COLOUR IN DARK SITUATIONS
DARK situations require strong, bright colour with sufficient contrast of tone to light up th darkness.
The old Egyptian schemes employed fo:r wall decoration are intended to be seen in deep shade. After the blinding glare outside, the Egyptian desired rest for his eyes, and so avoided windows as far as possible, but he did not wish for a dull, cold gloom, and therefore he used the richest and brightest colours to turn the heavy shadows into a rich bloom,, The strong red, blue, green, yellow, and white,, which strive so hard for mastery in an ordinary light, are quite beautiful in semi-darkness.
The same considerations have apparently guided the decorators of the finest of the ol houses of Cairo, in which the ceilings are treated with vivid colours and gold, echoed more soberly by the rich rugs upon the floor, the lovely, cool tints of blue, green, and white being reserved for the spaces opposite the eye.
The typical Persian scheme of rose, flame colour, white, and gold, upon a ground of lustrous blue, is also founded upon the same idea of darkness lit up by a glow of soft colour. Seen under the conditions for which it was planned, such a scheme must have glowed like a clear sky at nightfall.
The Pompeiian wall decorations which, when reproduced apart from their surroundings, appear rather garish, were designed for a reflected and not a direct light, so that, being placed in a rather dark situation, and lit by a warm reflection, the jarring notes would be brought together, and all undue brightness would be subdued.
This question of the use of colour in dark situations should appeal strongly to all decorators of public buildings, for churches, chapels, and public halls of all sorts afford problems in plenty. In many cases there is quite a large space between the tops of the windows and the top of the wall in which they are placed, and this space inevitably retires into darkness more or less intense. Again, the wall-space between two windows tends to darkness by force of contrast with the light on either side. In either case bright, strong colour may be used without appearing offensive, especially if due regard is shown for the effect of tone-contras A decoration composed of colours of nearly equal tone-values must needs appear flat to th verge of dullness under such conditions, where; a sharp tone-contrast will make the decorated space sparkle in spite of the weight of shade. The size of the coloured spaces used in th decoration must, of course, be carefully prc portioned to the conditions. The glare from a large window will drown all small forms in its neighbourhood. Not only must the colours be clear, but the shapes they fill must be larg enough and simple enough to hold their own. In church decoration the east wall of th chancel is usually the critical spot, for it is commonly seen under most trying conditions
The wall is so dominated by the light from the east window that no delicate tints or small forms have any chance of being seen. Examples are constantly to be found of work utterly wasted?lost in darkness which it does not even attempt to lighten. This is in some degree due to the making of designs without the least reference to the situation in which they are to be carried out, but a still stronger reason is the rarity of really good colour-planning. Churches are often worse treated in this respect than any other buildings, owing to the hideous medley of coloured glass in the windows. Usually florid, pretentious, and commonplace, these windows are seldom thought of as forming part of a complete scheme, but only as advertisements for the firm which supplies them. They are on a par with that class of ” decorations ” supplied, not because they are suitable, but according to a scale of prices?so much a square foot. Where it is not desired to put in a complete set of windows at one time, the scheme for the whole should be prepared so as to produce a united effect, and each addition to the coloured glass should be made in conformity to this scheme.
Well-chosen colour, of sufficient brightness but quite simply arranged, could be so used as to make the difficult east wall quite delightful to look at, and that without clashing with the window. The same type of colour, but of less intensity, could be used in the lighter situations. The tone contrasts would require to be modified to suit the light?stronger in the more distant parts or in the shade, and weaker in ordinary light and nearer to the eye.
Where it is desired to produce soft colour-effects in dark places, recourse must be had to the interlacing of varied colours at short intervals. Toned, and somewhat blurred, by the depth of shade, these colours will be united by the time they reach the eye, and will give the effect of a soft blend.
Dark situations in ordinary houses require to be treated on the same lines. For instance, the carpet of a room which is DIRTY COLOUR
DIRT has been well defined as ” matter out of place” and this is singularly true in the case of colour.
If we are dealing only with light and shade, we find that the presence of too much dark on the light surfaces, and of too much light in places which should be dark, produces an effect of dirtiness. The more patchy and irregular these false lights and darks are, the dirtier will be the effect. The removal of these patches will clean up the work most wonderfully.
In colour the sense of dirtiness is generally due to a failure to observe the natural order. The presence of dark yellow or yellow-brown in a space devoted to light reds, pinks, greens, or blues usually produces the effect of dirtiness. One of the commonest examples of this occurs in painting from life. A passage of delicate, warm grey in which touches of a dark yellow (or brownish) colour have been allowed to appear will surely look dirty. Touches of red, darker than their surroundings, placed in a cool, bluish-grey half-tone will look dirty.
At the first glance this statement appears to clash with the well-known principle in flesh-painting : ” Keep your shadows warm and your lights cool ” ; but, if we will take the trouble carefully to distinguish one passage from another, we shall find that yellows are backed by reds or greens a little darker than themselves, and that the reds are in turn supported by purple-reds, while the greens tend to blue. Cold high-lights on warm yellows or reds, and delicate, cool grey or bluish edges of halftones supply the slight but necessary discords.
In considering so difficult and delicate a question as this, one must remember that a light passage and a dark passage may each be complete in itself. One finds in certain dark complexions, it may be on the forehead and temple, delicate yellows deepening towards green, but all in a very light key, while close by, in the shadow of the jaw, will be dark yellows, much deeper than the green in the light passage. Examination will show that the dark yellows in the dark passage are backed by olive or green, or even blue-black, darker than themselves.
This principle enables us to understand how different masters of painting, with widely divergent tastes in colour, may yet work on the same foundation. Rubens, as we know, said, ” Paint your lights yellow and your shadows red ; afterwards, with a brush dipped in cool grey, go over the half-tones.” The late John Pettie, who, in his advice to students, devoted himself solely to colour, used to say, cc Paint your shadows yellow, for the reflected lights are full of it.” Each was right in his own way, though Rubens saw farther, and based his advice on a more profound knowledge.
Whatever considerations of luminosity may have prompted certain great painters to employ reds in the deep shadows of flesh, there can be no doubt that the presence of these dark reds helps greatly to put the dark golds in place without having recourse to blue, and, consequently, without cutting up the effect so seriously. Careful attention to the natural order will assist greatly in getting ” breadth ” of colour. The practice, so common of late years, of introducing many different colours into every portion of a painting and into every tint, however sober, is fraught with great danger to breadth, for in the hands of anyone but a great master the various colours are almost certain to slip out of their proper order and so neutralize the effect by appearing dirty. The beautiful sparkle and subtle gradation, which should have been among the great qualities of the picture, are replaced by a harsh, metallic glitter, with violent changes from point to point, while, worse than all, one is offended by patches undeniably ” dirty.”
Students will find that by practising fine and slow gradations of colour in its true order they can dispense with the multiplicity of varied tints, obtaining thereby quite as rich an effect with a much more powerful and dignified handling. When this method has been mastered, it will be an easy matter to get broken colour where it is needed, and to add the necessary discords without harshness.
Dirty colour is much in evidence in different kinds of patterned materials. Cottons and silks, carpets and wallpapers, are often to be found suffering from this bad fault.
The most common cause is the wrong use of greens and browns. If we divide greens into two classes, warm and cool, we can easily analyse them. Warm greens contain more yellow, and frequently some red, while cool greens contain more blue. The warm greens, therefore, belong to the upper end of the scale and the cool greens to the lower. If we make our warm greens deeper than the cool, we reverse the natural order and produce a discord. It is quite common to find a mass of light, cool green with large spaces of dark, warm green side by side with it, and the result is unpleasant, both colours suffering. In the same way dark, warm browns are often used with light and rather cool greens, the result being that the greens become cold and dead while the browns become hot and sometimes perfectly bilious. If the browns are cooled down?blue added to their composition will effect this?the result is less objectionable.
The nearer the discordant colours are brought to neutral grey the more nearly do they become harmonious, but the student must take warning that it is fatally easy to make greys look dirty by neglecting the natural order. Many a tint which ought to be quite silvery only succeeds in looking cold and dowdy because the foil chosen for it has been taken from the wrong end of the scale.
The free use of pale blue or blue-grey, side by side with deeper tints of green, red, or yellow-brown, is almost certain to result in making these other colours look dirty. To sum up, one may say that dirty colour is usually the result of using dark discords, i.e., tints darker in relation to their surroundings than they should be according to the natural order.
It is, of course, quite possible to use dark discords deliberately when it is desired to place dark spots upon a light, cool ground, but it must be done with moderation and with great judgment.
well filled with furniture, and not very strongly lit from the window, may contain brighter colours and sharper contrasts than would be bearable in a light room with little furniture.
Curtains hanging on the darkest wall of a room, on either side of the windows, may have more colour, more variety of colour, and more tone-contrast than is commonly thought to be safe. Placed as they are, the varied colours or contrasting tones readily blend, and if placed against a comparatively simple wall give just the note of richness and variety which the eye craves.