This week's blog post is written by local painter and Co-op member John Stephenson.
I have always been intrigued by the infinite combinations of colors possible in my paintings. The mystery of how color changes with the slightest adding of one color to another and to what degree to do this is exciting and often frustrating. These minute changes will ultimately determine how a painting, a piece of jewelry, a fiber artwork, or just about any type of craft will look in the finished product. This includes working with glass, pottery, wood and metals. I have no formula for how to solve the chanciness of color except to apply my past experiences and experiment with the new. It is a challenging and creative process for me.
Fortunately there are some guidelines that help when you experiment with the colors. We have learned in our early childhood art classes that mixing the primary colors blue, red and yellow plus using black or white will make or tint new secondary colors. Many artists and some scientists have studied color and tried to devise laws that govern the effects of mixing and placement of these colors. The untrained human eye cannot easily discriminate differences enough to name and describe a large range of colors. For example, although there is a large range of mixes between red and white, we usually come up with the name “pink”. But when fine gradations are placed next to each other, depending of the shape and size of the patch, we can discern which patch is more pleasing to the eye. It is also true that the eye mixes colors when the patch is small and placed close together. The impressionist used this phenomenon to create paintings closer to our experience of light on surfaces of buildings, trees and people. They mainly used pure paint right out of the tube. Our imagination takes over to create colors that aren’t placed there. For me this means we can let go of the compulsion to try and mix every local color we see and instead let our imagination take over. I think this enhances the enjoyment of the paintings and other art objects.
Another consideration in painting is that using pure colors of a rich blue, for example, grabs our attention in contrast to more tinted or shaded colors. Thus space or distance can be created by placement of these brighter colors with muted ones. In landscapes this produces the illusion of background and foreground
Our emotional state or makeup is important as well. We react to colors differently depending on our personal and cultural history. Some colors evoke a more upbeat response associated with bright sunny days. Other colors evoke sadness, excitement or anger. This applies to many artists who have strong associations with certain colors that for them produce excitement or feelings of purity or grief. I think of expressionist painters of the past such as Wassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch or Emil Nolde who made emotional response to color a major focus of their creative process, not only for themselves, but for the viewers of their art as well.
Knowing these factors doesn’t give a blueprint for using color but helps in considering how we react to colors and how our viewers may react. I’m sure that every artist in our Co-op is well aware of the influence of color and uses it as an essential ingredient in the art he/she creates.