Apr 3, 2012

What is "Color?"

By Sharon Teal Coray




These are photos I took in my studio


While sitting in my studio a couple of weeks ago, I noticed I had rainbows all over the walls and floors…

Hanging in my western windows are several large crystals that I have collected.

The sun was hitting them just right and I had beautiful colors everywhere!

It made me start thinking about color.

If light creates all color and form then what is light? According to science light is electromagnetic energy that is produced by the sun in different wavelengths, all traveling at about the same speed. There are two kinds of light, one is visible and the other is invisible.

The visible light is the white light that gives us color and form. This white light is not visible to the eye until it hits an object and is reflected back to the eye by the object.

If the surface is shiny or glossy it will reflect more brightly than it would if it were dull or a satin finish. The bright highlight we see on a very shiny object is the reflection of the light rays and light source.

If the surface is dark or dull, they will absorb more light rays and reflect fewer light rays back to the eye. This absorption of the light rays creates the illusion of a deeper, darker color. Lighter colored objects will always reflect more rays and give off more brilliance of color and intensity of highlight.


Sir Isaac Newton discovered that sunlight, which is white light, was broken into different colors when it passed through a simple triangular glass prism. These are the same colors we see in a rainbow. They are the colors of the spectrum.

When the sunlight shines through falling water drops at the proper angle the drops break up the light rays creating the spectrum and we see a rainbow.



They soon discovered that using different combinations of these could mix other colors. However we cannot mix Red, yellow and blue and these became the three primary colors on the color wheel.
Mr. Newton noticed that there were seven colors that were reflected through the prism; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

This is so important for artists to understand because we need to know how much highlight an object would reflect. To paint pink velvet you need to know that this will not reflect light like a pink satin. One is shiny and the other more matt. If you painted the velvet with lots of highlights it would not look like velvet.

Pink Velvet

Pink Satin
We must remember that we are working with paint pigment not light rays. Newton studies were with light rays and did not contain white or black, which are so important in today's, world of paint mixing. Our pigments of paint are solid substances ranging from opaque to transparent and each one has its own light absorption and reflection abilities.


These illustrations show the behavior of light rays when they strike surfaces with different densities. Notice the light rays striking the clear object trave through the object with just a small amount reflecting off the surface. The frosted surface changes the direction of the rays. In both cases the internal structures of the objects bend the rays as they pass through and into the objects.
The same rules of bending the light rays apply to paint pigments. Alizarin Crimson is a transparent color while Cadmium Orange is an opaque color. The Alizarin being transparent has us looking "into" the paint and not "at it" as with the opaque Cadmium Orange. Here in lies the theory of "Glazing." The light ray on the Alizarin color penetrates the paint and strikes the canvas surface and then is reflected back to the eye. So you can see here why you cannot use an opaque or semi-transparent color to glaze with. This also applies to using a glazing medium, which is semi-transparent.



These illustrations show how light rays are affected when they strike three different densities of paint pigment. They totally penetrate a transparent layer of paint and then reflect from another surface back through to the eye.

Some rays are absorbed on the translucent pigment but some of the particles get in the way and the reflection is changed.

On the opaque paint the light rays cannot penetrate and are therefore changed by the surface of the paint only.

New Free Pattern Blog

New Free Pattern Blog
Sharon Teal Coray has a new blog offering free patterns! Updated often! Check it out!