Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Art Philosophy: The Use of Color

Color is an interesting animal. It is one of the Elements of Art (which include Line, Shape, Form, Value, Space, Texture, Color, and Motion), and probably the most powerful element. Differences in color will override any other design elements or ideas and immediately draw the eye to it.

Because it's so powerful, it needs to be used judiciously to gain maximum impact. In the early days of printing, this was forced onto artists, because of the difficulty and limitations they had. Artists were forced to design with color and really consider and plan for its use.

In the current digital era, color is so easy to add and print, it too often is overdone with form and shading meticulously rendered on every last hair. Just pick up a comic book from 2005 and compare it to a comic from 1995 and one from 1985. You'll see the approach and use of colors is completely different. In 1985, colors were created from hand cut film with each plate (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black) being a value of the whole divisible by four (25%, 50%, 75%, 100%). This limited the number of colors, made multiple colors more difficult and expensive, and so forced good colorists to make the most of a few hues. The results were really amazing. The 1995 comic shows the beginning of computer coloring with every color under the sun thrown in as a gradation with chaotic patterns of lights and darks and photoshop filters thrown in just because you could. Comics from 2005 seem to forget there were multiple colors and use mostly browns and greys with every value of each to create a very bland and muddy look.

This is just one of thousands of examples how the ease of adding color has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because an artist can now use any color he so chooses. But that creates the temptation to use every color just because you can. There is no longer the technical restraints to force an artist to plan his color design--he has to rely on self discipline, something creative people tend to lack.

The two works I've posted are different color treatments of the same image. The first followed my current move in color to use black & white plus one color. The second is a more traditionally colored version with flat shadows added. I like both, but the first on just seems to look more like art while the second looks more like commercial pandering. Not that there's anything wrong with commercial pandering, but it is nice to have a break from it. After all, we're faced with it everyday nearly everywhere we look.

These were drawn with a Zebra disposable brush pen and colored in Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. I'm still not sure which I like better, because each has things going for it, and each have places they could be improved.

What do you think?

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