Learning about colour

Last time I was at Tate Modern I bought a book by David Hornung: ‘Colour’.David Hornung - Colour

Here’s the front cover of the US edition – the UK front cover is identical except for spelling ‘Colour’ differently. As the description implies, this is a practical workbook about colour. I find that using colour is one of the most challenging aspects of putting a design together. I tend to use trial and error, for example, when selecting thread colours, but I’ve often thought I would like to understand it better. This book looks quite impressive on a quick read-through, so I decided I’d have a go at the many exercises in it.

David Hornung recommends using gouache for the exercises, and helpfully provides a full list of recommended colours in different brands. The one that seems mostly widely available in the UK is Winsor and Newton, and I already had a few of these. So I ordered the missing colours, some smooth-ish watercolour paper and got cracking. The first thing I tried to do was to mix a supply of warm grey and cool grey using Ultramarine and Sepia – more of the former for cool grey, more of the latter for warm grey. Then, in theory if you mix equal amounts of the warm and cold greys you should get a neutral mid-tone grey with no particular colour tendency. Well, that’s what should happen. I found even mixing these greys surprisingly difficult.

The next step was to mix the greys with white in varying quantities to create a greyscale. I knew because I’ve tried this before, that it’s very difficult indeed. I had two separate attempts at the exercise and wasn’t happy with either version. I think part of the trouble is learning how to handle the gouache. Getting a smooth, thin, even coverage of the colour is by no means straightforward. Below is one of the attempts at greyscale: Attempt at greyscale

On the RHS is the cold greyscale, with the warm greyscale in the middle and the neutral one off to the left. Not very impressive is it? The cold grey is too blue, and the gradations from light to dark are pretty unconvincing. Oh well, perhaps I’ll have another go. For the moment I’ve moved on to the first proper exercise, and I’ll report back on that as soon as I’ve finished it.

 

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