Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Color Saturation - overdose and addiction
I just got a Bud Plant Comic Art email with these 3 calendars grouped together, and couldn't help but notice the contrast in how the artists handled color saturation. The outer 2 blatantly abused it - everything is just blazing at high intensity. Like neon signs screaming for attention. Meanwhile, the Frazetta in the middle is far more controlled.
Observations - The eye is actually repelled by too much color saturation, but can glide restfully over properly handled color. Blazing color destroys the sense of solidity and any chance at atmosphere and creates a cartoonish look. Oversaturated color is like too much sugar - sensational and stimulating, but deadens the palette to subtlety and causes an addiction. Once you've gorged on it you lose your appreciation for well modulated color and just want more overload. This same kind of addictive sensationalism is rampant in movies and music and all the popular arts. It fits in well in this age of extremism and cartoonishness.
Frazetta is remembered for extremely vivid colors, but what people tend not to notice is the subtle control. In looking through a few of his books with this in mind, what I notice is that he tends to give one color high saturation (and it's not all that saturated really) and the rest of them are more sedate. Though at times he does manage to work with 2 or more highly vivid colors. Obviously there's a strategy (-ies) for it. This is undoubtedly one reason students are taught to work their way up gradually from greyscale through limited color palettes until reaching full color.
Lighting too. Vampi is fitfully lit, dark and brooding - a small not overbright spotlight aimed down at her torso, face left in shadow. Like Tiepolo and other heroic artists of past eras, he emphasizes torso rather than face - physicality over personality. The others just flooded everything with bright light with a few shadows thrown weakly across the background to set off the figure compositionally. As a result the Frazetta has a sense of chiaroscuro, of the figure actually emerging from darkness.
Strongest saturation is in the moon behind her, and the colors there are melting into a swirling soup - lost edges creating a diffuse sense of softness. In other words, he's controlling edges to draw attention where he wants it. That's not a criticism of the other 2 pieces by the way or the industry that forces these choices, just comparison and contrast to illustrate the point.
This is an issue very relevant to me - here's what my Flickr Gallery looks like these days - a chunk of it anyway:
I tend to get carried away - once you try cranking up the saturation it does something to your brain, so when you turn it back down even a little you get a sense it's lost something and you want to turn it up again. Then you decide to try even more. If you're not careful you'll just keep pushing it higher and higher.
Even in my most recent ones (upper row toward the left) I reduced saturation but ended up with a bland result. I suppose a few master copies are in order with an eye toward analyzing how they handle color. I can see from the Frazetta above that he modulates it across the image - areas of brilliant flickering color against greys and much lower intensity colors. He uses it to manipulate the attention. So far my approach has been rather to reduce intensity across the board.
I need to remember Jeffrey Jones's advice about using 'colorful greys'. Here's an older post about his approach to painting. And here he proves you don't need intense color: