It Makes Me See Red

"The last mad throb of red just as it turns green; the ultimate shriek of orange calling all the blues of heaven for relief and support…each color almost regains the fun it must have felt within itself on forming the first rainbow." –Charles Demuth

Birthday Bouquet by Ann Trusty, oil painting. Light temperature chart--a handy reference for artists.
Birthday Bouquet by Ann Trusty, oil painting. Light temperature chart–a handy reference for artists.

As painters, we are intimately involved with the act of representing the effects of light on the world around us. We first learned about the science of light in a course called "Physics for Artists" in college. The physical properties of the electromagnetic radiation that we call light are well-quantified and measured in wavelengths, called Angstroms.

Visible light (to humans) occupies a range between 3800 to 7500 Angstroms. (One Angstrom equals .00000001 centimeter.) Red is the longest wavelength, 6200 to 7500 A, and so has a low frequency, (think: long and steady), which makes it very visible at longer distances–hence the red stop sign.

Red color affects humans on a physiological level as well, and can cause increased heart rate and alertness, also useful for stop signs. It can be an interesting and powerful tool in the hands of an oil painting artist. It may well be in our DNA to be alert to red. Human eyes are more richly endowed with the two cone types set to red and yellow wavelengths than with those sensitive to short, blue-tinged light. Using too much red in a painting might irritate or agitate, but just the right amount makes a Winslow Homer fine art oil painting coalesce into a masterpiece.

Daylight is thought of as predominantly white, but as shown in the chart, actually varies quite a bit in color temperature depending on latitude, season and time of day, from 2000-3000 degrees Kelvin (red-orange) to 10,000º K (blue). For the painter it is important to make note of the relative temperature of the ambient light on a subject, whether indoors or out, because the temperature of the light on a subject determines the colors that will be reflected off it and also the colors of the shadows around it.

North light is valued by the artist for its steadiness throughout the day, but we find it too cool to provide properly balanced white light for our still lives when working in the studio. We augment our north windows with a 3600º K  photo lamp, in front of which we have placed a color-correction filter, which brings the total effect closer to the 5500º – 6000ºK ideal temperature we want. It is an absolute necessity for the artist to understand light and its effects, and getting the light right in the studio is the first step to being able to use color to create moving, evocative works of art. If you are having color problems in your paintings, investigate the temperature of the light you are using.

 We hope you will join us on The Artist's Road for more in-depth articles, step-by-step demonstrations and interviews.

–John and Ann


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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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