Munsell Palette: November 2012

The Munsell Palette for November 2012 looks at the forest floor.

Figure 1: Munsell colors for November 2012

This month, winter looms (in the northern hemisphere!) and the leaves are down in the deciduous forests. Their chlorophyll spent, the fallen leaves and pine needles coat the woods with a familiar brown, while some green plants still peek through from below.

It may seem surprising that all of this month's colors are chroma 4, but much of organic nature is right in this range, and little surpasses chroma 6, as we'll see in coming months. Furthermore, there's a relatively tight range of values, mostly between 4 and 5. Value 5 being the middle of the Munsell value scale, it represents not only what we consider the middle value between white and black, but also the approximate total average value of a typical outdoor scene.

Oak leaves (5YR 6/4 & 5YR 5/4)

Fully dried on the ground, oak leaves (like all leaves) tend to have a light side and a dark side due to different exposures to the sun. The difference between them is relatively small, however. The light side, and matte highlights of sunlight, come in around 5YR 6/4:

Note, again, that this is more of a highlight color than a local. Some of the more sun-bleached leaves may reach this value as well.

The rest of the leaf body tends to come in one value step darker at about 5YR 5/4:

Between these two colors, you've got most of the basic variance in dried oak leaves. You can also slightly vary the hue towards yellow or red for minute fluctuations, but the hue differences are quite minimal in leaves at this state.

Pine needles (7.5YR 5/4 & 7.5YR 4/4)

Mixing with leaves on most forest floors is the ubiquitous carpet of pine needles. A pinch of pine needles (or a spread on the ground) contains a range of values that will vary by their light and shadow exposure, of course, but they stil exist within a similiar overall value range to oak leaves. They come in just slightly more orange at hue 7.5YR. Since it's not really practical to examine a single needle, we look instead at a pinch. It will help to squint your eyes for these images.

Looking again at the lightest values in the needles, we find that they come in at about 7.5YR 5/4, slightly darker and more orange than the highlight of the leaves:

When examined as an overall average against which to pick out highlights, they come in at just about one value step darker, at 7.5YR 4/4:

November greenery (10GY 5/4 & 10GY 4/4)

There will inevitably be some kinds of plants - ferns, mosses - that hang on longer than the leaves and retain a beautiful green through the winter. They are generally yellower in hue than full-on summer leaves. The example below is farily typical at 10GY 5/4 in the highlights:

And we find again that the hue and chroma hold in the darker areas, and we drop by one Munsell value step to 10GY 4/4:

The hue 10GY is slightly greener than halfway between "ideal" yellow and "ideal" green on the Munsell scale, although we tend to perceive darker yellows as being more green than yellow (as in "olive green", which is actually yellow). Close examination of these plants' leaves will also clearly show brown patches, which are very similar in color to the dead leaves and needles above.

These six colors provide a good start for any late-fall, early-winter forest scene.