“Glance for a moment at the reproduction of Joan of Arc and some of her army. This portrays a crowd of mediaeval figures, some mounted, some afoot, rushing across a causeway. Mediaeval costumes present in themselves great possibilities for color, but in this particular picture all that was held in abeyance.
The fragment of the army, the horses, and the foreground, are all kept well within a range of close gray color values. The sky is rather gray in its effect.
But against this effect of subdued color comes a horseman bearing aloft a yellow and orange* flag—bright and dazzling in the setting sun. This is a fine use of dramatic color.
And why is it dramatic? It is dramatic because the eye of the observer had been filled for a moment with the subdued color of the foreground of the picture, and when it encounters the sudden—the “unexpected”—burst of vivid yellow and orange, it is held as if some dramatic action were taking place against the curtain of the sky.
It is not necessary, in fact, it is more often a grave mistake to write your drama all over the canvas. Save your dramatic color note and play it with all the drama that is in you.”
*I’m not sure why he says “yellow and orange” when the flag really looks red and green. Maybe there’s something wrong with the reproduction, or he was conjuring the colors from memory. But either way, he makes an excellent point about staging bright color, a point that probably echoes his teacher, Howard Pyle.
Thanks, Bob H!