I meet choosing colors for a series or piece as a challenge. An exciting challenge to pluck from my mind’s eye the colors that best emote the messages coming through the art. Each individual’s experience of color is personal and unique. Expectations around color come from our memories and how we attach them to certain objects, feelings, and experiences. To know this would be anxiety provoking if my goal was to try to get all of the colors just right. Instead, knowing I won’t please everyone gives me the freedom to work joyously at getting it right just for myself.
My knowledge of color was pretty basic until I came to assist my mom with her homework for a watercolor class she took while I was in high school. She meticulously painted what seemed like dozens of combinations of one color blending into the next using gouache. This would have been enough work if she hadn’t also decided to present each color blend into a geometric array of ovals and compile them all into a glossy album. My job became to help draw ovals within the lines that my mom designated and cut them out for her. She would then paste them into a beautiful swirl of colors on a page and insert them into the album. It was a maddening task with a beautiful result. Something neither of us ever wanted to repeat again. It really wasn’t a soul nourishing practice as an artist.
Here are some images from my mom’s book. Keep in mind that all text was typed on a typewriter. Remember those?
I enjoy quickly absorbing things visually, especially colorful things, and have ever since I was little. Pouring through books, magazines, people watching, watching TV, and being in nature were all fodder for my overactive imagination. I limit how much I consume on social media today. It can be too much sometimes, but I just love color. People who know me and don’t know that I’m an artist might not guess that because of the environment I’ve curated at home. The furniture, wall paint, and decoration in my home express subtlety, calm, and nature. There are a few small objects of bright color and just a touch of pattern here and there. Each item has its place and purpose. A typical Capricorn (me) - Taurus (husband) abode. All in all, color has meaning and mood for me. I use it in deliberate ways.
Many artists use(d) color in a way that is inspiring to me. A few well known ones are Rothko, Vuillard, and the quilts of Gee’s Bend. Fashion, however, is more of an inspiration to me when it comes to color. Not for the trends, but for how color on our bodies is so psychologically transformative. I think, beyond food and fashion, everything we surround ourselves with and the state of our environment is a byproduct or reflection of what we put on, as well as IN, our bodies.
Color selections don’t come quickly for me, and I don’t subscribe to a certain set so as to be able to market myself as using a particular palette. Therefore, I’ve devised a loose process that I step through for each piece or series. Here is an example.
STEP 1 : I select my paper. In the example of above, the series is planned for recycled book paper.
STEP 2 : I pull a few materials out that I’m thinking of using. For this project I considered watercolor pencil, colored pencil, tinted graphite, and pastel pencil. I mainly chose the pastel pencils because of the subtle tooth and softness of the paper. I also wanted a medium I could smudge.
STEP 3 : I put my attention on how literal I want to be as I address color choice. I know the series will use SHEEP as a central motif, so I gravitated toward tans as a potential main color.
STEP 4 : The message, at this point, becomes the driver of any subsequent color choices. Here, SHEEP symbolize renewal, tenderness, and idyllic childhood. A primary color palette came foremost to my mind, so I began experimenting with combinations of yellows, reds, and blues or some approximation of that incorporating a golden-tan color.
STEP 5 : Comparing and editing grouped color swatches on the paper both up close and at a distance bring me to my final decision. However, I feel free to add or remove colors at any time, especially as a series progresses.
STEP 6 : I make a record of my choices for a project. For this project, I plan to use: Inktense colored pencils (Sun Yellow and Sienna Gold), Pitt Pastel pencils (102, 189, and 140), and a HB Graphite pencil.
I think perhaps over time my color choices could develop into a visual language with particular meanings for each color, but it is not a goal that I have right now. We’ll see what comes.