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.]

Chromatic Grays: Warm
and Cool

Chromatic grays [or tinted grays, as they are sometimes called] are used extensively for walls and furnishings in buildings of various types--and not always with great sensitivity to the way color, light, texture, and pattern are able to affect the feeling-tone of an environment.

Chromatic grays were used with great skill by French artists of the middle of the nineteenth century--by Corot in his landscapes, which derive much of their quality and originality from his sensitive adjustment of earth colors to warm and cool trays, and by Courbet in his bold paintings of the woodlands, chalk cliffs, and damp caves of his native Franche-Comté. [19] The Jongkind, used tinted grays to simulate moist atmosphere and veiled sunlight over sand and water. The American painter James McNeill Whistler used gray tones in his mood pictures, or Nocturnes, as he called them. The master of warm and cool grays in the 1860s and later was, of course, Manet, who based his new technique, peinture claire [light painting], on a most advanced handling of paint and of values--values more and more in the middle to light registers. He softened most light and shadow contrasts., illuminated his subjects broadly and evenly, and virtually eliminated traditional modeling or shading.

Warm and col grays have been used by many French artists on the fringe of the modernist revolution virtually to the present. One can recognize a kind of "School of Paris gray" that, in too many cases, is almost the death of color [Père Tanguy, the beloved color merchant and patron of the Impressionists, scorned the use of black]. Grays, especially neutral grays, may act as a kind of sponge or acoustical agent and absorb much of the color energy from their environment. Yet grays may also be among the most useful and beautiful of colors. The painter Edouard Vuillard [1868-1940], a member of the group called The Nabis, revealed the poetry of chromatic grays in his intimate interiors and street scenes. So, in his own way, did Giorgio Morandi [1890-1964] in his many paintings of bottles and other humble objects grouped on shelves and table tops.

Korean and Japanese pottery, especially those pieces associated with the Zen tea ceremony, [20] are admired for the subdued colors of their glazes--the colors of natural things such as stones, bark, sand, lichen, seashells, and weathered and worn surfaces of all kinds. Because they are reminiscent of nature and are rich but quiet, they wear well in the eyes and comfort the spirit of the beholder.

Taste, age, association, mood, season, symbolism, and function have powerful influences on how, when, and where colors are used. [21] Ancient and primitive society seem to reveal a surer sense of color usage, of what is appropriate, than our modern, self-conscious, industrial civilization. Color should not be applied indiscriminately to any and every surface lest it become debased from too much familiarity. Since color can be separated from its context, it may be used as we are using it here: as a means of training ourselves to see the world afresh, while also training ourselves to be attentive to feelings and experiences of every kind. However, because color is so available now in the form of dyes and paints, it can be grossly vulgarized and abused, as it sometimes is in the commercial environment.

The question of temperature in color will be taken up in more detail in the section on Contrast, but something should be said here about warm and cool as they apply to chromatic grays. It is generally agreed that red or orange-red is the warmest color, and that blue or green-blue is the coolest. That they do not actually feel warm or cool to the touch is obvious. Light and dark colors do physically absorb heat from sunlight. However, these terms warm and cool and others, such as aggressive and retiring, refer to psychological, associational, or perceptual-feeling responses in people--hence, "cool blue sky" or water, "red-hot coals," and so on. Grays, in the very slight degree to which they partake of reds, oranges, and yellows, or of blues and greens, are said to be warm or cool.

Now, the most obvious way to make chromatic grays is to make light, medium, or dark neutral grays by mixing white paint with black paint and then adding to these as much warm or cool color as we wish. However, the better and perhaps quicker way is to add broken warm or cool colors to white--the more broken the colors, the more the results will read as chromatic grays. If any of these results is not gray enough, then black may be added to the mixture. The greater variety of semi-chromes in broken colors makes for richer chromatic grays. [pp. 99-100]

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



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