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Communicating with Colors
By Jerry Chavez

Color communicates a great deal of information. The color scheme is a combination of hues, greys, shades, translucent tints and highlights. Because of the way the eye and brain work to interpret color information, colors next to each other will affect how they both look. Color information can portray emotion, movement, temperature, time of day, weather, etc. Colors depict stages of decay and age and there are groups of colors that are found under particular conditions. Light conditions such as twilight have a great deal of the ultra-violet spectrum, but not much of the normal spectrum, so the fluorescent pigments in flowers tend to look bright but colors from the middle of the spectrum will wash out to a dull gray.

Variables in Color
Hue distinguishes blue from red, or yellow from blue, etc.  A degree of black and/or white is called admixture. Adding black to orange will create the color brown. When color pigments are mixed together, the eye interprets it as one new color. Mixing yellow and blue pigments will appear green to the eye. The spectral colors can be arranged in a circular pattern, called a color wheel;  Each color having a relationship to each other and its opposites. Colors such as red and yellow are considered warm and the colors such as blue are considered cool. The wheel is not cut in half for warm and cool colors, two thirds of the wheel are warm colors. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. These three can be combined to create all the other colors on the wheel. The secondary colors are: orange, which is red and yellow mixed evenly; green, which is yellow and blue mixed evenly; and purple, which is red and blue mixed evenly. In between the secondary and primary colors are various shades of hue. Thus the wheel is divided into three groups with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow as the dividing lines. The three color groups are the orange, purple and green.

When we talk about pigments of color, black is a combination of red, blue and yellow pigments that absorb all colors of light reflecting no color back to the eyes. Thus black is the absence of any visible color. Now it gets a little confusing, normal light comes in three colors, red, blue and green. When pigments reflect all three (red, green and blue) colors of light at the same time, the eye interprets the mix as the color white. When pigments reflect green and blue light together, the eye interprets the mix as yellow. Paint pigments subtract one or more of the colors from the combined color spectrum. Don't let this confuse you when mixing paint pigments. In fact you could forget what I just told you about the light spectrum.  Just learn the information on mixing color pigments.

Adding black to a color is called greying and will make the color seem warmer, richer, slower, quieter, heavier, further away from the viewer when it is up close, and create the illusion of a more opaque hue. Adding white to a color is called "pastelling" and will make the color look faster, cooler, lighter, louder, more distant when it is set far from the viewer, and create the illusion of a more translucent hue. Adding both white and black to a color does not actually cancel each color out; instead it creates a muddy color that can become very busy.

Color Mixing
Pairs of colors that mix to black are sometimes called "complementaries." This is usually a primary color and the opposite secondary color such as yellow and purple. Technically, if you were to mix the three primary color paints together evenly, you would produce black, but pure primary colors are almost impossible to buy. For example, a jar marked primary yellow will have some white mixed into it. Mixing this contaminated yellow with red and blue would result in a muddy gray color. When you are mixing secondary and primary colors try to think of the secondary colors as separate primary colors. For example, if you mixed a quart of blue with a quart of orange, you have actually mixed 1 pint of red, 1 pint of yellow and 2 pints of blue. So out of the 4 pints you have mixed 1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 blue resulting in 3 pints of black, plus 1 pint of blue, the end product being 4 pints of very dark blue.

The primary colors are rarely used as they are. They are too striking and can become visually irritating.  Often, colors are visually controlled by adding a small amount of another color. Examples are Chinese red (red with a little yellow), blue-green (blue with a little yellow), and yellow-green (yellow with a little blue). This can make matching existing colors and creating specific colors quite difficult sometimes.

If you were trying to mix a yellow-green to paint leaves on a tree, you may mix a pint of yellow that has been contaminated with a drop of red into a pint of green. The single drop of red would combine with a drop of blue and a drop of yellow that is already in the green. This would result in 3 drops of black, which would be quite noticeable in the final quart of paint. This contamination problem can be difficult to deal with for props viewed by a close-up camera. Fortunately, your Haunted House will probably not subject your props to this kind of scrutiny, but you should always strive for the best results you can get each step of the way. Little imperfections here and there can add up to a ridiculously unconvincing prop if care is not taken.

Shade and Highlights
Depressions and protrusions will catch the light and reflect it differently. Depressions in a prop such as the space between the ribs on a corpse will appear darker and the protrusions such as the cheekbones will appear lighter. Sometimes the pigments on skin will cluster or be less dense due to the skin being stretched or bunched. The knuckles of the hand are darker when the hand is relaxed. The cheeks will appear lighter when whistling because the skin is pulled taut.

After the chosen color has been mixed, the paint should be divided into three parts. The majority will be the base paint and the two smaller portions will be the highlight and the shade. To make the shade, the base paint could simply be mixed with a small amount of black paint and the highlight mixed with a small amount of white. A better result would come from using the darker and lighter colors that were used to mix the paint. For example, if the base paint were orange, the shade would be mixed with the base orange plus red and a little black. The highlight would be mixed with the base orange plus yellow and a little white. Remember that props like a severed head should be painted in layered colors to create a translucent effect. Skin is not just a peach, brown, yellow or red color. Under the skin are colors of purple and green with more red in fleshy areas and white in bony areas. Paint the prop with hints of these colors, then cover with the appropriate skin color. But, use thinned paint so that the under-colors show through.

Contrasting and Harmonious Colors
Colors "contrast" when they lie directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Green and red, yellow and purple, orange and blue are contrasting colors.  Colors are in "Harmony" when they are from the same color group.  Green, yellow-green and yellow would be good for painting a reptile like monster mask. You could paint the folds and deep lines of the skin green, the scales yellow-green, and the horns or teeth yellow.  To highlight details, such as the lips and inside of the mouth and ears, a contrasting color could be used. If we look at the direct opposite of the chosen color scheme we find red-purple is the opposite contrasting color. Maybe this creates too harsh a contrast. Instead, you could pick a color that is not so directly in contrast with the chosen scheme, such as red or purple. Purple is a cooler color and is even less of a contrast then the warmer color of red. You might think that orange is even closer to the color scheme and would be less of a contrast to the yellow, but it will contrast sharply with the green and result in a clashing effect. This is a simplistic but effective way to keep a balance to your colors when designing a color scheme.

Jerry Chavez is the author of "The Haunted House Halloween Handbook," and owner of Spooky F/X Productions. You can reach him via Email at Spookyfx@aol.com or visit his web page at http://members.aol.com/Spookyfx/index.html

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