Flying Colors

A funny bit of synchronicity happened the other night when I was modeling at the National Art League in Queens. For an eight session booking with instructor Rob Silverman, I am set up wearing a skirt, hat, and shawl, sitting on a lawn chair, reading a book. The clothing is mine, which I brought to the first session at Rob’s request, but the book was a last minute addition. I didn’t have one with me, so we took one from the League bookshelf. We models are sometimes asked to do the “posing while reading” routine, as it makes for a nice composition, showing the subject more “active” than just sitting in a chair and staring into space. And with our set-up, the student artists can paint in an “outdoor” nature setting for the background and experiment with that, if they so choose.

So the book I’m reading is an old publication from the 1950s called Color for Profit by Louis Cheskin, who I’ve learned was the marketing brain behind “The Marlboro Man” ad campaign. Though the title is less than inspiring, the book is actually quite interesting! It’s a manual that discusses the effective use of color in advertising, packaging, and commercial design, in addition to exploring the science of colors and their various psychological effects. Out of curiosity, I looked the book up on Amazon and lo and behold, there it was. Although my pose-reading during the class is a bit hampered by my not be able to wear my reading glasses, I have been able to decipher some interesting lines through my blurred vision. For example, yellow is not a “preferred” color for many people, but it has strong “retention”. “Peach”, on the other hand, is a well-liked color but is also more easily forgotten. Also, there are regional preferences in colors among consumers. What goes over well on California billboards and store shelves may not go over well in New Jersey’s.

Moving along, Rob was doing was one of his very informative demos for the class. He’s really a superb teacher and I’ve posed for him many times. He took this photo of me in a pose from a class last year. So I was in the pose for the demo, and when a student asked a question about background colors, Rob’s response was, in substance, the exact same thing I was reading at that very moment in the Color for Profit book – page 95:  “Because warm colors advance and cool colors recede, overly warm colors should be avoided on backgrounds”. What a coincidence! I was listening to the discussion while posing, eyes downcast, and a smile crept across my face. If I wasn’t such a consummate professional (hehe) I would have jumped out of my chair, held up the book and said “Haha, I just read that!”. Now even though the book is dealing with packaging and merchandising, the qualities of colors remain the same no matter what – in fine arts, in commercial arts, makes no difference.

Here is Rob’s demo work of me in my “sitting and reading” pose. And there’s the book!

IMG_7104

And this color study is by Paul David Elsen, class monitor and a wonderful artist who has been an absolute pleasure to work with. I love these kinds of loose paint sketches.

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18 thoughts on “Flying Colors

  1. Bill says:

    Nice posting — and it does sound like a good book. The psychology of color is a fascinating topic.

    The painting is great too — of course, he did have a great model to work from:-) Except I do generally have a personal thing about hats. I’ll be at a drop-in session and the model says that she brought a hat — everybody else perks up, and I try not to scream. (I’ve found that screaming during drop-in sessions is generally considered to be bad form. 🙂 But that’s just me — and I do like both of these paintings.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      I’d say screaming is probably bad form, yeah 🙂 Now is it just hats you have a thing about or all kinds of accessories on models? What about scarves, props, etc? I’m curious because there are some models who show up to gigs with all sorts of things! Some artists in groups get excited, others not so much.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

      • Bill says:

        Don’t like props or accessories either. Particular scarves around the neck — separates the head from the rest of the body. Skin and hair aren’t usually especially chromatic — so Impressionists in particular seem to welcome that dash of color. I just want to draw/paint the person — that’s all I care about. Just see everything else as a distraction. (Judging from other people’s reactions, mine is a minority opinion. But I’m accustomed to that :-))

  2. artmodelandrew says:

    The book reading pose is new to me, but coincidentally I did it twice in November/December. One in a costumed pose over two 6-hour classes, and once nude in a 3-hour class. I wore my reading glasses, so I guess I wasn’t completely nude. 😉

    I’ve heard cool colors, soft brush strokes, fuzzy edges, and dark values push back. Warm colors, strong brushstrokes, hard edges, and bright values pop forward.

    I love these small world moments like when the teacher was lecturing about the same thing you happened to be reading. The universe was in sync! And it sounds like an interesting book. I’m sure various colors evoke different responses (calming, energizing, etc.) and different impressions (credible, frivolous, fun, etc.). I think this psychology of color is used in environmental design (architecture) as well, particularly in schools and hospitals.

  3. Chas Spain says:

    Really nice post. Isn’t it strange how often you read something obscure and then hear it or see it somewhere else. The colour psychology is fascinating.

    • artmodel says:

      Chas Spain,

      Fascinating is the definitely the word. And it makes us think about how much we take colors for granted … artists don’t of course, but the rest of us!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  4. Jennifer says:

    It’s so strange when those coincidences happen! Lovely portraits of you 🙂 Hope the snow isn’t too bad this coming weekend!!

    Take care xx

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      Glad you like the portraits! And the class still has a few more sessions to go. Judging by the progress they’re making, I’m sure more wonderful works will be created.

      The storm hit us badly! It’s still coming down as I write this. I haven’t gone out to shovel yet. Kind of dreading it!

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  5. Dave says:

    Wonderful post, Claudia, and some great paintings to boot.

    I’ve done the reading-the-book (or newspaper) pose a few times. Usually what happens is the instructor notices me reading during a break and says, “Hey, that’s a nice pose, can you do that after the break?” But, unlike Andew, I always take off my glasses when I pose (somehow I don’t feel nude with the glasses on), so I can’t actually read the book during the pose. Did you turn the pages while posing?

    • artmodel says:

      Dave,

      I did turn the pages but, like you, I didn’t have my glasses on. Reading is tough without them! I’ve had the same experience of instructors catching me doing something natural on my break and requesting it for a pose. Fun when that happens!

      Thanks for your comments. Always good to hear from you, Dave!

      Claudia

  6. Your readers would like some kind of confirmation that you survived the snow dump. We only got half of what you all did and things were pretty lousy.

    • artmodel says:

      Hi Todd!

      I survived and am snowed-in, like all of us here in the NYC area! Thanks for your concern. This was a big one to be sure. Spent the day shoveling, and shoveling … and shoveling. For us, Saturday morning was bad but then in the afternoon it really got into heavy “snowpocalyspe” levels. Transit and roads were all closed down. Hope you are managing ok. Stay safe!

      Claudia

  7. 2cupsofjoe says:

    “Warm colors advance and cool colors recede.” Very true, I learned about that in my previous floral arrangement class.

  8. I believe that one of the best analysis of the relationship between colors and distance can be found in John Ruskin’s book ‘The Elements of Drawing”. Here is the excerpt:

    “It is a favorite dogma among modern writers on color that “warm colours” (reds and yellows) “approach,” or express nearness, and “cold colours” (blue and gray) “retire,” or express distance. So far is this from being the case, that no expression of distance in the world is so great as that of the gold and orange in twilight sky. Colours, as such, are ABSOLUTELY inexpressive respecting distance. It is their quality (as depth, delicacy, etc.) which expresses distance, not their tint.
    A blue bandbox set on the same shelf with a yellow one will not look an inch farther off, but a red or orange cloud, in the upper sky, will always appear to be beyond a blue cloud close to us, as it is in reality. It is quite true that in certain objects, blue is a sign of distance; but that is not because blue is a retiring colour, but because the mist in the air is blue, and therefore any warm colour which has not strength of light enough to pierce the mist is lost or subdued in its blue: but blue is no more, on this account, a “retiring colour,” than brown is a retiring colour, because, when stones are seen through brown water, the deeper they lie the browner they look; or than yellow is a retiring colour, because, when objects are seen through a London fog, the farther off they are the yellower they look. Neither blue, nor yellow, nor red, can have, as such, the smallest power of expressing either nearness or distance: they express them only under the peculiar circumstances which render them at the moment, or in that place, signs of nearness or distance. Thus, vivid orange in an orange is a sign of nearness, for if you put the orange a great way off, its colour will not look so bright; but vivid orange in sky is a sign of distance, because you cannot get the colour of orange in a cloud near you. So purple in a violet or a hyacinth is a sign of nearness, because the closer you look at them the more purple you see. But purple in a mountain is a sign of distance, because a mountain close to you is not purple, but green or gray.
    It may, indeed, be generally assumed that a tender or pale colour will more or less express distance, and a powerful or dark colour nearness; but even this is not always so. Heathery hills will usually give a pale and tender purple near, and an intense and dark purple far away; the rose colour of sunset on snow is pale on the snow at your feet, deep and full on the snow in the distance; and the green of a Swiss lake is pale in the clear waves on the beach, but intense as an emerald in the sunstreak six miles from shore. And in any case, when the foreground is in strong light, with much water about it, or white surface, casting intense reflections, all its colors may be perfectly delicate, pale, and faint; while the distance, when it is in shadow, may relieve the whole foreground with intense darks of purple, blue green, or ultramarine blue. So that, on the whole, it is quite hopeless and absurd to expect any help from laws of “aërial perspective.” Look for the natural effects, and set them down as fully as you can, and as faithfully, and never alter a colour because it won’t look in its right place. Put the colour strong, if it be strong, though far off; faint, if it be faint, though close to you. Why should you suppose that Nature always means you to know exactly how far one thing is from another? She certainly intends you always to enjoy her colouring, but she does not wish you always to measure her space. You would be hard put to it, every time you painted the sun setting, if you had to express his 95,000,000 miles of distance in “aërial perspective.”

    I find the two portraits quite nice, with a slight preference for the second one.Congratulations to artist and model!

    Will

    • artmodelandrew says:

      I think “rules of thumb” indicate tendencies rather than immutable laws of physics. Ruskin may be missing this nuance. All other things being equal, a warm color purportedly advances and a cool color recedes. All other things being equal, fuzzy edges look far away whereas something close tends to have crisp edges. These things are relative, not absolute. All of this is perceptual rather reality–things far away have crisp edges too; we just can’t see them as clearly.

      But of course you can have a landscape with (cool) green grass in the foreground and a (warm) sunset in the background. You can construct a still life with cool objects in the foreground and warm objects in the background.

      There may be a parallel with writing. One must learn the rules of grammar, but once mastered, a writer may choose to break them to serve his or her purposes.

      I am not a painter (or a draftsman, for that matter) so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I find color–especially temperature–to be fascinating but mysterious and complex topic.

    • artmodel says:

      Will,

      A fascinating excerpt, thank you for sharing! This part really sums it up:
      “Look for the natural effects, and set them down as fully as you can, and as faithfully, and never alter a colour because it won’t look in its right place.”

      And I’m glad you liked the paintings! The whole class really got into it. Color studies are wonderful.

      Claudia

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