Colors create light together

(positive space, alternating repetition)

The second most fundamental of the color properties is the way that one color approaches another and creates light with it. It resembles the way that smaller centers cooperate to form larger centers. When colors create light together, they create a larger “being”.

Suppose we have a swatch of color. I look at it, and ask myself what second color will produce light if I bring it towards the first. When I concentrate, I can summon up this second color in my mind’s eye, just from looking at the first color. For example, I look at a certain yellowish color. I keep my mind blank, and ask what color will produce light if I bring it towards the first. I see something blueish perhaps. Then I take bits of colored paper, blue, turquoise, dark blue, light blue, and bring them towards the yellow until light is actually created.

This is the fundamental experiment of all color work, and of all painting. Once I learn how to make this happen, then all the rest will follow. And until I can get this to happen, by developing my eye to see it, I can get nothing very valuable.

There are four main variables involved: What is the hue of the second color? How much of it is there? How light or dark is it? How grayed is it?

That’s Hue-Saturation-Brightness (HSB) model + amount of color. I wonder if there is more theory about color that describes similar phenomena and might even be able to connect that to color selection on a color wheel? The yellow-blue example suggests complementary colors, opposite to each other on the color wheel, which do usually cause a strong interaction with each other when placed next to each other.

The first is most critical: What is the hue? Usually I can get my mind to see this. It just arrives in my eye, without effort, as a response to the color that is there. I don’t need to work. I need to make my mind and my eye blank. Then it comes by itself, in response to the color that is there. For instance, in the case of this yellow, I see a blue of some sort, perhaps a purplish grayish blue.

I can get a blue of what seems like roughly the right kind, put it on a bit of paper, and bring it towards the yellow. Now the amount is critical. I have to keep playing with the amount that is visible. A strip one inch wide may be hopeless. Three quarters of an inch wide will be quite different. An eighth of an inch may be just right. I have to keep juggling the amount until the light begins to shine.

Also the lightness and relative grayness may be quite different from what I saw in my mind’s eye. I may have seen dark blue initially. But as I do my experiments, I realize finally that what I need is a large area of very pale grayish blue, almost white. The hue is still roughly the one I saw, but the area and degree of saturation are entirely different. To get this part right I have to do experiments.

The main thing to recognize is that the whole process, getting the phenomenon to happen, is an experimental process. If I want to do it, I simply have to try it and try it and try it, until the light begins to shine. As long as that is what I am looking for, I will get it right in the end.

In many cases the light comes from colors which are roughly complementary. Blue is made to shine by yellow and orange. Red is made to shine by green, orange by purple. But as we shall see there are also much more sophisticated cases where one color is made to shine by something quite near it: violet by pink and white, black by brown or blue.

As we learn to see the way these colors work on each other, we see how light is created by choosing just the very red which makes the green shine, by choosing just the very yellow which makes the purple shine. In its simplest form this creation of light calls for the use of complementary colors. Many of the most beautiful things, which have the inner light most strongly, strikingly use, for instance, red with green, or yellow with blue, orange with turquoise, and so on.

As we become more sophisticated, we see that the actual relationships which do it are slightly more complicated. It is often a purplish blue which does it for yellow. It is often a slightly brown or orange tint of yellow which does it for blue; it is a bluish green which does it for red… and so on. But, then, we begin to see that the “it” — the way that for any color X, it is possible to find some other color Y make it shine — does not always concentrate on complementaries at all.

It is clear that color complementaries play a huge role. But, often, in the really profound cases, light is created in an asymmetrical way; for instance, a large amount of pale yellow with a smaller amount of deeper blue, or a large amount of pale clear reds offset by deeper and intense turquoise. In these cases, we still follow the same rule: in essence, use colors which together produce “light”. And of course, if one color is paler or weaker than another, there must be more of it, so that the total “amount” of the two colors (counted as amount of pigment or amount of color) is actually equal.

Then, in a more complicated version of the same process, we use three colors which together sum to white in the same way. […] Of course, the same principle could be extended four, five, even six or more colors — that the areas and densities of the different colors, together, complement each other, make each other shine, and that they do so because, arithmetically, they sum to white.

Sometimes, with red and green, or blue and yellow, colors sum to white. But this is not the universal rule. It is light which must be produced, not white. In many examples, the overall color light which is produced is not white itself, but some other shining color impression.

All we know is that sometimes colors together create a glow of life. The colors, like centers, help one another come to life; a life which is created and can be felt. It is ineffable, but we can feel it, certainly, empirically, and move towards it.

What is happening in all these cases, is that the one color is made more intense as a center, by the other color. The field of centers becomes intense; the feeling and unity increase. There is no reliable mechanical rule which can predict just what color is needed. Also, there is not generally just one color which will do the trick. There may be two or three, even ten different approaches. A given yellow may be brought to life by a deep reddish purple. It may also be brought to life by black. It may also be brought to life by pale watery blue. Thus there is no unique color which will do it. But, on the other hand, among the ten thousand different possible colors, there are only a few which really bring the light to life. The possible colors that are needed are objectively and experimentally defined.

All this may be seen as a version of the geometric properties called positive space and alternating repetition. The interaction intensifies one center (color) by means of another adjacent center (color) lying next to it.

(Pages 179-186)

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