by Lisa Larrabee
Value is relative. Temperature is relative. Color is relative. There is that word relative again! To simplify, all of these qualities are affected by their context. They exist in relationship to their surroundings. When we change the colors or values around a subject, the relationship to the subject also changes. Being aware of the effects colors and values have on each other can help you create color and value relationships with more accuracy. Understanding the relationships can empower you to use your knowledge to enhance a color or create emphasis by using surrounding colors and values with intention.
A Great Example by Accident!
The warm tan color was so shockingly different that I immediately checked my palette to see if I had accidentally pulled paint from the wrong pile! Surprisingly, it was the first and only paint I had mixed since I was just starting out for the day.
This was the most dramatic accidental example of a relative color that I have experienced, so I took pictures to document how the color's context affected the color's appearance. If I were to digitally sample the paint colors directly from the photos, they would not be the same; however, the photos accurately captured the dramatic "color switch" that I experienced with my own eyes.
Another variable to consider (besides the background color) was the light source, which also affected the appearance of the colors. Lighting and changing from a flat or horizontally oriented palette to a vertically oriented palette can also affect how you perceive the color.
Regardless of the multiple color effects, the surprise was quite real! To correct the color mix, I had to analyze how far off the mix was and compensate by going much greener than I previously thought was necessary.
Tips for Matching Color
- Mix oil/acrylic paint on a neutral surface. White is best for transparent pigments like watercolor, but it can affect the values that you perceive more than a mid-value gray.
- Use your palette knife to hold paint to the surface of your painting. This helps you see the color in context and in the same light (especially if the painting is vertical on an easel).
- Make adjustments before you touch the color to the surface.
- Identify the general color of the error. For example, my mistake looked pinkish-tan. The error leans towards red. To neutralize the red, I needed to add more of its compliment by adding more green.
- Choose a simple white object with a white background. We used a white cube in a white corner so there were distinct changes of value rather than a curved surface.
- Paint each change in color/value as a distinct shape without blending.
- Mix each color/value as accurately as you can before moving on to the next color/value shape.
- If a new color/value makes a previous section look wrong, scrape it off and correct the error.