Monday, May 16, 2011

Color Charts: Major AHA

So now that I'm done with the last commission I plan to take on for a while, I finally got around to the project I've been really excited to do: the Color Charts in Richard Schmid's Alla Prima. I know, I'm weird, but really--tedious technical tasks actually do get me pumped up.

However, here's a quiz for you to do if you try to do these charts. Not passing this quiz cost me at least three boards' worth of scraping off and starting over.

In the following charts, the first and last square are the same: 1% and 100% saturation. But which of the two has perfectly distributed value changes in the middle three value ranges?

I wasn’t measuring or using formulas to mix my colors, but I was doing my mixing by doing the 5th value, 1st value, and then the 3rd value--trying my best to get it in the perfect middle. But even though I’d get the 3rd value correct, it just kept looking so wrong after I'd fill in the 2nd and 4th values because when I’d squint to check, they just didn’t seem to “flow” from dark to light.

Now that I’ve taken the time to do these grids in Illustrator where I can control the math and see for myself what is happening, I realize I actually WAS getting my charts pretty darn near 1%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%. But the jump from 1%-25%, especially, seemed like an enormous value change compared to everything else because of the way the eye works.

When I took a different approach that looks more even to the eye (especially when squinting), I realized it actually operates on properties of thirds with the exception of the second-lightest value, which ends up being almost a third-step between the lightest and middle value. The calculation in Illustrator ended up like this: 1%, 7%, 33%, 66%, 100%.

Now I’ve realized that the darker the value, the more difficult it is for the eye to distinguish between value changes. So the first one--perfectly, mathematically split--appears to the eye to have much bigger value jumps between the 1% and 25% square than the 75% and 100% square. But if I make the middle square 33% of the fully saturated value instead of 50%, it looks more like an even value split! Weird but true.

Gotta trust the eyes, Natalie. Trust the eyes.

I feel much better about my mixes now; and will finally be able to go forward with my eyes and brain in agreement. I’ve noticed most of Schmid’s charts are closer to the gradations of almost-thirds rather than perfect-quarters, too, so I'm not a complete loony.

When I finish them, I'll detail out all the things I learned in the process. I already have quite a list going . . .

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