Spectrum Color Recession

"Self Portrait, March 2014" by Judith Reeve

In my last blog, I wrote on expanding the range and concentration of a chord by elaborating on the hues. If my chord is a B-YG-RO. I can accentuate the blue in the chord through the addition of Blue Hue and Blue Bi. By adding these more subdued tones within the chord, the viewer has the sensation that the blue is carried throughout the composition; That Blue is radiating throughout the image (Radiating Intensities).

Another aspect to this is color recession. It gives the artist another means to carry the blue both forward and backward within the composition using color to create the sensation of movement and not just value. When the blue has more intensity, it wishes to project forward and feel illuminated and when it has less intensity it wishes to recede and feel less illuminated. One can use this idea to model a form or create depth within the composition. This idea seems pretty straight forward.

What I found particularly interesting in John Sloan’s, The Gist of Art, is that this same idea can be utilized within the color spectrum. It is easy to  think of varying a blue through intensity to add variety to a form or a composition. What about the color spectrum? Sloan points out that one can achieve depth by following the color spectrum back from, let us say Orange-Yellow. That depth can be achieved across the spectrum and it need not be consigned to just one color.

An example of this idea: If I take Orange-Yellow as my most forward color and I wish to make that color recede in the composition, I can look at those colors that bracket OY along the spectrum. Here is the color spectrum as described by H.G. Maratta:

VR-R-RO-O-OY-Y-YG-G-GB-B-BV-V and back to VR

So both O and Y border the OY, therefore I can use either color to give the feeling of recession to the OY as it moves back in space. The example that Sloan uses is street lights. If one has a composition of a night scene where there are street lights receding along the sidewalk, the most forward light can be an OY. The next light can be an O and the next one can be a RO and so forth. One achieves recession along the spectrum, rather than taking the OY and moving it toward a neutral to achieve depth. Along the same line, one could carry the OY color back moving the other way along the spectrum, from OY to Y to YG depending on one’s desires within the image. The warm colors want to project forward.

This works particularly well with the warmest colors in the spectrum. One can move either way along the spectrum. What about those colors that are already cool? One would need the reverse scenario, that the light is cool and therefore as things recede they are getting warmer. So B, might move to BV to V to VR or B to GB to G. In both directions it is getting warmer.

What about G? Green is a secondary color, so it’s temperature is half-way between the cools and warms and therefore could move either way along the spectrum toward the cools, G to GB to B; or toward the warms, G to YG to Y. This is true for Violet as well. Blue seems the most difficult to achieve depth along the spectrum and there might be limitation involved with the color Blue. I look forward to continue analyzing this idea further.

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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