Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ona's March Tip of the Month!

This months artistic tip is all about Colour!

Understanding how people see and interpret colour can help you to create a feeling of distance and space or create an enclosed claustrophobic feeling in your paintings. It can make objects jump out at you even though they aren’t in the foreground of your painting or areas closer to you in terms of perspective appear less obvious.

It’s time to get technical and impress our artistic friends and families with some scientific words :) 

Every colour that we see travels to us on a wave…. not a watery wave but a wave of light. Each colour we see has a different wave length (the distance between each peak of the wave).  Warm colours have a longer wavelength (a longer distance between each peak of the wave) than cool colours. 

Our eyes have lenses in them. As the light hits our eyes and travels through these lenses, colours with shorter wavelengths of visible light e.g. blue, are bent by our eye's lenses more than colours with longer wavelengths e.g. red. As a result each colour is focused onto a slightly different place on the retinas at the back of our eyes. This is referred to as Chromatic Aberration.

And now here comes another big word to impress people with…

 Chromostereopsis is an illusion whereby the impression of depth is perceived in a two dimensional object such as a painting. This illusion of depth is attributed in some way to the process of chromatic aberration that I described above. Although there is no clear scientific theory as to exactly why chromostereopsis works but somehow we  perceive the warmer colours with longer wavelengths as feeling closer than cooler colours with shorter wavelengths.

Even though we dont fully understand exactly how and why it works, chromostereopsis can be a fun word to drop into a conversation… try this one ;)

Partner…. "are you still in the studio? When is it supper time?"

Artist….  "I’m very busy exploring the psychology of chromostereopsis. Can you make supper tonight?"

Do let me know if it gets you extra painting  time.

BUT how can we use this illusion in our paintings?

Basically if you paint an object using a colour with a longer wavelength than the colours you have used around it, the object will appear to jump out at the viewer even if it’s further away in the painting in terms of perspective.

Conversely if you use a colour with a comparatively shorter wavelength it will push things back that are actually closer in perspective but that you don’t want people to notice as fast or first.

To illustrate this I want you to look again at the background in the painting I am working on now. I wanted to create a feeling of separation in terms of space and distance in the area that’s actually nearest to Alex. I didn’t want the section of the background to the left of him as you look at it on the screen, or in the bottom section to feel too close to him even though in terms of perspective it is quite close.  I therefore chose an indigo blue as the predominant colour. This helps to push this section further away in our minds. At the same time I also wanted to create the feeling of the binary code coming to us and him from the computerised head in the distance so chose to paint the much warmer compliment orange for a section of the stream of code further away from Alex to help create this effect. So although that part of the binary stream is much further away in perspective distance the change to the warmer orange in this area helps us feel as if it is much closer to us. To some more imaginative souls like me it might even create the feeling as if it’s rushing to us.

 I have taken the above photo and manipulated it in Photoshop so the colours are reversed. See now how close the background nearest to Alex feels to him and how far away that section that was orange and is now blue feels. 

Chromostereopsis is fun isn't it!

 Have a play with colours and explore the ‘psychology of Chromostereopsis’ this weekend. 

I'm going to be trying to finish this painting :)


  1. Wow, what an interesting article. I had never heard of the term "chromostereopsis"! The science of color is facinating! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. Wow! In the original, it looks like the binary code is racing towards Alex and the viewers, like a train coming. In the photo shopped example, it looks like the binary code is moving towards the head at the "rear" of the painting. Fascinating!

  3. Thanks Ona! It reminds me of the wonderful lessons you gave me! Especially on creating distance!

  4. Its a fun word isnt it Kathleen and Its even more fun to use in our art :)

    Yes Fish, It amazing how colour plays tricks on our minds

    Thank you Brinda

  5. Thanks, that was quite interesting and informative. I love your painting.