Colour Experimentation


Dear Artist,

In order to keep your integrity and at the same time keep up your enthusiasm you have to press on in your experimentation. I think of this every morning when I pull the chair up to my easel and squeeze out the paint. One of the most rewarding fields of experimentation is with variation of palette. I find it best to make the big colour decisions right away. Recently I’ve been working, you might say playing, in different combinations of three or four pre-mixed high-key complements. Some of these pigments come right out of the tube or the squirt bottle. I choose colors with near equal intensity so that when they’re combined in the same stroke or juxtaposed with one another they are visually exciting — what Merlin Enabnit used to call “razzle-dazzle.” I try to limit myself to my selected restrictions for as long as I can hold out. Sometimes it’s necessary to save the day with tried and true methodology, squeeze out other colors, tone down or modify with glazes, etc., and that’s okay too.


“Early Snow”
by Merlin Enabnit (1903-1979)

Other kick-off palette variables include a range of home-made grays, warm and cool grays, earth pigments only or intermixed with the most intense quinacridones or other moderns, sullying any and all colors with combinations of black and white, exchanging white for yellow ochre, eliminating black and/or white, neutralizing high-intensity colours with their opposites on the colour-wheel.

When you step back from formulaic production your mind tends to engage and you will find you’re missing meals. Straight formula is a useful principle when making ball bearings.

Best regards,


PS: “We tried all the systems that had been tried before, then we tried our own systems and we tried some combinations that no one had ever thought of. Eventually, we flew.” (Orville Wright)


1 Comment

  1. Thank you for leaving the Letters up and available. I started with the first and am reading through them one day at a time as part of my morning meditations. I leave the “next letter” up as my start page. This system is working well! So far, each letter is an inspiration.

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