Did Van Gogh have protanomal color deficiency?

Did Van Gogh have protanomal color deficiency? From an article by Kazunori Asada
About 8 percent of male human beings, and a much smaller 0.5 percent of females, have some form of color vision deficiency, commonly called “color blindness”, in which the perception of colors is limited or altered in some way compared to the general population.

It has been suggested at times that Vincent van Gogh’s unusual use of some colors, particularly yellows and greens, was related to a visual problem, perhaps brought on by lead poisoning from paint, or treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy with a drug known as digitalis, both of which can cause visual alterations.

Kazunori Asada, who has degrees in both medical science and media design and is the developer of the Chromatic Vision Simulator software that allows those with normal color vision to explore various kinds of color vision deficiencies, has written an article on his blog entitled The Day I Saw Van Gogh’s Genius in a New Light, that explores the possibility that Van Gogh may have had a particular type of mildly limited color vision called protanomal color vision.

Asada was inspired to explore this possibility by a visit to the “Color Vision Experience Room” at and event at the Hokkaido Color Universal Design Organization. In the exhibit, objects on display under filtered light designed to simulate color deficiencies included reproductions of some of Van Gogh’s paintings.

He then attempted to use his software to examine some similar reproductions and was unsatisfied with the result, but after some adjustment, he arrived at a new version in which a more limited degree of color deficiency was possible to simulate.

In images accompanying his article, which I have referenced above, he first shows some of Van Gogh’s paintings as they normally appear (above, top and left) side by side with a simulation of their appearance to someone with protanomal color vision.

He emphasizes that Van Gogh may or may not have had these limitations, but the theory is an interesting one, and Asada says that it reinvigorated his already deep appreciation for Van Gogh’s work.

[Via MetaFilter]


James Gurney on Gamut Masking

James Gurney on Gamut Masking
A gamut is a range of colors. More specifically it is a range of colors that can be created or reproduced on a particular device or with a certain set of beginning colors.

Those working with print reproduction are very familiar with the concept of the CMYK gamut, or the range of colors that can be reproduced using traditional Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black printing inks, a smaller subset of the colors available, for example, on a computer monitor.

It’s not a term that painters use as often, but “gamut” also applies to a painter’s palette. When starting from a particular set of colors, the gamut is the range of colors that can be produced by mixing those colors (usually with the addition of white).

You will often hear me mention a “carefully controlled” or “limited” palette when talking about specific artists, particularly those working in film and gaming concept and visual development art, where limited gamuts are used to dramatic effect.

James Gurney, a highly experienced artist who works both with paintings for reproduction and for easel painting, has posted a series of articles on his blog, Gurney Journey, that delve into this often misunderstood aspect of color choices.

He started several years ago with a three part series on Color Wheel Masking, The Shapes of Color Schemes and From Mask to Palette.

His recent posts on the Gamut Masking Method, (Part 2 and Part 3) carry the principles into the creation of variations in color scheme for alternate versions of the same painting, making the process even clearer.

The most recent post, Part 3, Gamut Masking Method is particularly informative in that Gurney has included an excellent short video in which he explains the essential principles of gamut masking in a demonstration.

These principles are also covered in some detail in Gurney’s excellent recent book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (my review here).


Cartoon Color Wheel

Cartoon Color Wheel on Slate
Here’s a fun notion; the Slate Magazine blog, Culturebox, has put together an interactive color wheel of cartoon characters arranged by their hue (and, correctly enough, by intensity, as indicated by our grayish friends at the center of the wheel).

In the original, you can mouse over the characters for identification.

[Via Cartoon Brew]


Wikipedia Color Resources

Wikipedia Color Resources
There are lots of color resources on the web, for artists, designers and others, but an often overlooked one is Wikipedia, the venerable user-edited online encyclopedia.

Whatever you may say about the reliability of the information on Wikipedia (or from Britannica, or any other single resource, for that matter), I rarely consider a source like Wikipedia a place to end a search, but, like Google, a place to begin one.

Though not specifically an artist’s resource, Wikipedia’s color related articles are numerous and varied.

You might find it interesting to start with their “List of Colors“. The list includes a lot of non-artist colors, like “British Racing Green” and “Psychedelic Purple”, but the familiar artist pigments are there too. Links for those lead to articles with information about the pigment, including source materials, history, chemical composition, lightfastness, typical use, hazardous qualities, color system numbers and sometimes more.

Some are grouped; Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red all lead to a single entry for “Cadmium pigments“, but some have more extensive and interesting listings, like the history behind Ultramarine.

There are articles about Color Theory, Color Vision, the Color Wheel, Complimentary Color, Primary Color, Hue, Saturation and many other related topics.

Though hardly an exhaustive resource on color for artists, it does seem a valuable resource to add to your virtual palette.


Confident Color

Confident Color: An Artist's Guide to Harmony, Contrast and Unity, Nita Leland
This is one of those books for which the binding is key.

Nita Leland’s Confident Color: An Artist’s Guide to Harmony, Contrast and Unity is published by venerable art instruction book publisher North Light Books.

Like Leland’s previous book, The New Creative Artist (which I reviewed here) and Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination (my review here), North Light has published it in their hybrid hardback/spiral binding, giving the overt clue that this is a book meant to be used, rather then simply read.

The spiral binding allows for laying the book flat on your drawing table, the hardcover allows for rough and continued handling, and the combination allows for propping the book open upright on the rail of an easel.

The intention of the publisher clearly matches that of the writer, to get the most out of this book, it needs to be used, worked with over time; and will have shown its best service when ragged at the edges and spattered with paint.

Not that you couldn’t settle into the Comfy Chair and find lots of interest to read through and look at; Leland drills through a concise introduction to color theory, history and terminology and covers the basics of understanding palettes and pigments, all augmented with her selections of works from a variety of contemporary working artists and a few of her own. The real value, though, is in the exercises, trials, procedures and processes that form the core of the book.

If you’re lucky, you may have encountered a teacher like Leland in your formative years, one who will, however gently and politely, continue to poke and prod and push you to try something new, move out of your comfort zone, experiment, play and explore.

This isn’t random try-whatever experimentation, however; in Confident Color Leland provides you with guided exploration, designed to systematically familiarize you with the ranges of relationships presented by your color choices.

There is a “Look Inside” preview on the Amazon listing, though as is often the case, the pages represented don’t give the best indication of the actual content of the book. The index is actually better for that.

The book is aimed at beginners as well as more advanced artists, and though watercolor is Leland’s medium and some of the pigments mentioned are particular to watercolor, the general palettes are set up with colors that work well across most mediums that involve color.

In some ways this is an extension of and companion to Leland’s 1998 book Exploring Color, which has become something of a standard among books on working with color. That book, though without the advantage of the lay-flat binding, was also meant to be worked with.

Both volumes focus alternately on the split-primary process of color mixing and on the exploration of variations on the red/blue/yellow triads that serve as the basis for several of many possible color wheels.

She urges you to work with and understand the difference between palettes composed of muted, intense and earth-toned colors, as well as the “workhorse” colors that form the basis of most artist’s palettes.

In pursuing her exercises and explorations, you might work with colors and combinations that you would’t use in other circumstances, which may seem counter productive; but just as contour drawing is rarely used as the style for a finished work, knowing artists will work at it with dedication, letting the practice inform and strengthen their finished style.

This isn’t the kind of book that says “mix two parts Cad Yellow to one part Ultramarine to paint this foliage”; in Confident Color, Leland is suggesting if you experiment with these excursions into color harmony and contrast, work through the mixtures possible with variations of of the primary triad and really get the feeling for how colors act and react with one another, you’ll instinctively know what to mix when you want to paint something.

The book’s binding is the key. Confidence comes from doing.


Color Vision & Art

Michelangelo's Doni Holy Family, Monet's Impression: Sunrise, on WebExhibits
Color Vision & Art is an online feature on WebExhibits, which describes itself as an “interactive museum of science, humanities and culture”.

The feature is a series of related articles, accompanied by images and simple Flash interactives, that explore the relationship of human color perception to the uses of color in art. The feature is more extensive than it appears first, each section divided into secondary and sometimes tertiary levels of topics.

The articles move from basic information about light, color and vision, through color theory and the color wheel (additionally, see my post on History of the Color Wheel), paints and pigments (for which there is a dedicated feature on WebExhibits, Pigments Through the Ages) into color interactions and peripheral vision. The latter has some interesting essays on the use of detail and blurring in paintings at various points in art history.

I found the section on Color Interactions Simultaneous Contrast a little spare, as I feel this is at the core of understanding and using color, and could have benefitted from additional interactions and demonstrations, (particularly demonstrations such as the striking examples of simultaneous contrast shown by modern color perception demonstrations like the ones I wrote about here and here).

However, I found particular interest in the section on Luminance and equiluminance, or value contrasts and value similarities. This is illustrated particularly well in simple interactives that use sliders to remove the color and show the strong value relationships in Michelangelo’s Doni Holy Family and the very different ones in Monet’s Impression: Sunrise. The latter is the painting from which the term “Impressionism”, originally a bit of derisive mockery by critics, came into use.

The interactives allow you to gradually remove the color from both paintings, viewing the difference in their color contrasts and value contrasts. (The images above are just screen captures and are not interactive.)

Most fascinating is the combination of deliberate lack of value contrast and simultaneous strong color contrast in the key parts of Monet’s painting, also demonstrated in his Poppies, near Argenteuil, producing a conflict in the perception of the contrast within the brain that makes the area seem to vibrate.

Overall, the features are, if you will excuse the expression, illuminating, and well worth both casual perusal and more dedicated reading if you have the time.

Other features in WebExhibits of particular interest to Lines and Colors readers include Causes of Color, Pigments Through the Ages, Bellini’s “Feast of the Gods” and Van Gogh’s Letters.