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Light allows us to see color and it also allows us to see through color. Light can pass through a stain glass, partiallly through a frosted piece of glass, and not at all through a ceramic tile. When making images color can be transparent, where light passes through the colors to the color underneath, making them clearly visible. Color can be translucent, where light is partially passing through to the color underneath, making it partially visible. Or color can be opaque, where light is not passing through to the color underneath, making it invisible.
Knowing the differences between each of these is vital in working on an image, because using all three can help establish a form. Create a sense of space, and enhance the interest and complexity of a color. Here we see a ground of acrylic burnt sienna that's transparent. You can see the white of the paper underneath. If I layer fill blue on top of it, light passes through the two colors and the resulting color is neutral green. If I add a small amount of white to the color, I'm making it translucent so that what's underneath is not entirely visible.
The result is a slightly neutralized blue color that burnt sienna underneath acts as a neutralizer as it it's an orange brown reacting to the complementary blue. If I now add a large quanity of white, the light can not pass through this opaque color, and the blue seems to sit on top of the ground. This is useful to know, as the color creates an illusion of space, with the blue popping forward and the burnt sienna seeming to sink back into space. I'll talk more about the illusion of space in a later chapter.
In painting, some color, if used densely enough creates opacity without white. Using another layer of transparent color of vermilion over the opaque tone I created before can create more complex color combinations. In traditional media, it's important to pay attention to the difference between mixed and layer color. If two colors are mixed, the end result looks like this. If a long color is laid down on the surface, left to dry, and then the second layer is applied, it's more vibrant than the mixed color.
Colors not only come in a variety of values, vibrancies, temperatures and textures, they can be easy to see through or not at all. Depending on the amount of light passing through them and how they're applied. Using opaque, translucent and transparent color helps to define forms and establish space in an image.
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