Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Colour matters

I was telling this story on Sunday,  and I was using the Go Teach visual aids, which I drew.

It was quite a tricky picture to make clear. The point of the story is that it's such a dense crowd that no-one notices the lady creeping up to touch Jesus' cloak. But, of course, while the picture has to look confusing and busy, the children in the class do have to see what's going on.

One of the ways I did this was to use colour. Colour is not just decoration. It can be used for clarity and emphasis, and for atmosphere. In this case, clarity was the main issue.

Here's what I did to make Jesus and the woman stand out:

  • Jesus and the women are dressed in strong colours: the other characters are in paler, muted colours.
  • Jesus and the woman are in reddish shades: most - though not all - of the others are in blue/green shades which stand out less.*
  • Jesus and the woman are the only ones with jet black hair: everyone else's is paler. Light hair is possible in the middle east - in real life it would not be this common, especially among adults, however that's what you call artist's license.
  • Each individual person does not have much contrast in their clothes - the patterns on the clothes are a similar colour to the clothes themselves (more artist's license - in real life the stripes were quite strong). Also, the woman's shawl and dress are of a similar colour to each other, as are Jesus' cloak and tunic. This holds each person together as one object instead of breaking them up. That's the opposite of the principles behind camouflage, which is designed to break up the person's shape to make them stand out less.
  • I've also used aerial perspective - making things in the distance (and their outlines) paler, so they recede.

Just for fun, I made another version of this picture, using colours to make the picture harder to understand. Here it is:

  • Everyone is dressed in strong colours.
  • Jesus and the woman are in blue/green shades which stand out less: random unimportant people are in bright reds or yellows
  • Jesus' hair is brown, like most of the others, and the woman's hair is pale grey: but several unimportant characters have jet black hair.
  • Individual people have quite a lot of contrast in their clothes. The woman does not, but she is coloured so that her sleeve is a similar colour to the girl behind her, and her hand is a similar colour to the man behind it. This means that they blend into the background.
  • I've used no aerial perspective, so the background is more prominent.

And here's a comparison - it flicks from one to the other:

Half shut your eyes - in which picture can you see at a glance who the main characters are and what's going on?

Of course, all of this is subconscious as far as the viewer is concerned. You don't analyse the colours - you just look at the picture. But it's important, because it makes such a difference to your understanding.

Actually, this post happens to fit really well with the quote I posted on Saturday. That was by a colourist - someone who makes his living by colouring other people's pictures (much more complicated colouring than I do!).

*Unless you have red/green colourblindness - sorry :-)

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