The Wheel of Color

The Wheel of Color

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Last week I had the pleasure of teaching a color mixing program for adults at a local library. The “mixed” results were wonderful, and it was thrilling to see the participants get creative with color and the color wheel.

We talked about the vocabulary of color, and I offered the students an overview of some of the most common color terms. Color is a very complex subject, and could be the subject of study over many lifetimes, so I tried to keep it simple and clear, yet informative.

 One of the most important terms is Hue: The “color of a color”. Hue is what we usually mean when we ask “what color is that? Hue is the term for the pure spectrum colors commonly referred to by the color names, such as red, yellow and blue. Different hues are caused by different wavelengths of light. But the relationship of light and color (color is actually an “effect” of light) is a subject for a different post!

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I also touched upon Chromaticity. This property of color tells us how pure a hue is. That means there is no white, black, or gray in a color that has high Chroma. Often referred to as “colorfulness,” Chroma is the amount of identifiable hue in a color. A color without hue is achromatic or monochromatic and will look gray.

As the students moved around and through the color wheel mixing colors, they discovered how the purity of  a hue effected what could be mixed from it. Some reds are a bit closer to blue, and some to orange. Some blues are closer to purple, and others to green. This effects the hue of the secondary colors can be mixed from these primary colors. Thus color mixing can become a real adventure, a challenge, stupendous fun, and always a voyage of discovery.

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Students experienced “saturation” of the colors they worked with. Saturation, also known as “Intensity”,  describes the strength of a color.  Related to chromaticity, saturation tells us how a color looks under certain lighting conditions. A room painted a solid color will look different at night than in daylight.Think about Saturation in terms of pale or weak and pure or strong, NOT light or dark. The terms Purity, Intensity, Saturation and Chroma are often used interchangeably when discussing color.

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When mixing colors, hues can be desaturated (reduced in purity or weakened), in one of three ways: mixed with white to lighten the value (creating a tint), mixed with black to darken the value (shade), or mixed with gray or the complement to either lighten or darken the value ( tone).

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Students were given the three Primary Colors: (Paint colors) Red, Blue, Yellow to work with. These are the colors which cannot be mixed or created through combining other colors.

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They created Secondary Colors, which are mixtures of each two of the primary colors: Purple (blue + red), Orange, (yellow + red),  Green (yellow + blue).

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 We also explored Tertiary Colors which are mixtures of a primary and secondary color next to each other on the color wheel, and contain the names of those colors in their names! The Tertiary Colors are:  yellow-green, yellow- orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green, and blue-violet. (For our purposes, we are using purple and violet interchangeably).

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Students also learned about Value, or the lightness or darkness of a color. When we describe a color as “light” or “dark”, we are discussing its value . The property of Value tells us how light or dark a color is, based on how close it is to white. For instance, yellow would be considered lighter than navy blue which in turn is lighter than black. The value of a color is also is also related its brightness.

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One of the most endlessly  fascinating color relationships is that of  Complementary Colors, which are color pairs  opposite or across from each other on the color wheel. Combining complimentary colors can produce “neutral” browns and grays, as their combination effectively “cancels out” the color properties of Hue, Value and Saturation. The complimentary pairs are made up of one primary and one secondary color, which are directly opposite each other on the color wheel:  blue and orange, yellow and purple, and red and green are compliments.

Above we see how the complimentary pair red and green, as well as blue and orange help this artist to reveal another face of color.

Color is science, but it is also emotional, expressive, and FUN! Find some paints, and start your color exploration… investigate, experiment, explore and experience the power of color to change your state of mind, or even how warm or cold you feel. We can actually FEEL a difference of 7 degrees in temperature, depending on what colors we see and are surrounded by. Such is the power of color. Color is powerful, but don’t forget to play with it, too!

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The Passion of Frida Kahlo

The Passion of Frida Kahlo

Today I taught about the extraordinary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo to teenagers, in conjunction with a lesson about color, acrylic painting, and self-portraits. Last week they had learned about color mixing, and painted the color wheel, some of them for the first time. They played with mixing colors, discovering (I hope)  some of their personal color tastes and preferences, and feelings for color as they used the primaries to mix the secondaries, the primaries and secondaries to create the tertiaries, and use white to create tints.

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All this was partially in preparation for painting today, inspired by Frida. The students used a photograph of themselves as a starting point, and painted around it, and “into it” (over it, if they so chose), and they will work on these and hopefully complete them next week.  Preparing for this class brought me into contact with the work and life of Frida Kahlo…not for the first time…and then trying to communicate about her to the students.  I thought I would share as bit of her work, life and  spirit with You.

FK7‘Frida in Coyoacán’, 1939 (photograph by Nickolas Muray)

Frida Kahlo de Rivera ,  born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, was a Mexican painter  who is best known for her self-portraits: her paintings of herself.

FK4“The Frame” (“Le Cadre”), 1937-38, oil on aluminum and glass

Some have called her the world’s most famous female painter. She was also a political activist and legend in her own lifetime and beyond, an extraordinary and unique personality who took what Life dealt her, and rewove it into passionate, lyrical and unforgettable works that continued to be treasured today. She left the world a unique treasure: her works a painted diary. She revealed her inner and outer life with passion, courage and visual  poetry filled with color and magic.

FK_self-portrait-with-bonito-1941“Self-Portrait with Bonito”, 1941, oil on canvas

Frida Kahlo’s life began and ended in the same, now famous, house. She was born in 1907 in the  Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacan, Mexico City, and died in 1954 in her family home, La Casa Azul, the Blue House,  now the Frida Kahlo Museum.

FK_kahlo-houseLa Casa Azul, (The Blue House)

Frida Kahlo survived numerous challenges both physical and emotional in her life, including contracting polio as a child, a long recovery from a serious bus accident, and two tempestuous marriages to and divorces from  painter Diego Rivera. She mined these experiences, as well as her strong feelings about her Mexican identity,  politics and cultural influences to create highly evocative and personal paintings that communicate universal human feelings and experiences..

At the age of six, she was stricken with polio. It affected her right leg. She spent nine months in bed.

She studied in Mexico City at the National Preparatory School. She planned to become a doctor, but an almost fatal bus accident at the age of 18 changed her life forever. Following her accident she began painting intensely. Perhaps best known for her self-portraits, Kahlo’s work is remembered for its “pain and passion”, and its intense, vibrant colors.

FK6‘Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird‘,
1940 (oil on canvas)

She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”

A strikingly handsome woman, the Frida was known to stop traffic in San Francisco, New York and Paris in her long traditional Mexican dresses, her hair braided  with ribbons and flowers to identify with her indigenous Mexican culture. Frida dressed this way throughout her adult life, partly to hide a shorter right leg caused by childhood polio.

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Frida in one of her traditional Mexican outfits

Frida Kahlo used personal symbols to express her feelings in her paintings.  Though some have labeled her art as Naïve art or folk art, Surrealism or Magic Realism, she considered her art to be realistic.  Each self-portrait captures aspects of her feelings, and her life experience.  In the style of “Magic, or Magical Realism”, magical elements are presented as a natural part of an otherwise realistic environment.

FK5‘Self Portrait’, 1940, (oil on board)

Frida lived her life to the fullest, despite immense pain,challenges, and suffering. She had a gift for communicating her emotions to the world through painting. Her paintings are beautiful, often heartbreaking works, and are uniquely her style. Yet she was an amazing woman in her own right, for what she has endured, how she persevered, and how she remains an  inspiration and example of strength. She said,

“I am not sick. I am broken.
But I am happy as long as I can paint.”

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Unforgettable Frida

She died on July 13, 1954 of a blockage in her lungs at age 47.