Color Relationships 2, Fall 2016 week 6

The sixth session of the Color Relationships 2 class for Fall 2016 was held on Wednesday, October 5. We critiqued the homework (Colored light and shadow) and viewed more examples of how a colored light will modify other hues. Dick introduced a new assignment for this course, Translucency, using a demo and slide show presentation to discuss this challenging and beautiful visual effect.

Homework assignment


Class recap – some key ideas

Critique – Illusion of colored light

The homework submitted showed a strong understanding of this difficult phenomenon. Colored light can have a dramatic effect on the colors it touches, as can the accompanying shadows. The key to a convincing illusion is to strive for consistency between the highlights and shadows, so that the effect of ‘color constancy’ remains stable.

Most of comments that came up during critique pertained to the strength or brilliance of the light (and thus, the darkness of the shadows). One student remarked that she was having a difficult time determining how strong her light source was in relation to her shadow areas, and also how bright the ambient light should be. Dick answered, “How bright the light, how bright the ambient light – all arbitrary.” More important is to check the consistency of value between the highlight and shadow areas: lighter value colors should stay lighter, whether in the light or in the shadow.

Another comment had to do with how intense the colored light source should be. Of course, it all has to do with what is appropriate to the scene and the artist’s intentions, but Dick had to ask, “At what point is the light so bright that you lose all chroma, all hue [of your objects]?” In most cases, the scene will read better if the light does not overpower all the chroma in a scene, and the viewer is able to see the relationship of the ‘local color’ as it is modified by both the light and shade.

One problem with a few studies was that the illusion fell apart, because of a white ground, or object left white. Every object in a scene will be influenced by the light source. White is lighter than any color, but in a real scene, nothing can be brighter – lighter – than the light source. So, for example, if your light source is amber, or red, the surroundings and every object must show that they are influenced by it, and the value of everything in the scene must be as dark as, or darker than, that light source (sun, candle, reflection). This trips up a lot of people, since we are used to ignoring, and barely noticing, the light-valued “given” of the paper, canvas, or screen.

Dick applauded the class for their hard work, and reminded them to not be afraid of making mistakes – that is how we learn, after all. “As long as you play it safe, you’ll never know ‘what if’.”

View all studies submitted online


We moved on to our next phenomenon: translucency, and how do we portray a translucent object in art? First was the difference between something transparent and something translucent: transparent objects “allow light to pass through so that objects can be distinctly seen”; whereas translucent objects “allow light, but not detailed images, to pass through.” In other words, something translucent will transmit light, but is opaque enough to not allow clear or distinct images to be seen through it.

Dick had asked the students to find examples of translucent objects in his house, and to observe the qualities of those objects. Why would an artist use the effect of translucency in their art? There is something about translucency that is very compelling, and one of the best examples of its use in art is stained glass windows. Although the use and manufacture of colored glass was known to Egyptian and Roman cultures, the art of stained glass reached its peak in Medieval times, when the technological advances in architecture allowed for ever more impressive sizes of windows. In churches and cathedrals, the pictorial use of stained glass was used to illustrate Bible scenes and lessons, as most of the general populace was illiterate. The philosophy and connection to ‘Divine Light’ was a motivating theme behind all of this, and the large, colorful windows allowed ‘the light of God’ to shine through these sacred structures as a reminder of God’s presence.

Not having any stained glass windows present, Dick used a leaf and an orange slice for the demonstration. Can a leaf be translucent? Yes, if it has a strong light source behind it. The orange slice showed an even greater amount of translucency, where the pulp took on the appearance of a cathedral window with the beautiful glow of stained glass.

Dick asked the class to observe a few things about the orange slice:

  • Where is the shadow? What does that tell us about the direction of the light?
  • How can we tell it is translucent? What is different about the shadow as compared to a solid, opaque object?
  • What parts of the orange are opaque? What parts are translucent? Which areas have more chroma, the opaque or translucent parts? Which areas have less chroma?

Following the discussion, the class viewed a slide show presentation on the characteristics of translucency, and a short Illustrator demo on how to recreate the effect with opaque colors. For this assignment, the composition and Gestalt become even more important, as it is the correct placement of highlights and shadows which convey an accurate impression of translucency. Dick also shared the three things necessary to convey translucency (this list is shown in the slide show during the Illustrator demo):

  1. Identify back lighting by cast shadow and shaded sides of the object.
  2. Saturation of color area that is transparent.
  3. Some evidence of transmitted light (similar to stained glass effect) falling on areas which would otherwise be in shade.

Again, it’s all about RELATIONSHIPS! With the right combination of light, shade, chroma, and composition, the illusion of translucency will be convincing and compelling. Good luck with the homework!

Class photos

More colored light & shadow demonstrations

Class materials


Creating an illusion of translucency

Dick Nelson demonstrates how to create the appearance of translucency (light shining through an object) in Adobe Illustrator. He names three visual clues for creating a convincing illusion.


The stained glass windows in the Gothic cathedral Sainte-Chapelle in Paris are a stunning example of the visual phenomenon of translucency.

Same class, different year

View the corresponding class post from 2015 or 2013.
The previous year posts will be useful for the critique of colored light studies. However, the translucency presentation is new for this year.