Friday, March 9, 2012

Changing Colors

"Changing Colors" -- no, this is not about what happens to leaves in the fall.

The colors that we see in the world are not absolute. What we see depends on many factors: other colors that are nearby, time of day, and in this case -- the amount of light that is falling on the colored object.

Model railroading is sort of a combined hobby/kinetic sculpture for me. As a painter, I rarely make three-dimensional objects. But a model railroad fulfills that need in me. I've often had layouts in progress, but most I never finished. Except for one.

It was a small (3' x 3'/less than 1m x 1m) HO scale setup with red rock scenery typical of southern Utah. I even collected containers of the reddish soil found in the Monument Valley area. I had some house paint mixed to match, then I painted the layout and dusted it with the sand I collected to provide a realistic texture.

There was only one problem. That beautiful rusty red coloring soil when viewed outside in the sun, looked like dried blood when seen inside under typical home lighting. Red-rock soil is darker than it appears when seen in nature.

I often wondered why so many of the older en plein aire paintings (or, as I like to say, "in plain air; it's French for "in the open air," or it's painted outside) sometimes seemed too dark, with muted colors and low-to-moderate contrast. My lesson with red rock scenery was this: if you paint outside with accurate colors, those colors will be accurate only when the painting is outside!

I still believe that landscape painters like my myself need to do some en plein aire painting -- it teaches the artist many things about color. But if the artist is a studio painter like me, colors, lights and darks may have to be adjusted to look correct, even if a direct comparison shows that the colors and values are not.

Thus, although my paintings look real to most people, I usually manipulate things so that I can direct the eye around the canvas and give the impression of reality.

By the way, I hope to start a new, small model railroad soon. I collected some red soil from the Page, AZ area -- it matched a color swatch I made before going. The dirt appears lighter and more golden than the Monument Valley soil and should work better. If it doesn't, I guess I'll need to apply the sand and rocks and THEN paint the entire thing so that it looks good indoors, while keeping the rough textures I want. (I'll post photos when it's done -- which could be a while).

It's been a long time since I've made a piece of 3D art. I'm ready!

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