"Color helps to express light, not the physical phenomenon, but the only light that really exists, that in the artist's brain." Henri Matisse
This quote by one of my favorite impressionist painter’s sums up the impressionists view on color. Color was not a tool that was dictated by the subject being painted, (as in realism,) color was a tool that was used to express the emotions created through the reality that the painter looked upon. As another impressionist, Van Gogh put it:
"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully ... To express the love of two lovers by the marriage of two complementary colors ... To express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a dark background, to express hope by some star, someone's passion by the radiance of the setting sun." Van Gogh
Nature gives us a glorious view on color yet we should take a step further and go back to the color wheel and see what colors depict the “emotion” of the realistic object in front of us as well as the reality of it. This is impressionism. Not only do we depict reality, but we depict it in all of the senses as well.
The impressionists that loved to depict the reality of a subject to the hard core, tended to use the break-light method to depict their subject in their painting. The break-light method or the broken color method refers to a technique that is still used by some impressionist artists today. The technique focuses on the actual sensation of light and creating that emotion in your actual painting.
The idea goes like this: You are trying to paint an index card that is a light green color. You can see it from across the room easily enough. Yup, that is green alright. Now you take an index card that is half cerulean blue, and half cadmium yellow light. You put a hole in the middle of the cards and spin them like crazy together. When this is done, from across the room you see a similar green but this time the green has more energy.
In the painter’s world, it will either mix the three colors or bring out the complimentary color (red), of the original color, (green,) even though that color completely does not exist in the permanent color. That is what broken color is supposed to achieve – the actual sensation of light itself through the use of mixed and complimentary colors.
The most important thing to remember when painting using broken color is that you are trying to make the painting itself become “alive” so that it has the life of the subject that you are painting and that it stands out from other paintings.