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The word "colourant" is commonly used for both dyes and other dyestuffs and pigments. The basic difference between pigments and dyes is solubility their ability to dissolve in water. Whereas a dye is, or can be made, soluble, a pigment tends to be more insoluble. Pigments can be made from dyes via a special process. What are the Main Sources of Pigments? Most paint-pigments come from metals metallic ores or compounds or plants, although some derive from animal or fish products, as well as charred wood or bone. Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red , Chromium eg.

Chrome Yellow, Chrome Green ; Cobalt eg. Vermilion ; Titanium eg. Titanium White, Titanium Yellow ; Zinc eg. Zinc White ; Lapis Lazuli eg. Ultramarine ; Iron oxide eg. Tyrian Purple, a crimson pigment made from shell fish. What is the History of Pigments? Colour Painting During the Stone Age In the famous prehistoric cave paintings at Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira, Stone Age artists relied on basic earth pigments like clay ochres, in yellow, brown and various hues of red, along with charcoal.

For details, please see: Prehistoric Colour Palette. Colour Painting in Egypt This crude but effective colour scheme was extended during early Antiquity by Egyptian artists who decorated their temples and tombs with murals and panel paintings which included new paint colours like: Egyptian Blue Frit, the rich lemon yellow pigment Orpiment, the red-orange realgar, the green Malachite and its blue variant Azurite.

White colours were derived from Gypsum and Chalk. For details, see: Egyptian Colour Palette. Greek painting techniques were tempera and fresco; on wood and marble, encaustic and tempera - a process in which colours were mixed with wax, painted onto the surface and then 'burnt in'. In addition to the range of pigments used in Ancient Egypt, Greek artists added new reds like the gum "Dragons Blood", and Vermilion.

New purples included Indigo, Madder and Tyrian purple, while new greens featured. Verdigris and green earth Terre Verte. Massicot and Naples Yellow were two new yellows. For details, see: Classical Colour Palette. Colour Painting in the Renaissance Painting during the Renaissance was transformed by the development of oil painting. This new medium made colours look extra good, and added a new dimension of reality to figurative works, notably portraiture. Not surprisingly it stimulated the discovery and use of many new hues.

Scotopic Wavelength Encoding

For details, see: Renaissance Colour Palette. Academic Traditions of Colour Painting Several important principles of fine art were laid down by Renaissance art. These principles consisted of conventions relating to all aspects of picture-making, including subject, composition, line, and colour. Colour colorito was regarded as secondary to the overall design disegno , as illustrated by the fact that art students or apprentices spent the vast majority of their time learning drawing , and only learned the art of pigments and colouring at a much later stage. But see also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting c.

Colour Painting During the 17th and 18th Century After the Renaissance, this approach to fine art painting was adopted by all the major European Academies and became enshrined in the style known as academic art. Painting was not even on the curriculum of most academies - students had to learn painting skills in the atelier of a master - and colour continued to have a secondary function, as more of a supportive element. Thus during the Baroque Rubens attracted criticism for his dramatic use of pigment, while Nicolas Poussin was revered as an exemplar of more balanced colourism. A century or so later, the same debate errupted over the respective colour practices of the Romantic painter Delacroix versus those of the more sobre Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

One of the cardinal principles of academic painting concerned the primacy of the naturalistic palette: colours were to reflect the natural colours found in nature, thus grass was green, the sea was blue, and skin was flesh-coloured. This situation endured until the 19th century when a revolution occurred. No major new colours were discovered in the 17th century, but Prussian Blue was produced during the 18th century, as were several new Cobalt and Chrome colours.

Mixing Ratios

For details, see: Eighteenth Century Colour Palette. New pigments seemed to pop up every few years. Nineteenth century painters now possessed a cheaper, more convenient and more reliable means of colour painting. The Fauvists and German Expressionists took full advantage of these technological advances in pigmentation to produce an outburst of multi-coloured pictures. For details, see: Nineteenth Century Colour Palette. Thus for example, if during this fleeting moment a tree-trunk - which is "naturally" brown - appeared red in the light of a setting sun, Impressionists like Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley painted it red.

In fact, it might appear in any of several differing hues, depending on the effect of light, and was coloured accordingly. The "paint-what-you-see" approach to colour seen in most Impressionist paintings shattered the conventions of the time, and opened the gates to further experimentation by schools, such as Neo-Impressionism with its technique of Pointillism , as practised by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

Expressionism Impressionism represented the ultimate in "copying nature". But after two decades of slavish copying, progressive artists rebelled. Tired of simply "painting-what-they-saw" they injected more subjectivity into their canvases, in a general style known as Expressionism. Pioneered by Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, the expressionist movement was developed first by so-called Fauvist painters in For two years Fauvism was the hot thing in Paris: everyone tried it, even Georges Braque.

Its influence spread to Germany triggering an explosion of German Expressionism spearheaded by progressive art groups like Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brucke. It also spread to Britain where it influenced the Scottish Colourists and others. For more information, see: History of Expressionism. For artists involved, see: Expressionist Painters. Note: The Russian strain of 20th century colourism is most evident in the fabulous theatrical sets created for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. Typically, this featured huge canvases containing large areas of colour which were designed to "envelope" the viewer and engender an emotional reaction.

See, for instance, Mark Rothko's paintings Pigment was now "the" key element of the canvas: it was the high point of colour painting. And despite the eventual collapse of the movement in the early s, colour has continued to maintain its independent status in the process of disegno. Impact of Manufacturing Technology on Colour Painting.

Impressionism coincided with the invention of the collapsible tin paint tube in , by American painter John Rand, which made more pre-mixed colours available in a convenient medium. In addition, paint manufacturers like the Sherwin-Williams Company began urgently trying to perfect a formula that would keep fine paint particles suspended in Linseed oil. In , after more than a decade of chemical research, the company produced a formula that far exceeded the quality of oil paints then available. Since then, artist-paint manufacturers have produced an ever-growing range of pre-mixed oil paints, virtually eliminating the need for hand-ground pigments, and revolutionizing the practice of oil painting in the process.

In addition, the appearance of acrylic painting in the s initially developed by the German chemist Dr. Otto Rohm has provided painters with an even more convenient alternative to slow-drying oil colours. Thus technological advances in the manufacture of oil-based and now acrylic-based pigments has and continues to have a major influence on the theory and practice of colour painting.

The laboratory invention of synthetic pigments to replace the more costly colours made from organic or other naturally occurring dyestuffs, has also had a huge impact on paint manufacture, and thus on fine art painting. One of the first modern synthetic pigments, discovered by chance in , was Prussian Blue. By the early 19th century, more synthetic blue pigments had been created, including French ultramarine , an artificial form of lapis lazuli , along with laboratory versions of Cobalt and Cerulean Blue.

A short history of color theory

In the early 20th century, organic chemists created Phthalo Blue , a synthetic pigment with enormous tinting power. By the end of the 19th century, thanks to both the organic chemists and the paint manufacturers, a wide range of oil paint colours - such as red, crimson, blue, and purple - had become available in affordable formats.

Furthermore, because many pigments were now being made from chemical components under laboratory conditions, much higher standards of quality and consistence - in the composition and durability of colours - became possible. Thus in , chemists were able to develop the Munsell Color System , a measurement system which became the foundation for a series of colour models. Among other things, the system classified colours by hue, value lightness , and chroma purity of colour.

New Standardized Colour Systems. One of the major developments in colour painting during the 20th century has been the creation of a number of colour systems designed to classify and standardize the attributes of pigments, to improve manufacturing and labelling consistency.

The main systems include:. First published in , these standards provide the only assurance, outside of Federal and State mandated health warnings, that eg acrylics and oil paints are accurately labelled.

Colour Measurement and Mixture. Romance of Science Series. With numerous illustrations.

Grouped by colour, each hue is assigned a C. The greatest value of this system is that it offers a standardized, dependable way of knowing exactly which pigments are in a paint. It does not classify colour in a particularly scientific way. For this, experts turned to the science of Colorimetry, the field concerned with the quantitative measurement of colour in general, and two main models have emerged - Munsell and CIE Lab - along with two alternate systems - CMYK and RGB - which are widely employed in the print and display industries.

Munsell Created by the American artist and educator, Albert H. Munsell, in , the Munsell colour system was an early attempt to arrange colours into a logical order. RGB and CMYK These systems cover the classification of colours and pigments appearing on monitors, televisions, printers, scanners, digital cameras, and mobile phones. In the latter, a set of well-defined variables delineate a unique colour.

Put simply, these systems provide a recipe for mixing a colour rather than its definition. Before listing some of the most famous exponents of colour work, it is important to remember that, as described above , between roughly and painters were severely circumscribed in their application of colour, due to prevailing academic theories of fine art.

Colour was an integral but supportive element in the process of picturemaking, and artists were obliged to be extremely subtle in their choice and use of pigments. Thus the greatest colourists were those whose palette captured and celebrated the precise mood of their picture, rather than those who employed the most vivid pigmentation. Only later, in the 19th century, did painters feel at liberty to treat colour as an independent form of expression and endow it with the importance it deserved.

Modern colourists are therefore noted for much greater freedom in this area. Their pale limpid colours add luminosity to the sky and overall optics. See too the Irish colourist Roderic O'Conor. Seurat's work into Divisionism and Chromoluminarism was significantly developed by Paul Signac Wonderful examples include: Early Morning Flight , Nolde Foundation with its blues and greens, and Still Life with Dancers , oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, Paris with its primitive red and yellow symbolism.

What are we? Where are we going? His use of flat areas of pure colour was known as Synthetism , while his followers at the Pont-Aven School Louis Anquetin and Emile Bernard developed the use of heavy outline filled with pure colour, as in medieval enamels - a style known as Cloisonnism. In general, his colourist works radiate a sense of warmth and well-being. The founder of the Der Blaue Reiter Expressionist group, his works like Composition No 7 use the shock of contrasting colours, while Two Poplars , Art Institute of Chicago employs colour to depict a landscape with enormous emotional undertones.

Other important Fauvist colourists include Andre Derain and his friend Maurice de Vlaminck Other early 20th century colourists included: Robert Delaunay , founder of Orphism , the avant-garde Russians Mikhail Larionov and Goncharova who invented Rayonism , and Morgan Russell and Stanton MacDonald-Wright who invented Synchromism.

Noted for his lyrical abstraction and his thickly impastoed landscapes. See also: Yves Klein's Postmodernist art The Main Colours and Pigments. White is a balanced mixture of all the colours of the visible light spectrum, or a combination of two complementary colours, or three or more colours, like additive primary colours. It is neutral or achromatic devoid of colour , like black and grey. It is added to pigments to create tints or lightened hues. Pink is a pale tint of red, obtained by adding white.

Based on observations of how color behaves in nature, the text argues that all colors exist in a spectrum between darkness and light, and that four primary colors come from the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. This can seem rather weird and speculative today, but these observations made sense at the time: A plant is green above ground and white in its roots, thus the color must come from the sun. Likewise, a plant left to dry will lose its vivid colors, thus water provides color too. This theory is typical of how color theorists for centuries used color to establish a general theory of the universe.

Like so many other areas of science, Isaac Newton completely redefined the conventional theories on the behavior of light when he published the first edition of Opticks in Rather than seeing light as a void of color, Newton discovered that white light is a combination of all colors across the color spectrum. The basics of his experiments was a well-known phenomena: When you shine white light through a prism, the light is split into colors from across the color spectrum.

Colour and light

However, Newton discovered that he could recombine these spectral colors to once again turn them into white light. Newton also discovered that if he blended the first color red and last color violet of the color spectrum, he could produce magenta, an extra-spectral color that does not exist in the rainbow. This prompted him to wrap the color spectrum into a circle, beginning a tradition of using basic shapes to represent the relationship between colors. Newton used a circle because it could be used to predict the result of color mixing for two colors by pointing to the color midway between these colors.

While Newton was interested in a scientific explanation of color, the German poet Wolfgang von Goethe dedicated his book Theory of Colors from to a more human-centered analysis of the perception of color. The circle had three primary colors — magenta, yellow, and blue — which he believed could mix all other colors in the spectrum.

His research on the effects of after-images and optical illusions is especially interesting, because it points towards the later works of Johannes Itten and Josef Albers 4. Newton describes how his spectral colors can mix most visible colors including white, and this is true because light mixes in an additive way: Combining lights of different colors will eventually result in white light. Goethe describes how his three primary colors can mix most visible colors including black, and this is true because pigments mix in a subtractive way: Combining paints of different colors will eventually result in black paint by subtracting waves of light.

In a quest to create a unified notation for color — like we know it from musical notation — artists soon started depicting the color spectrum as 3D solids. Mayer sought to accurately define the number of individual colors the human eye can see, and this required him to add another dimension to represent the variations of brightness for each color. Mayer painted the corners of a triangle with the three traditional primary colors from painting — red, yellow, and blue — and connected the corners by mixing the opposing colors together.

Unlike the traditional color circle, he created many variations of this triangle by stacking triangles of different brightnesses on top of each other. This made it possible to define a color by its position within a 3D space, a technique still used to this day. Mayer ultimately failed at creating a color model with perceptually uniform steps, as he did not understand the irregularities of the human eye 5.

The German painter Philipp Otto Runge took this same approach when creating his spherical representation of the color spectrum, published in his Color Sphere manuscript in However, like many other representations of color before it, the model did not differentiate between brightness and saturation, which meant that the resulting model had little variation in color intensity. Rather than mixing colors by focusing on the amount of paint used, he based his selections solely on what perceptually appeared to be the correct mixture.

Inspired by the work of Goethe, Chevreul used after-images to test the validity of his mixtures. When a person stares at a green square for a long time and then looks at a white wall, a magenta square will appear. This happens because of fatigue in the green photoreceptors in the eye, and Chevreul used this to establish the complementary colors in his model 7. Like his peers before him, Munsell wanted to create a model with perceptually uniform steps, and although he was a painter, his approach was very scientific: He used human test subjects and a range of mechanical instruments he invented to create a remarkably accurate model.

These dimensions are still used to this day in some representations of the RGB color model. Essentially, Munsell realized that his color solid had to have an irregular shape to fit his colors. The explanation for this is rather simple. Colors with low brightness have much fewer visible colors between zero and full saturation colors with zero brightness only have one, black.

Likewise, some hues have more range than others.


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You can mix more visible colors between red and white than between yellow and white, because yellow is a lighter color. This is not unlike how we define colors in programming languages today. Many of the European art movements in the early 20th century had a profound interest in the subjective experience of art, and although the Bauhaus school in Germany was a school focused on a modern approach to art, design, and architecture, two important publications on color and perception were written by Bauhaus faculty: The Art of Color by Johannes Itten 9 and Interaction of Color by Josef Albers Following a strict vegetarian diet, he was famous for performing rhythmic breathing exercises with his students in order to have them realize their full creative potential Some of these contrasts are simple, like the contrast of light and dark that exists when colors of different brightnesses appear next to each other, or the contrast of hue that can be seen when colors of different hues are used together These observations can still be used by aspiring designers to guide decisions around color, as they give us a way to classify color and think systematically about their use.

Itten even operated with a RYB color sphere remarkably similar to that of Runge to help explain these ideas. Itten often uses his own subjective experience to establish a generalized theory on color and perception, as demonstrated in the quote below. Thus a meat market may be decorated in light green and blue-green tones, so that the various meats will appear fresher and redder.

Who is to say that yellow stripes or blue polka-dots cannot be used effectively when designing food product labeling?


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Using opaque pieces of colored paper, Albers sets out to show the highly dynamic nature of color, particularly how humans tend to perceive a color based on the colors around it. Rather than trying to establish some unified theory about why color behaves this way, Albers describes how students can repeat these experiments to experience it on their own. This has made The Interaction of Color one of the most important and timeproof books on color composition.

Pictured below is one of his most famous examples with two small squares on colored backgrounds. The viewer naturally assumes that the squares are filled with colors from the opposite backgrounds, when they in reality are the exact same color. As illustrated above, our art history is full of arguments over the nature of primary colors, which is in part caused by the confusion over subtractive and additive color models.


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