Research on Colour


During the course of research for this assignment and also taking some time out to work on my theme book and general sketchbook work I have been able to indulge my love of colour.

After having posted one of my theme book sketches in an OCA Facebook site another student mentioned the Gamblin 3 Dimensional Colour Wheel which warranted investigation and very unexpectedly made total sense to me!  I say unexpectedly because I could not see how the colour wheel could work in a multi-dimensional form never mind enable me to be able to work colour combinations out in my head in a clearer and more considered thought process.

In essence the Gamblin Colour Space is based on Value, Hue and Intensity of colours with those of the lowest value moving up and down and those of the lowest intensity being closest to what is termed a neutral core.  Hue relates to the colour families.

This particular revelation in how I perceive the colour wheel now also is working well for my History of Art course which have been doing simultaneously – I am also fully appreciative of the fact that there can be no cross-overs in blogs but it warrants a mention because of the fact that the explanations make reference to the colours across different historical art periods.  One of the things that has been fascinating me is the use of light and shade in the Renaissance period and the understanding of the different pigments – less so the transition from tempera to oils although terribly important to artistic development.  The pigments of the Renaissance period were based on what could be found in the ground and subsequently were ground down by the individual artists through recipes that were often handed down from generation to generation.

Move forward to the Impressionists and the furnaces of Industrial Revolution which enabled a full spectrum of pigments to be developed.  Fast forward again to the 20th century and yet more colours have been developed with high intensity and transparency and this development continues.

The Renaissance artists effectively with a limited palette had to use the technique of chiaroscuro to  bring their works to live along with the development of perspective techniques – the chiaroscuro was literally the light and shadow which created contrasts.

This brings me neatly on to the use of contrasts in art and in particular the use of complementary and split complementary colours as used by the likes of Titian and Vermeer in the Renaissance and Van Gogh much later – the use of blues and oranges (or in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid yellow-orange with his split-complementary).  Van Gogh also used the technique of simultaneous contrast whereby the colour vibration you see (i.e. how they appear) depended on the colours used and the placement of colours  next to each other – this was examined in the exercises that in Part 2 where I discovered how differently colours could appear on different coloured squares and on a simple grey square.

van goghOften colours were used to contrast as Van Gogh shows in his work Cafe Terrace – his palette of colours is remarkably simple but he uses both complementary colours and split complementary to prove the contrast along with a harmonising secondary colour of green that for me brings the whole work together.  The contrasts of the blues and yellows are such that they are very bold but as is said on in the article on Will Kemp Art School, (where I discovered this and some of the above information too), Van Gogh like to create both contrast and tension in his works – I have struggled at times in design exercises to understand how I can create the tension but now I am understanding how to do this.

I have used the Will Kemp Art School on line extensively during my research for this blog and it forms the core of it along with the Gamblin Colour Wheel because it is giving me an understanding of how to use a limited palette of colours to create art works which can be used further in design work – for example a simple combination of the above mentioned blues and yellows but taking it one step further with burnt sienna which is part of the orange family of the split complementary.

bacchus and ariadneIn addition there is a useful article on the use of warm and cool colours – in the above example of Van Gogh the yellow and oranges of the cafe give the warm welcoming glow whilst the blues give the impression of a chillier street.  In Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne the same colour families of blues and oranges are used but in the composition they are used to bring life and harmony to the work – there is also extensive use of the play of light and shadow so typical of the Renaissance period.  The blues in this case do give the cooler impression whilst the oranges bring a vibrancy and warmth to the work – and again like in the Van Gogh painting the greens of the trees bring the whole piece together.  The use of burnt sienna on the trees and some of the figures is part of the orange family as said above and this again brings harmony as well as subtle contrast.  What I do like is the accent of pink on two of the robes – there is just a little that for me, looking at it from a textile point of view rather than historical, just gives a subtle punch of colour that lifts it that little but more but it is another split complementary colour to the blue and orange hence why it does not jar.

As I now go forward and study Impressionism and Modern Art I am aware of how my view of colour may change further – I am a big admirer of an early or even pre-Impressionist called Alberto Pisa of the late 19th and early 20th Century and his use of colour and light provides me with a useful starting point for further research.

I am realising that colour is going to be part of my personal voice and I am aware at this stage it is one of my strengths and so want to continue to play to it whilst development other aspects and trying to improve my weaknesses.  My next goal is to simplify my use of colour in some of my theme book and sketchbook work and try to work with a simplified and limited palette in order to concentrate more on the shapes and textures and forms of my chosen subjects whilst also letting the colour itself speak out.

NOTE: The simple reason for the extensive use of Will Kemp’s Art School is literally one article lead to another and followed on in such a way that it all worked together as if in a university lesson plan which is obviously exactly what he intended!



Gamblin R. Navigating Colour Space [online] [Date accessed: May 2016]

Kemp W (date unknown).  How to choose a paint starter set for beginners [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  How to paint a warm & cool still life painting [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  How to balance warm and cool colours [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  How to choose a basic Portrait painting palette for Oils [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  How to choose a basic colour palette for acrylic painting [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  The 3 tricks of complementary colours you can learn from Van Gogh [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:

Kemp W (date unknown).  The Importance of Contrast in Painting [online] [Date Accessed: May 2016].  Available at:


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