Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Word or Two about Colour

Colour and an understanding of it are vitally important in my work. My thoughts about it have developed the more I paint and I thought I'd share some of my discoveries in this post.

I read recently (unfortunately I forget where exactly but it was either in Simon Schama or Betty Churcher or a book on Courbet)
"It is only what you realise for yourself (or learn the hard way) that has any value as an artist"

I know that I have always been doing it the hard way, teaching myself what paint does, what acrylic will do, what oil will do, what tone will do and what colour will do. The things that I have discovered for myself are what make my work truly mine.

John Worth (Australian artist) related an anecdote to me about Rembrandt. Apparently Rembrandt told his pupils
"Use the richest blackest black you can grind and a pure white ... and other colours only sparingly"
I am finally learning that to have one colour sing it has to be surrounded by subtlety. The mixed tertiaries (or layers) can have it all. Just exaggerate one tiny section of already there colour.

One never stops learning with regard to colour and about six months ago I completed the following colour charts.

I can't begin to express how much the process of doing these eleven charts taught me. I acknowledge that it was my friend artist Terry Bouton who urged me to complete them. (It takes weeks to do them properly.) This method of colour mixing is discussed in the book "Alla Prima - Everything I Know about Painting" by American artist and teacher Richard Schmid. I have since come to understand that Schmid enjoys something of a cult following in the United States. He was the teacher and mentor of the Chicago group which includes Clayton Beck.

One of the most enlightening things about doing the charts is the importance of black just as Rembrandt advised.

I have heard so many artists proudly proclaim that they don't even own a black. This of course comes from the Impressionist idea of various colours in the shadows rather than blacks or greys, but to leave black out is a severe handicap.

The colours in each chart are from L to R

Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Deep
Yellow Ochre Pale
Cadmium Red
Terra Rosa (which is similar to the pigment called Light Red)
Tranparent Red Oxide
Alizarin Crimson
Ivory Black
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue

Eleven Colours in all. There is a chart for each colour as the dominant hue mixed with differing amounts of the others plus white.

This is the chart for Viridian which was absent from my portrait palette before but is now a staple for mixing with the others.

This is my chart for Terra Rosa, one of my favourites. The range of hues for portraits is very beautiful and varied.

I have these charts on the wall near to where I am working and I consult them frequently.

There is another totally separate point I wanted to make about colour and it is that of
Colour Symbolism.

This is something I have worked with for years but it is enhanced by the juxtaposition with the carefully mixed tones already discussed.

These meanings come into play in the use of a focus colour or even a series of highlights. They do sound a bit New Age-ish but I don't see that detracting from the ideas.

Cobalt - connects to a higher purpose.
Turquoise - deepens ecstasy
Yellow - clarifies
Orange - inspires fusion
Saffron - kindles love
Magenta - sparks higher mental. emotional and spiritual processes
Purple - reinforces supremacy, links to an elevated state
Green - explores expansion and growth, tranquility
Lime - awakens the spirit
Blue - expresses self esteem and mystery
Powder Blue - invites contemplation
Light Green - evoks wistfulness and relief
Gold - expresses abundance
Lavender - freedom from cravings
Red - ignites, stimulates
Terracotta - strengthens security
Pink - Unconditional love and nurturing

I have distilled this list with the help of many internet searches. It is a lot of fun as well as being thought provoking, especially when you consider what colours one may choose to wear or what colour a portrait subject may be wearing, backgrounds, details, inclusion of objects  etc.

Over the years I have noticed my own palette becoming more refined, less bold, more discerning and subsequently a lot more versatile. I do believe though that there is no substitute for instinct and the instinctive use of colour. Even if colour is used instinctively though, knowledge of its meanings provides another level to be appeciated.

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