Notebook, 1993-


Back [to Color in 'Vision and Invention' by Harlan]

The Color Wheel and the Natural Order of Colors - The Afterimage - The Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Hues - The Achromatic Scale - Color Terminology - Chromatic Gradations: Tints and Shades - Chromatic Whites and Blacks - Broken Colors - Chromatic Grays: Warm and Cool

[From: Harlan, Calvin. Vision & Invention, An Introduction to Art Fundamentals. Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.]

Broken Colors

The term broken color may take on a clearer meaning if, for "broken," we substitute the word damaged or diminished. Strictly speaking, a broken color is one that emerges from a tug of war with other color particles or semi-chromes in its body. The hue from which it derives its name and identity [and in certain very broken colors this may not be easy to determine] has been compromised in strength or vitality by the conflicting vibrations of incompatible elements in the mixture. The discordant interactions of color vibrations are not unlike those set in motion by the striking of several keys on a piano with the fist--although the results, in the case of color, may not seem at all unpleasant. The kind of color under consideration is the result of a process called subtractive mixing. The ultimate product of subtractive mixing in pigments is a dark, cheerless gray; at that stage, all the hues or semi-chromes have reduced one another to zero.

As was explained earlier, every hue on the color wheel is made up [theoretically] of the primaries, either in their original state or in combinations of these three [except, of course a combination of all three]. Any two primaries combined equally should in theory result in a secondary color. Figure 3-4 shows the extent and proportional involvement of each primary around the wheel. The primaries, as the word suggests, are first and absolute. All the other hues around the color circle are the result of mixtures of two primaries. As for broken colors, which have no place on the wheel, one can see immediately how any mixture of two hues lying directly across the diagram would provide the requisite combination of red, yellow, and blue semi-chromes. One need only to total the number of primaries from both sides to determine whether a broken color will be the result of their mixture, and more or less what kind.

The simplest way to create a broken color is to add to any hue a certain amount of its complementary, or a bit of one of the hues lying to the right or to the left of its complementary: that is, one of its so-called split-complementaries. If a kind of mustard yellow is wanted, add a small amount of ultramarine blue [or perhaps violet or purple] to a very much larger portion of pure yellow. If a rich brown is required, add some green-blue or blue-green to orange-red. There is a still more practical way to obtain a broken color of good quality: add much or little of an already broken color--specifically, one of the umbers, siennas, ochers, and the like, available in tubes--to a pure color.

Indeed, broken colors may often seem dull and lackluster on their own but they are capable of gaining in compatibility all that they may lack in intensity. They often go well with other colors, partly because they are related to every other color, like country cousins. No color should be judged on its own.

Broken colors are sometimes difficult to distinguish from shades. To add black to many colors is, in a sense, to break them. Pigments cannot be relied upon to yield perfect and predictable results when mixed. Better that we look to surprising results. [pp. 98-99]

[Harlan, Calvin. Vision & Invention, An Introduction to Art Fundamentals. Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.]



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