Colors are shifty buggers. The way we process visual information causes colors to change in relationship to what they’re next to, giving us a constant source of optical illusions. This makes mixing accurate color rather complicated. Below are a few optical quandaries to illustrate how complicated this “accurate seeing” stuff can be.
“A thing is never seen as it really is.” – Albers
These illusions are excellent illustrations of why color mixing is so danged difficult. The grey bar in the gradient is the same color across. Both the orange bars are the same color, and on the next it looks like one bar is blue and the other is green, but again, they are the same. Below are some more optical illusion reveals.
The “blue” tiles on the left are the same color as the “yellow” tiles on the right. They are both grey.
More Color Illusions
Images from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/228490244_fig1_Fig-1-Colour-illusion-by-colour-constancy-The-right-eye-appears-to-be-cyan-in-the-left
These optical tricks are happening all the time, in everything we look at. Color changes according to what it’s next to. This means everywhere there is a color, this is happening in some small or dramatic measure. It’s happening in our subject matter, on our palettes, and on our canvas. I believe this is a big part of why the seemingly simple goal of “applying color where it goes” in a painting is so danged complicated.
The most interesting thing about these puzzles is that once they’re “solved” they still fool the eye. Must be some strong mechanisms in the mind to fight the proof before us. I’m educated and experienced with color theory, but that doesn’t stop my eyes from being fooled. Because of this, I’ve changed my painting strategies from “I’m going to learn to see better” to “I’m going to have a lot of my own tricks to make sure I don’t get fooled by my own paintings.” Interested in learning more? Check out my “Colors” class. I never tire of this subject. The more I learn, the more interesting it gets.