Saturday, November 19, 2016

Colour Wheels and Colour Harmony

One of the things I learned at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester this yearn was colour harmony using colour wheels. I took a workshop with the amazing Jane Blundell. She's a watercolour expert, and she taught us about mixing colours and achieving colour harmony using a limited palette. Most of the class saw us painting colour wheels using just 3 colours. But before that, she gave us a quick run through about some important primary colours:

Quick tips on colour

We've all learned about primary colours when we were little. Red, yellow, blue, when mixed in different degrees, produces all the colours of the rainbow. Red and yellow produces orange, red and blue produces purple, while yellow and blue produce green.

But that is just the beginning.


RGB or RYB?

What about computer colours? Why is it RGB (red, green, blue) and not RYB (red, yellow, blue)? Well, that has to do with how light behaves. Colour observed in paintings and prints are subtractive. That means when you add all the colours together, you get BLACK. This happens for reflected light. So when light is reflected off your paper, the pigments absorb different wavelengths of light and you see the reflected result minus the absorbed wavelength. Light from your computer monitor, on the other hand, is additive. That means when you add red, green, and blue, you get WHITE, just like white light can be split into a rainbow. That happens because your monitor is a light source. It is producing its own light, not simply reflecting light like your paper.

One more tip: Our eyes can see a larger range of colours than can be represented with paints or on your colour monitor. Sometimes it may be hard to choose a colour that represents exactly what we see. But don't sweat it. In painting, all colour is representative. Our eyes are constantly adjusting to the changing conditions based on where we are looking and the lighting around us. There's no "true" colour, because the colour we observe of an object is always different at any point in time. Creating a painting is capturing a representation of a scene, even if we adopt a photorealistic style.


Cool or Warm?

We are more concerned with paint pigments here. Non artists may just think in terms of red, yellow, and blue, orange, green, purple, brown, black, white. But there are an infinite number of varieties of each hue. One of the broad ways of categorizing colour is to describe them in terms of warmth. There are cool blues and warm blues, cool reds and warm reds, cool yellows and warm yellows, cool greens and warm greens. When we choose a palette of 3 primaries for mixing, we may choose all warms, all cools, or a mix. I created these reference cards as part of my Sketchpacker kit, and I bring them along in a namecard holder:

Colour wheels using different sets of 3 primaries

Colour Harmony

In each of the colour wheels, I used only 3 colours to achieve all the rest. To maintain harmony, you would want to use colours that fall within the colour wheel. For example, if I'm using Mixed Primaries 1, I can use Sap Green, because it falls within the range between the Hansa Yellow Medium and Ultramarine Blue, even though I didn't use Sap Green to paint the colour wheel. I might not want to use a very cool green like Pthalo Green straight out of the tube without mixing, because it would stand out like a sore thumb. That's generally speaking, of course. Flowers are examples of things with colours that may be vastly different from their surroundings. But even if their colours don't fit into a particular colour wheel, that doesn't mean colour harmony cannot be achieved.

Observed colour is influenced by 3 things: 1) The object's inherent colour, 2) the colour of the light falling on and bouncing off the object, and 3) the colour of the environment bouncing off the object. For example, a red ball placed next to a blue cube will have a bit of blue spill on the side closest to the cube. A colour such as yellow seen under orange lighting will appear more orange, and that same lighting will make it harder to judge blues. I did a painting once in a pub with orange lighting and thought I coloured the skin tones accurately, but when I got out and into the MRT train, I got a shock of my life. I was painting the Simpsons!

Skin tones painted in orange lighting.
I thought I was painting beige. I was actually painting yellow.

If you are aware of how the colour of the object, lighting, and environment affects a scene, you're in a better position to achieve colour harmony.

Staining? Granulation? Opacity? Saturation/intensity? Tonal value? Fugitive?

Watercolours have other properties such as those mentioned above.
  • Staining - How easily your colours can be lifted off a paper using a clean brush and water. Colours which can't be lifted easily and leave a mark are more staining than those that can be lifted easily. Pigments that are ground more finely tend to be more staining. Staining colours tend to produce darker blacks.
  • Opacity and Transparency - More transparent colours will allow the colours under them to show through more. Opaque colours will cover up what is under them more.
  • Granulation - Some pigments will settle unevenly, giving a rough-looking texture that is desirable for some effects. Some pigments interact chemically to create granulation. The result looks somewhat "stoney".
  • Tonal value - How dark a colour is. in the colour wheels above, you can see that Indigo is much darker than Ultramarine at full saturation.
  • Fugitive colours - Some colours will fade when exposed to light. That is why you are not allowed to use flash photography in art galleries, and why your clothes fade after you dry them in the sun over a long period of time. Some colours fade more easily than others. Those colours are more fugitive.
  • "Hue"s - Some watercolour names have the word "hue" appended at the back. That means that is not the true pigment, but a mix of pigments to approximate the original colour. A Cerulean Hue, for example, does not use true Cerulean pigments. Sometimes this is done because the original pigments are no longer available, or they are banned due to toxicity.
More information about watercolour properties can be found here: http://www.watercolorpaintingandprojects.com/basics/properties.html\


Mixing

You can do a lot with just 3 colours! Here are some examples of the exercises we did during Jane's class.

Warm Primaries: Quinacridone gold, Alizarin crimson, Ultramarine


Cool Primaries: Lemon yellow, Perm rose, Winsor blue


Painting fruits with only cool primaries

Final result

So why not try assembling a small pocket palette of your own using just 3 colours? You can pick from the examples above, or try your own.

If you want to find out more about colour, pigments and watercolour properties, handprint.com is an amazing resource.

Thanks, Jane, for all the tips!

Check out Jane's Ultimate Mixing Selection here: http://www.danielsmith.com/content--id-826

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

There and Back Again: From Southeast to Northwest, A Sketchpacker's Diary - Part 1

England. There's something charming about this faraway land for one living in a Southeast Asian country with a colonial past. When the English arrived in Singapore in 1819 and set up her trading post here, things changed for this little island at the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia and it would never be the same again. The English colonial masters brought their country and culture with them. Missing their home, they built buildings reminiscent of the architecture back home, cleared jungle and cultivated English-style gardens, introduced the Rule of Law, the English language, and driving on the left side of the road. Even after they left in 1965, their indelible footprint was left on this tiny island-city-state, and visiting England for me is to enter a world where the vestiges of our past is a present reality. The English made Singapore more like home as they knew it, and each time I visit England, it is visiting those origins, from the tudor houses to the Wren-esque architecture of St. Paul's, to the gardens at Kew and elsewhere.

I had just visited England less than 2 years ago, and had little intention to return there so soon. The cost was prohibitive, especially for one who had quit his job and gone on a sabbatical just over half a year ago. But it was the annual Urban Sketchers Symposium, and I had the privilege of being a lecturer! It was an opportunity not to be missed.

It seemed that these 2 trips to England happened at momentous times in British history. The last time I was there, Scotland had her referendum. Nothing changed, however, since Scotland voted to remain as part of the UK. This time, however, was Brexit, and the implications were many (even though now about 2 months later, Britain has yet to trigger Article 50 to initiate the process of leaving the EU. In 2014, I was based in Cambridge and stayed with my aunt. This time it was just a few months after that aunt passed away. I'm glad I got to visit her before she died.

Aunt Dolly serving us dinner in 2014

This would be a trip of many firsts. It would be my first time traveling pretty much alone for a few days, the first time I'm giving a lecture at the Urban Sketchers International Symposium, the first time I'm visiting this part of England. It promised to be an exciting adventure from the get-go, and I wasn't disappointed.

Day 1: SG > MAN

My flight to Manchester, UK was via Emirates, transiting at Dubai. It was pretty comfortable, and little did I realise that while I paid for 1 seat, I got 3 with extra leg-room! I sketched the view from my seat:

Copyright © Favian Ee

Soon my 3 seats became 2 as the chap behind me decided to come forward for more leg room. He was a chatty Indian chap and we chatted a bit and with the air hostesses while they were seated for landing. The second leg of the journey, however, was less eventful as I was seated next to a university student from Malaysia who was going to UK for an exchange program with some 70 others on the same flight.

Dubai was HOT! I transited there past midnight and the temperature was in the high 30s (Celsius). Funnily enough instead of boarding the plane from the air-conditioned comfort of the terminal, we had to take a bus way out onto the tarmac and board the plane from a flight of stairs. It was very warm, and I was dressed for colder temperatures with Uniqlo's heat-tech. It was uncomfortable, but we were off on our way soon enough.


Goodbye, Dubai!

Copyright © Favian Ee


I landed in Manchester at around 8 a.m. Customs wasn't as bad as the famed Heathrow in London, but it still took at least half an hour to clear. I immediately regretted having to lug around a 25kg luggage with only 2 wheels, and that's on top of my daypack and a cabin haversack for an extra set of clothes in case my main luggage got lost. Next time I'm getting one with 4 wheels if I'm carrying around that amount of weight.

The accomodations for the symposium were sponsored, but only for the duration of the event. Since I arrived earlier, I booked a room through AirBnB, but I couldn't check in till 5 pm because my host was working. Thankfully a friend of mine arrived the day before and checked in the hotel near a train station. I went over to offload my things and shower. I scrapped my plans to pay Chester a visit and spent the day in Manchester with Maria. We went about town looking for places to visit and things to sketch. It didn't take long to run into other sketchers who had already started. We joined in the fun at the John Ryland's Library.


We met Elizabeth Alley, president of USk, in the lobby!

Copyright © Favian Ee
Manchester is a city of canals

Copyright © Favian Ee
The Central Library, which was closed to public for an event

Copyright © Favian Ee
First meal in Manchester, and boy was it large! Pretty affordable too!

Copyright © Favian Ee
Rear of the Town Hall

Copyright © Favian Ee
Cenotaph

Copyright © Favian Ee
Manchester's Albert Memorial,
a smaller version of London's

Copyright © Favian Ee
Manchester Town Hall, which resembles
the palace of Westminster in London

Copyright © Favian Ee
Paul, Rob, and Corinna have already started!

Copyright © Favian Ee
The John Ryland's Library

Copyright © Favian Ee
John Ryland's Library
The Historic Reading Room
"A Cathedral to books"

Copyright © Favian Ee
I love these booths

Copyright © Favian Ee
We were using paints on 100 year-old wood tables!

Copyright © Favian Ee
My sketch at John Ryland's Library
First sketch in Manchester!

We thought of going to the art shop, but it was pretty far and I needed to check-in, so we went back to Maria's room to get my bags and I made my way to my accoms. Thankfully there was a direct bus! I dumped my things, had a good long chat with my host Jonathan, then went down the road for dinner. I had fish-and-chips, but it was a simple take-out place and I wasn't too impressed, especially since they dumped the fish right out of the fryer into a styrofoam box, and the heat from the fish melted the styrofoam it got into contact with. Yuks.

Copyright © Favian Ee
Building near my accoms

My cosy little room

For a cosy place close to the city, Jonathan charges
really competitive rates! And better still, he's such
a good host and gentleman!

Hmm.......

Day 2: Liverpool

I had breakfast from a food van next to the park near where I was staying and the University of Manchester. Then I went to buy some musical instruments from the shop across the road - Irish whistles! Can't get those in Singapore. I left Manchester late for Liverpool cos of some breakdown in communication.
Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Breakfast!

Copyright © Favian Ee
Sketching after breakfast at All Saints Park

Copyright © Favian Ee
Hobgoblin Music, Manchester

Copyright © Favian Ee
Whistles!

More whistles!

Walking to Oxford Road train station

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

By the time I reached Liverpool it was almost lunch time, but I decided to walk around a bit before eating. Passed by the St George's Hall, Wellington Column, and went in to Walker Art Gallery.

Copyright © Favian Ee
St George's Hall

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee
Jephthah and his daughter

Copyright © Favian Ee
Fantine and Cosette

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

After visiting the Walker Art Gallery, I walked round and headed back to St George's Hall where I had lunch and explored the rooms of the hall. It serves (served?) as a courtroom, complete with jail cells and judge's chambers, but also as a concert hall and venue for community events. The concert hall was closed the day I visited, unfortunately, so I didn't get to see a major part of the building...

Copyright © Favian Ee
Side of St George's Hall

Copyright © Favian Ee
Liverpool Central Library

Copyright © Favian Ee
Liverpool Central Library interior

Copyright © Favian Ee
 
Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee
Lunch at St George's Hall

Copyright © Favian Ee
St George's Hall interior

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

After exiting from St George's Hall, I made my way to the highlight of my visit to Liverpool - Liverpool Cathedral. This is the largest Anglican cathedral in UK, and the longest in the world. I cut through town and visited some Biennale spots, Cass Art, etc. and passed by the Blackie (formerly Great George Street Congregational Church, where Rev Thomas Raffles, cousin of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore) along the way.

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee
Bluecoat, a contemporary art gallery

Copyright © Favian Ee
The Blackie (left) next to Chinatown

Copyright © Favian Ee
The majestic Liverpool Cathedral

I didn't have a lot of time to hang about Liverpool Cathedral, but I took the time to do the only sketch I did in Liverpool.


Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

After visiting the cathedral, I went to the historic UNESCO Heritage Site, the Albert Docks. Got there pretty late so I didn't get to go to the International Slavery Museum and most other attractions. Oh well....


Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

I wish I had more time in Liverpool, but I had to go. I stopped by the mall for some ice-cream before heading back to Manchester for dinner and popped by Peveril at the Peak to catch up with some of the other symposium attendees.


Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee

Copyright © Favian Ee
Lime Street station, Liverpool

Copyright © Favian Ee
Peveril at the Peak pub

Copyright © Favian Ee
Sketchers all are we!