This website presents an account of the dimensions of colour and light, written from the point of view of painters using either traditional or digital mediums. The conceptual framework presented here was developed as a component of Colour, Light and Vision, a course in the theory and practice of colour for artists that I have been presenting for around ten years at the Julian Ashton Art School, Sydney.

The site began life over a year ago as a short tutorial that was intended for the forum of Even in its present expanded state much more could be added on almost every page, but nevertheless I think that the site now presents a reasonable introduction to the subject promised by the title. The site is not intended to be a complete guide to painting. My remarks on painting here will focus on the ways in which having a sound understanding of the dimensions of colour and light is of practical assistance to the painter. Similarly, the site is not meant to provide an encyclopaedic coverage of all aspects of colour and light, although it will be necessary to review some major topics in these areas before we can look at the dimensions in detail.

I may well have succeeded in producing a work that will seem both too technical to many practising painters, and excessively simplified to colour specialists. To the latter I can offer only my apologies, but to the former I would say that creating effects of light in a painting, particularly from the imagination, is a technical as well as an artistic problem. What I am presenting here is really no more complicated than a decent introductory text to any other technical aspect of painting, such as, for example, perspective.

Relatively little here is really new, but much of it is rather lost at present among a great deal of confusion and misinformation about colour. At the time I write, for example, despite the careful and fundamental distinction drawn between the concepts of chroma and saturation by some current and earlier writers, most still ignore such niceties, and use the two terms interchangeably. Some authors treat the red, yellow and blue artists' primary colours as unquestioned fact, others insist that the "real" primary colours are yellow, magenta and cyan, and others again treat the whole concept of primary colours for paints as a "useless fiction"; all of these extreme positions are somewhat wide of the mark. It was established in the late nineteenth century that opposing or complimentary relationships between hues differ depending on whether we are talking about the mixing of light, the mixing of paint, or how we experience colour. This inevitably necessitates the use of a different hue circle or "colour wheel" for each kind of question, yet authors very commonly discuss all three kinds of question in relation to just one or other of these hue circles, or worse still, in relation to the traditional "artist's colour wheel" (with red, yellow and blue opposite green, violet and orange respectively), which is inaccurate for all of them. Most seriously of all, some fundamental principles for using the dimensions of colour to help understand effects of light and, if needed, to paint these effects from the imagination, though in print since the 1920's, appear to be almost forgotten today.

An unfortunate consequence of the poor state of current writing for artists on colour is that many people who have a little more knowledge than the dismal average seem to find it hard not to imagine themselves to be colour experts. I hope I have avoided this syndrome myself, and I offer this work in the hope that others by their comments and criticisms will assist its author in its continual improvement. The work has already benefited from discussions over many years with my students in Colour, Light and Vision. Any errors that the author has persisted in of course remain his sole responsibility.

Warmest thanks of all go to the "Dimensions of Colour team", Xavier Peria, Ray Kristanto, Noopur Patel, Atania Trinata, and Debolina Bandyopadhyay from the second year Multimedia Course at the Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts, Sydney, and their teacher Dave Agius, for creating the site, including all of the interactive animations, and to Ben ("sciboy") Green for generously hosting the site.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material on this website is copyright David Briggs, 2007, and is licensed for personal and commercial use under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia license. Use of the content of this website in whole or in part for any kind of educational purpose will attract a fee consisting entirely of one email to the author stating (if applicable) the name of the institution, subject and teacher, and the nature of the use of the material (e.g. handouts, recommended reading, etc.).

David Briggs

November 2007

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.


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