Monday, June 15, 2009
I mentioned optical violets in the last post. Several of you raised your hands and asked me to explain optical violets. Above is a Monet that has optical violets all over it, in the shadowed parts of the steam and also effecting all of the dark shadows in the locomotives and the man in the foreground.
In this Sargent, The oyster gatherers of Concale, notice the shadows at their feet, particularly those of the old woman on the far right. Your monitor may display these as more or less violet, I hope that you can see it.. And below is another example;
This is a Theodore Robinson, the distance is filled with optical violets. And lastly;
Here is another Robinson, look for the optical violets in the distance and in the shadows on her skirt. The purple cast on the rock abutment to her left is also caused by optical violets.
Okay, so what causes it? I have heard two explanations, both may be true, However in thinking about how to use violets in my shadows, I prefer the latter of the two I am about to present. The first and most common explanation is that the shadow is influenced by the color of the sky reflecting into it. In a snowscape this is certainly true, and in a seascape also, both are particularly reflective surfaces.
The explanation that I prefer is this though. The light outside is warm. You have heard me speak in previous posts about the shadow being based on the compliment of the color of the light. Bright sunlight has a warm yellow cast. The compliment of that is violet. Therefore the shadow is rooted in violet. I don't know which explanation a physicist would like best, but the second is more instructive to me as a painter.
I make optical violets in several ways. The simplest is a mixture of ultramarine and alizirin (permanent ) however I also pack cobalt violet for "stepping on" shadows. Watch out for reds that contain orange, they mix with ultramarine to make a dirty brown color rather than a violet. I often sketch in a thinned out optical violet color when I am working outside on a bright day. Here's why. When you are drawing you are generally delineating the darks. The shadows are the darks, and violet is a good color to have at the base of your shadows. You wouldn't want to use a bright yellow of course because then you would have a terrible time getting the shadow note. If you are laying your darks in with violet you are halfway to the right color.
Often all that is required after that, is to look at the shadow again, and inject the local color of the object where you see it, in that shadow. Often there is also a sneaky third color that Robert Douglas Hunter used to call the "odd note of nature". That's what you see after you have the obvious color down and you take a second more penetrating look. Then you become aware of another unexpected color. Noting that, often gives a life and believability to the painting. Its something you would never think to make up in the studio. Things like that are why painting ouside gives results that are better than in the studio.
LEARNING TO PAINT LANDSCAPES IN THE STUDIO,
IS LIKE LEARNING TO SWIM AT HOME ON THE SOFA!
Above is a painting done before the impressionists discovered optical violets. Paintings before their discovery had a sort of brown gravy throughout their shadows.The first reaction of critics and other artists to the impressionists was that they were purple. Incidentally, just because shadows actually contain violets outside does not necessarily mean you have to paint them that way. Learn to do it for sure, but after that there still is a decision making process. You may choose to paint your shadows brown or gray or whatever. The choice is yours. it doesn't have to be right it just has to look good. God made nature, we are making a painting.
If you want to get convincing sunlight in your paintings, try emphasizing the optical violets. There are a number of elements that need to be in place to get light in your paintings (there's another series of posts ) however it is one important one.