What makes an object look three-dimensional in a painting or a drawing?
We use a variety of cues to give us this information: light and shadow, contrast, pattern, color, texture, scale, temperature and value, usually in combinations. Our ability to measure these different parameters and make a decision about the dimensionality and location of something in our field of vision is automatic and immediate–a product of millions of years of evolving visual sophistication. Most people do not have to think much about visual perception, but as artists, it is useful to investigate.
|Black and white and full color versions of Still Life with Curtain by Cezanne.|
When we learn to draw, we practice creating the illusion of form with value changes (light to dark), or chiaroscuro, using all the subtle changes in tone from black to the white of the paper. Having gained proficiency at chiaroscuro work, we quite naturally adapt our knowledge of values to our color work. But the world of colors is not just value-driven, it has an equal partner in color temperature. Temperature (warm to cool) can and does affect our perception of form. As the shape of any object rotates away from the light source, it undergoes a temperature change. It may also display a value change, but not in every case. In the landscape, as an object gets further away, it undergoes a value change and a temperature change as well.
As artists, we can employ temperature changes to our advantage. The Impressionists loved to exploit this effect. Temperature changes in their fine art oil paintings were an essential ingredient in their ability to create scintillating, light-filled canvasses. They thoroughly understood the power of temperature changes within a limited value range in reproducing the effects of sunlight. Cezanne and Monet, especially triumphed at these kinds of techniques, so much so that most people aren't aware of the missing values. See how this black and white of Cezanne's painting above reveals his mastery of temperature within a restricted value range.
In still-life and figurative painting, we can also exploit this concept and make our paintings more effective, and our work easier. The best way to understand and learn how to use temperature instead of value to create the illusion of three dimensions is to set up a simple still life. Join us on The Artist's Road for a more in-depth article and step-by-step demonstrations on how to paint objects using only color temperature changes. If you haven't tried this yourself, you'll be amazed at how effective and fast it is to paint with temperature instead of value changes.
–John and Ann