned from two things: looking at landscapes when the distant mountains are blue and there is blue in the shadows of everything including in the foreground. And from my study of the colors of the light and shadows of Rembrandt and Monet, what was different yet similar between them.

At first glance of my paintings above look fairly natural and you will notice the simple objects gently lit. Which is a good thing. This implies that the hypothesis is working. They each have a different color base: red, black, burnt umber, manganese blue, ultra marine blue, gray, and sienna. This means when a lit white stripe in the foreground enters into a shadow it will merge with that shadow’s color base, for instance if the base is manganese blue the white stripe now turns turquoise. The real complexity begins when the further you go back in space the colors of things take on more manganese blue hues.

This fits with a classical view of warmer colors come forward and cooler colors go back but what happens when we reverse this and give the shadows the hot red or sienna and use those hues to blend with the background colors? Yay, it still works in the sense of creating depth and light. As soon as the first artists started painting real things like horses on two-dimensional cave walls there was a paradox that it was a lie and a truth. The advantage of being able to work with radically different color schemes gives the artist more emotional range and visual options. And it gives the viewer more to look for in the world around them.

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