COLOR CONSTANCY OR IS IT THE POWER OF GRAY?
There as an article that I recently came across (you can read it here) that was really fascinating. Dan Dos Santos sent it to me as well and I thought I would write a quick post about it. It shows a plate of strawberries (keep reading, that isn’t the fascinating part :)).
The contrast has been reduced and the shadow color is shifted to green. The strawberries look, as you would expect, red. But when you examine the image closer with the eye dropper tool, you soon see that there is no red. It seems impossible. The entire image is in fact made of greens of various saturations.
The article concludes that the reason we see the strawberries as red is due to “color constancy”. The article quotes Bevel Conway, and expert on visual perception from the National Eye Institute:
Conway said this illusion is also helped out by the fact that we recognize the objects as strawberries, which we very strongly associate with the color red, so our brain is already wired to be looking for those pigments
I think that color constancy is legitimate, and it might add to our perception in this image, but I don’t think it fully explains what is happening. I believe it is because of a different phenomenon. That is that when a gray is placed next to a color of higher saturation and similar hue and value, that gray will take on the appearance of the complementary color.
The reason the strawberries look red is because they are actually less saturated greens next to higher saturated greens and so they start to look like the complement of green. Let’s take a closer look at the image and the palette.
I reduced the image down to 256 colors to simplify the colors and get cleaner color samples. It looks the same at this point:
Here is what the palette (below) looks like for the above image. It is arranged according to hue. The top rows being a little cooler and warming as it gets to the bottom rows. Look at how the grays fluctuate in color temperature according to how much saturation there is.
*if you take the palette in to photoshop, there are a couple pixels in the palette that are outliers
Here is a crop of the image with colors swatches picked out. Note how in the close up the “red” is still perceived even though you can’t really tell that strawberries are the subject.
The swatches across the top of the image correspond to the pixel at the center of the circle. Look at how the colors that are more blue or green are higher in saturation. As the color starts to appear more red, the hue shifts a tiny amount (still blue/green), but the saturation drops off significantly and the gray looks more and more red. The most “red” color, the one 4th from the left is actually the least saturated color in the crop with a saturation of just 13%.
If we shift the colors more yellow/green, the strawberries start to look purple/magenta:
Here is the 256 color palette for the image above.
This corresponds to the traditional color wheel showing complements across from each other
Here is the image shifted more towards blue. The strawberries now look distinctly orange. If color constancy were the only principle in effect, we should still see red strawberries, because we know they are red, but in fact they look orange, reflecting the complement of blue.
I have written about this in a previous post if you want to see this in action with some paintings:
Feeling Grey Today
I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!
I created a new image to remove some of the recognizable elements and just focus on the effect. Here the image has been run through the mosaic filter, rotated and cropped. I did this to remove any perception of strawberries. If you take the image into PS and check the value range of the “strawberries” you will see that there is very little change in value, just saturation. This is important to get the effect.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you
are the easiest person to fool. Richard Feynman
Each month I put a new quotation on my web- site’s home page. This one by physicist Richard Feynman is the first one that I have used there that is not by a photographer. My friend Steve emailed it to me for my collection (thanks, Steve) and it triggered a memory.
A photographer acquaintance had the extreme good fortune to take a weekend workshop with the great Ruth Bernhard. It turned out to be her last workshop - a few years be- fore her death at 101 in 2006. In addition to being a gifted photographer herself her reputation held her to be an equally gifted teacher and mentor.
Part of the workshop was, of course, a review of portfolios brought by the attendees. Ms. Bernhard looked very thoughtfully and carefully at my acquaintance's portfolio of landscapes. Even though her own photo- graphs were rarely if ever landscapes she made insightful comments on several of the prints as she looked through them again and again. But she kept coming back to one print without commenting on it. She ques- tioned my acquaintance about his intentions for it and his printing of it.
She finally said to him "You really want this print to work, don't you?" (yes) "And you know in your heart that it does not, don't you?" (long pause -- yes). As Feynman said "... you are the easiest person to fool."
How do we as photographers, painters, sketchers, ... keep from fooling ourselves -
or at least keep ourselves from doing so frequently? It seems to me that we face two issues: "How do I want this piece to look?" and "What do I do to make it look like that?"
The second of these is technique. If I go to a workshop with a master of my medium I'll be better at it immediately after doing so. (Well, I may have to practice a while first.)
The first question also has a very simple but much longer-term answer. Look at art. Look at lots of art. Look at all kinds of art. When you see a painting, a drawing, a pho- tograph, a print, a collage, a weaving, a stat- ue ... that excites you try to discover why it does so. Do this a lot and perhaps you can generalize from the specific to the benefit of your own work. It worked for me.
But that's not all. If you look at art with the goal of finding out "what works" – look with that goal at your own work as well. Yes, the opinion of someone you respect is helpful and if you listen with an open heart and mind it will help you to look at your next piece more realistically.
But it's still you that has to make the decision. Photographer Jerry Uelsmann once did a lecture in which he showed every one of
the prints he had made in the previous year -- 50 odd of them. Of those only six did he consider successful enough to go into his portfolio. He, obviously, is very good at not fooling himself.
I now have about 60 candidate negatives for my current project that I intend to be com- prised of about 20 prints. Only two days ago I printed one that I really want to work but know in my heart that it doesn't. I'm quite a ways from 20 "keepers".
[Adapted from a “What’s New” post on my website, www.ronfstop.com]
A quick guide to enjoyable outdoor painting
With proper preparation your first outdoor painting session will be an enjoyable experience. The following is how I approach my outdoor painting. I hope it will be useful to you should you want to give it a try. I will use acrylic media in my example, but the same ideas work for other media.
MindsetYou’re bringing too much stuff, your canvas is too big and do you really need all those brushes? Claude Monet worked on his outdoor paintings an hour a day for a month. You’re not Monet and you’re not going to be doing that. You’ll be lucky to do two small paintings in a three hour session.
EaselStore bought outdoor painting easels are a real pain. They’re cheap, flimsy and poorly constructed. Mine is always in need of serious repair. Instead, find a garden bench, sit down and lay a small board across your lap.
CanvasWithout looking, I can see your selected canvas is way too big. Scale back to something 5” x 7” or 8” x 6”. You can go to something larger later if you find that you enjoy painting outdoors, but for now it’s important to work quickly. If you only have a larger canvas or pad, divide it into sections and make several smaller paintings on it.
It’s a good idea to put a base layer on your canvas at home ahead of time. Waiting for your base layer to dry while on site takes too long. Siena is a pretty good choice for most landscape painters, but most any color will work. The base layer should be textured and sloppy; otherwise it defeats its purpose of providing filler and visual interest.
BrushesThree brushes should do just fine. And they need to be big. Small brushes will get you too caught up in detail and you’ll never finish. You’ll need a fan brush, a flat chisel brush and a soft round brush. You can sneak a detail brush into your kit, but only if you promise not to use it until the last 15 minutes of a painting. The detail brush is the single biggest cause of frustration and unfinished paintings.
PaintsI only use 5 colors; primary red, primary yellow, dark blue, white & black. You’ll be able to create any color you need from these. The inability to consistently mix the same color is a plus as it will give nice variations in effect across your canvas.
I price my paintings at $25.
Most artists I know have a secret second passion besides art – (shhhhhh!) collecting Art Supplies! For me, it manifests when new brands of colored pencils are released, or when a fellow CO artist recommends a brand of paper I haven’t tried. (An artist I admire does most of her work on Fabriano Artistico White Hot-Pressed 300 lb Watercolor Paper. I bought 5 full sheets of it. Have you looked at how expensive it is?) (I’ve used it a couple of times and it’s really great for colored pencil.) Or when a particularly attractive sale wafts past.
Because I buy most of my supplies on-line, my email box is bombarded with ads for Big Deals! Clearance! Back-To-School Bargains! Of course, I always read them – I mean, art supplies! I’ve been pretty good at resisting. For the time being. I am planning a field trip to Daniel Smith when the virus eases up.
But I’ve got a ton of supplies already and am struggling to organize them. Let’s start with Paper.
Mostly I get paper in pads, but none of them are the same size. I’ve got pads as small as 6X8 and as large as full sheets of watercolor paper! The perfect solution would be shelves that would accommodate the largest but allow storage of smaller pads of paper. It would be nice to organize them by Brand: Stonehenge, Pastelmat, Bristol, Newsprint, Drafting Film. Or by color: Black Stonehenge/Bristol, Mi-Tientes colored paper for Pastels, Toned paper for drawing. I could also organize it by Purpose – what the surface was designed to support: pastels, Ink, watercolors, colored pencils, graphite pencil, charcoal or Conte crayon.
You begin to see the problem.
Moving on to pencils. There are a lot of companies manufacturing colored pencils now. After the big craze of Adult Coloring books (don’t knock them until you’ve tried them – very therapeutic, coloring) companies upped their production and the versions of pencils. There are basically three ‘grades’ of pencils. First are the kind you buy for kids in grade school. These include Crayola pencils and Jolly-Good Xtra Big pencils specifically designed for smaller hands. Not much pigment, hard leads, not sure why kids would like them. Oh, well. Then come Student-Grade pencils. Most manufacturers make some version of these. More pigment, better color saturation. They are much less expensive than the third category of pencils – Artist Grade. I counted 45 different choices at Dick Blick’s web site last time I visited it.
I have at least 10 of those different Artist Grade Pencil sets. They come boxed in lovely flat boxes (usually metal, sometimes cardboard) The number of pencils ranges from 150 to 10. Of course, none of the containers are the same size – that would make storing them too easy. And don’t forget the pencils you can buy one at a time from open stock. Don’t get me started. No handy dandy containers there – oh no. What to do? I’ve tried several solutions – none of them quite works as well as I’d like them to. Empty jars, empty soup cans (washed out!), zippered pencil pouches, expandable notebook-like things designed to hold pencils or brushes, wooden drawers that hold up to 25 pencils in each drawer. These stack neatly. But I have close to 800 pencils. I’d have stackable drawers everywhere!
Of course, there are all those accessories you need. The tabletop easel. The three dozen different erasers (including an electric one I haven’t located in months). Bottles of ink; pens for that ink; fine tip markers; wide tip markers; blending tools; embossing tools; scraping tools – I’ve got way too much stuff! And I use it all! Rolls of artists tape. Drawing boards (I prefer Gatorboard brand). Mat board – cut and uncut. AARRGGHHH!
If I had unlimited funds, I’d get a stack of drawers/shelves for my various papers. I’d have shelves fitted with spaces for plastic holders and put all my dark greens of one brand in one holder, Cerulean blues in another – I’d have a set for each manufacturer’s pencils, plus a separate one for my watercolor pencils (3 sets of these). I’d have little drawers for various erasers and pens. There’d be attractive spots for my pencil sharpeners – hand-held, battery operated, plug in, crank types. Oh it would be wonderful.
If I had money. And space. You see, a proper artist should have (or so I’ve been told, and I very much am a Proper Artist) a Studio! I have a portable Kitchen Island from Crate and Barrel that I inherited when I bought my house and my Kitchen Table. Sigh. ‘Tis a puzzlement.
Regardless of your medium, you should be organized. I keep telling myself that. And portable, if possible. Watercolorists have brushes, paper, tubes of paint, palettes, containers for water. Oil and Acryllic painters have the same, plus solvents for washing/cleaning bushes, rags to wipe brushes, canvasses or canvass board, cradled boards, slabs of wood, pencils and chalk for sketching on the canvas, gesso or something like it for prepping the canvas, fixatives – and on and on and on. Aprons and easels and paints! Oh, My!
Next time I’ll tell you my current solution for organized storage of my (last count) 8,964, 211 ARTicles of supplies currently occupying – or possibly overtaking – my house. Now, back to sorting pencils.
Is it Van Goh or Van Goff? Or, possibly, Van Goch, where the ‘ch’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in loch – a kind of guttural, Scottish sound. According to Grammarphobia, this last one is the closest to the Dutch pronunciation. However you say his name, Vincent Van Gogh was one of a kind.
Once, when I was in New York City on business and had a few free hours, I walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wanted to see the Exhibit on 15th, 16th, and 17th century armor. I figured I could manage that in a couple of hours. I never made it to see the armor; instead, I bought a ticket to see a special exhibit of Van Gogh paintings from the final months of his life, the months he spent in a hospital in Arles, France in addition to those final months he spent at the Yellow House in Auvers. It was an amazing exhibition and very vivid in my mind all the years later. Especially interesting were the self-portraits. The colors, sometimes strange, vivid, and the poses almost identical. There were maybe 100 of his 800 or 900 paintings in the
museum, all of them exceptional. To think that this self-taught artist completed that many paintings, not to mention drawings, watercolors, and even an etching, in such a short time – less than 10 years – is stunning. I spent my entire free time that afternoon looking at Van Gogh.
Today, I found a film – Loving Vincent – online and watched it. As the promotion materials says, “On 27th July 1890 a gaunt figure stumbled down a drowsy high street at twilight in the small French country town of Auvers. The man was carrying nothing; his hands clasped to a fresh bullet wound leaking blood from his belly. This was Vincent van Gogh, then a little-known artist, now the most famous artist in the world. His tragic death has long been known; what has remained a mystery is how and why he came to be shot. Loving Vincent tells that story.”
The story centers on Armand Roulin, the son of the Post Master of Arles. His father asks him who to deliver to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, a letter Vincent wrote the week before he died. Grudgingly, the son agrees to deliver the letter. He finds, however, that Theo Van Gogh died soon after Vincent did, so there is no brother to deliver the letter to. During his travels to find Theo and deliver the letter, the Post Master’s son talks to people who knew Van Gogh and finds a mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s assumed suicide. The story line is intriguing.
The film production is nothing short of extraordinary. One hundred artists painted 65,000 frames of the film on Canvas, with oil paint in Van Gogh’s style. The result is a one of a kind, painted, animated film about Vincent Van Gogh. One of a kind, just like the artist. This film shows how the film-makers re-imagined the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh into the medium of film, using the very technology – oil painting – that Vincent used himself. You can find a lot more detail, plus paintings of the cast, at lovingvincent.com. The blogs are very interesting.
This feature-length painted animation - the first film of its kind - is an artistic experience in itself and I recommend you see it. It’s available for streaming on Kanopy, Hoopla, and Hulu. It’s also available for rent on Amazon.
After my first blog post about How to Jumpstart Creativity in the Now Times, I have a partial answer: friends, other artists, a calendar. I am an Artist. Before I retired, I was an Executive and my life ran by my calendar and my cell phone. It worked rather well, keeping me employed until I decided I didn’t want to be any more.
Being retired gave me a lot of free time and I used it to kick start my art which I had put aside when I moved to the National Capital Region, e.g. Washington, D. C. Getting back to the Pacific Northwest and the fresh air and water all around was one of the better decisions I’ve made. Getting back into Art was another outstanding decision.
Being under House Arrest/Isolation/ has also given me time since none of the groups I see are meeting and the friends I have coffee with are also housebound. I’ve been slacking off, art-wise. My calendar has cleared. So, I figured if scheduling meetings and interviews and meetings and lunches and meetings (there were a LOT of meetings) kept me on track in my office maybe the same thing could work for my Art. And, guess what? It does!
I belong to a couple of Art groups, including Artists United, so there are those meetings – coming to a computer screen near me via Zoom - to put on the calendar. Check. Then there are board meetings for those art groups as well (You guessed it. Computer meeting via Zoom). Check. Then I have invested a few meager coins in some on-line classes and these go on the calendar. Check. I support a couple of outstanding artists on Patreon and they do on-line and sometimes live presentations and tutorials so, again calendar. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
One of the first things I did was review my folder of “To Be Completed” projects. There are several. Most of us have a variety of UFOs* around the studio. I’ve decided to put those in order and actually finish them! Astounding, I know. But necessary. I have a thing about buying art supplies and I refuse to buy more with unfinished things sitting around yelling at me to finish them. And I’m running out of a particular kind of paper I especially like. So, in order to pry the coin purse from my tight fists, I need to finish these projects.
And, hence, the calendar. I enter a start date an approximate completion date. I make sure I have the supplies I need – since these projects are already ‘begun’, I do have the supplies. Then it’s a simple matter of opening up the calendar and setting to work. Tomorrow. I’m going to begin to finish one tomorrow. I can do this.
After all, I am an Artist.
*Un-Finished Objects d’art
Art is generally an alone pursuit. Artists work alone, take photographs alone (for inspiration or as art themselves), work in a studio alone. Basically, artists are more or less loners.
The reason artists join groups like Artists United Club is so they can be around other people who understand this ‘alone -ness’. Others who share their media, their joy when a drawing or a painting turns out. Others who know the crush of working on deadline when a commis- sion piece is looming. Others who know the agony of having no good ideas or of having too many good ideas. Others who struggle to sell their art in an age
of very short attention spans and instant
In the Before Times, we did gather with others to exchange ideas, reviews of new tools, to share works in progress, to talk about, well, art. In the Before Times, we would congregate, socialize and then go back to our alone spaces.
In the After Times, we can’t do that. We are self-isolating, self-quarantining, staying at home. For a while this might have been met with a shrug and a “I’m an artist. I work alone.” But the novelty of having all this time on your hands, no commitments to attend meetings or to ready pieces for a show, wears off. We substitute Zoom or FaceTime or Skype or other ways to connect while main- taining distance. And these are good things. They let you see your fellow
artists and meet and discuss and present and share. They also lead to what one fellow artist labeled “Zoom Fatigue”, especially if you have several Zoom meetings in a week. Another artist con- fided that she was having a difficult time working up the energy to do any art at all.
We all wish we still lived in the Before Times, but we don’t. So, other than working in your studio alone and joining in On-line meetings, what kinds of activi- ties have you employed to keep your artist spirits up? If you share your quar- antine space with other family members (especially those who are normally gone during the day), how do you create in that environment? Or maybe you aren’t having an attack of the blahs and are delighted to have few responsibilities except your art. Any advice for us dealing with the blahs? Have you tried out new things? New media? A new style? Become the next Kandinsky, perhaps? Or turned to self-portraiture? Let us know how you’re creating in the After Times. Send your comments, ideas and experiences to our Newsletter and Howler Editor at email@example.com. He may well want to post them in the next newsletter.