Color Spectrum Recession, the Cool Side


Judith Reeve, “Limes”, 6″x 8″, oil on linen, 2017

In my last blog, I focused on creating a feeling of recession in the image of the “Nectarines” by using the warm side of the color spectrum. Color temperature recession along the spectrum of 12 colors is much easier to achieve through the warm colors. Warm colors naturally project giving the feeling that an object or an area of space comes closer to the picture plane. Cooler colors naturally recede and allow those planes that are moving away from the picture plane to recede as well as, highlighting the turning away of forms.

This week, I want to focus on the cooler side of the spectrum band of 12 colors. The cooler side begins with YG and recedes along the spectrum to G, GB, B, BV, V and VR. VR is the turning point back to the warm side of the spectrum. In my painting of “Limes”, which is primarily a very cool image, I begin the recession at the YG and move toward the V with just a hint of the VR. The lightest color was, in fact, the VR+Wht to act as the highlight and return the projection back to the warm side. Although, with the addition of white to the VR, it acts as a cool compared to the YG. Here is the palette I used.

Movement from YG to PR

I attempted to use all the colors along the spectrum with very little change or intermixing. I did add two additional G by mixing the G+GB to increase the range in the greens (this was mixed prior to actual painting). Also, I did use the neutral along the shadow edge to create the feeling of transition. This neutral, by comparison, appears warm. It is important to vary the feeling of the color temperature to achieve recession of the form and not to be too rigid in this experiment. Plus, the neutral will take on its own color depending on the adjacent colors near it (simultaneous contrast of color, Chevreul).

So, the limes follow the cool color recession as follows: VR+W, YG+W, YG, G, N, GB, GB/G (reflected light), with a touch of BV near the edge. The movement of space from foreground to background: GB (with GB+W on top), GB+BV, BV, V. The cast shadows: GB+BV with the N near the shadow edge to give that feeling of a red emerging from the darkest dark (Goethe’s colored edges). You will notice that I did not use B in the painting. What I did use was B hue mixed by GB+BV. This created the illusion of B without the B projecting forward (the B wanted to project forward because I was using cobalt blue, which is a lighter value than the GB and BV). Value plays a role in form recession as well and I maintained the lowering of value incorporated as part of the color recession. The B hue had the right value to take the form back.

Both experiments were very enlightening- the warm recession and the cool recession along the spectrum. It is good to have several tools in one’s toolbox to achieve a certain result. In this case, I used value, color temperature and color spectrum recession. I could have used instead a reduction of color intensity by the addition of the root color’s hue to my local color to get the form to recede. Or I could have used a variation of scale (John Sloan, On Drawing and Painting, p. 116) where a color returns to its complement after passing through a neutral hue. Or I could have alternated the color temperature W-C-W-C-W as suggested by Henri in the Art Spirit. Having a variety of ways to move form allows the artist the maximum opportunity to get the results one desires.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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