Talking about colour

Dear Artist, The “literary colour” of a decent cigar is some sort of brown. On close examination, this Cuban I’ve been looking at for two years, thinking about smoking, and resisting, has a “local colour” of raw umber with traces of sap green and yellow ochre. On the windowsill, with the evening light raking, its “reality colour” is bright cadmium yellow coming to cadmium orange with a deep violet shadow. Now that’s a cigar! Painting it in these conditions, I can practically smell the darned thing, almost enough to take up smoking again. Thinking about the above paragraph, we see that literary colours and local colours and colours as seen are not the same. Further, my description was in English and uses the names of pigments I’m familiar with. Also, those reality colours, in that light, demand an even more precise language. Or do they? Some painters, it seems, have an uncanny colour sense. They are able to see colours truthfully and mix them accurately without naming them. Linguists and anthropologists are now giving new credence to the idea that the human eye is most often a prisoner of language. Further, colours are perceived through the lens of our mother tongue. Just as the Inuit have dozens of words for “snow,” green and blue are distinct colors in English but are considered shades of the same color in some other languages. Further, in English, for example, we narrow down broad terms like “green” to even more specific nuances — emerald, jade, Kelly, lime, mint, myrtle, olive, teal, Hooker’s, viridian, British racing, etc. According to linguistic experts, when we refine our visual sensitivity to color differences in reality, our brains are trained to exaggerate the distance between shades of color if these happen to have different names in our particular language. It follows that art appreciation may depend on unique linguistic forms. This insight may, in part, account for the frequent public donnybrooks over artistic quality and worthiness. For those of us who struggle with colour and painting every day, my current conclusion regarding this research is to be of two eyes. Your honest, truthful eye sees the colour, and your knowledgeable eye knows how to mix it. You need to address your pigments on a first-name basis. Not all of us can intuit the transition. My other current conclusion? Try to paint it, don’t talk about it, and certainly don’t try to smoke it. Best regards, Robert PS: “When we learn our mother tongue, we acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.” (Guy Deutscher, Linguist, University of Manchester, UK) Esoterica: Literary constructs such as red barn, green grass and blue sky are generalizations that forever haunt us. Those of us who might seek truth from our world need to reinvent our vision in a pure way. Barring the miracle of talent or some sort of blessed autism, we need to undo certain aspects of language. In studio and field, some of this can be achieved by voluntary mutism. I’ll stop talking now.   Liberated from the tube by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel  

“Afternoon Winter Valley”
oil painting, 16 x 44 inches
by Ron Gang

Years ago my palette distilled itself down to three well-mixing primaries plus zinc white. I was free of the dictates of the tube. Every color applied has become a result of the mix and the sensitivity to the colors and their non-verbal response keeps growing and deepening. It’s doubtlessly also connected with the right-brain thing — no labels, no names. In a good painting session consciousness slips out of the verbal, the sense of time changes, perceptions are heightened, and all this will leave its magical mark on the canvas. And you don’t smoke nothing… no cigars, nothing! There are 2 comments for Liberated from the tube by Ron Gang
From: Jackie Knott — Sep 07, 2010

… non-verbal response …. consciousness slips out of the verbal …. I really like your descriptions of how our brain handles color.

From: Laurel Sternberg — Sep 09, 2010

Both comments are very enjoyable. May a figurative, studio artist comment, too? I generally have about 9 colors on the palette. The only decision is whether I’ll use phthalo or ultramarine. I deal with skin tones, painting people of various nationalities. I do NOT try to name the colors I mix, because many of them are disgusting, but together they achieve the effect I want. I plan my composition before I start, then plunge in, clueless but enthusiastic, on the colors. I love the struggle and mystery; it makes the process dramatic and never boring.

  Painting in key by Jan Hart, San Jose, Costa Rica  

“Soul Mates”
watercolour painting, 15 x 11 inches
by Jan Hart

Having written a book on color The Watercolor Artist’s Guide to Exceptional Color you can imagine that it is a subject I love. One thing that has helped me to combine the seeing and doing aspects of mixing color is this; I avoid using the words ‘brown’ or ‘gray’ and I ask my students to do the same in workshops. These are mixtures of colors or neutrals. When I look at a ‘brown’ object, I first call it the color I find underneath. What color would I begin with to mix this neutral? Often, if I am looking at something ‘brown’ I will see the underlying color as orange or yellow and will start there. Then my mind goes right ahead and starts adding some complement to neutralize the orange and up comes ‘brown’ in my visual mind. And suddenly I see that I can ‘push’ the orange or the blue to get a flavor of the neutral that I want in the painting. It gives me the direction for mixing and it helps me use fewer paints and stay in color key.   Confusing browns by Dr. L. Anne McClelland, Mountain View, AB, Canada  

“Mother and Son (left)
Forest Dance (right)
acrylic painting
by Dr. L. Anne McClelland

I find this subject curious because I am a red/green colour blind artist who can’t even begin to imagine how my work appears to other people let alone how the real world looks to people with ‘normal’ colour vision. The world looks normal to me — it’s the only way I’ve ever seen it — and I paint with colours that look appropriate to my interpretation of the scene — not particularly worrying if they are the ‘real’ colours. I agree that naming is useful, but I don’t use descriptive names as they can be misleading or confusing. I have learned to rely on the pigment number to describe a colour — since using that identification enables you to look past whatever ‘name’ is on the tube and know almost immediately how that pigment will behave in use. Part of my recent approach is to simplify the number of pigments I use in any particular image. I can see red and I can see green, but I don’t always distinguish well between various reds or various greens — browns are a complete confusion to me as are many subtle grays. By using only two or three pigments plus black and white and all the mixes of those I can better balance the warms and cools and neutrals in my work. I use single pigment tube colours only — that way I am better able to mix my own neutrals and move them towards warm or cool by adjusting the proportions of opposite pigments in the mixes. My favorite combination is some sort of orange-red and a blueish green or greenish blue. I believe that language does affect how we think and how we interpret the world. Sometimes the perfect word only exists in another language — just as a particularly exquisite brushstroke or colour combination is sometimes culturally linked. There is so much to be gained by studying other languages both spoken and visual and by exploring all the pigments until we find the ones that sing to us. Mother and Son is painted only with Iron Oxide Red PR101, Prussian blue (Milori blue PB27), Carbon black PBk7 and Titanium dioxide white PW6. The figure Forest Dance is iron oxide red PR101, Quinacridone Gold (PO49) and Cobalt green PG26 in layered thin washes on Golden crackle medium. There are 2 comments for Confusing browns by Dr. L. Anne McClelland
From: Stephanie Vagvolgyi — Sep 06, 2010

Beautifully done.Wish I could even approach that with my full colour vision….

From: Gavin Calf — Sep 06, 2010

I share your so-called ‘handicap’, doctor. I didn’t know women could have this special condition. It is said that seeing tone far better is great compensation. Lovely work.

  Berlin blue by Cora Jane Glasser, New York City, NY, USA  

encaustic painting
by Cora Jane Glasser

Recently I discovered that Prussian blue is blacker than black and bluer than blue. Preparing paintings for a show in Berlin, my research revealed that this color used to be called Berlin blue. I remember the Crayola Prussian blue of childhood. Yum. When using it now, I must be mindful that it is really Cyanide blue. I will continue to grab for that black, nameless block of wax, resin & pigment, knowing it will turn glowing blue on my hot palette, and black again — or blue — on my painting.       There is 1 comment for Berlin blue by Cora Jane Glasser
From: Mary Bullock — Sep 07, 2010

I love Prussian Blue!

  No colour stands alone by Jeanette Vermeyden-Obbink, ON, Canada  

“Beauty in Red”
oil painting
94 x 48 inches
by Jeanette Vermeyden-Obbink

A teacher of mine once commented that “A colour is NO colour unless it has another colour next to it.” Red only looks like a vibrant red if the colour next to it can let it shine. It always stuck with me and I still use it as a guideline in my work to this day.             Baffled by names by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA  

“Variations on T”
mixed media
by B.J. Adams

Names of colors have always baffled me. The same name in a different brand of paint, whether it is oil, acrylic, or watercolor is almost never the same. Different brands of colored pencils have the same problem. Since my work consists primarily with sewing thread most often over a painted canvas where there never is the color I need, I have to mix several threads. I find that numbers on the thread spool do away with all those names and I wish they did have a reference name. However, here, when the manufacturer repeats the same number with each batch of thread the color has changed. Thinking of all the colors in your cigar, which ought to be a simple medium brown, and is not, I think of an orange, an orange orange. When I was painting one first in colored pencil and then in thread, I don’t believe I used a true clear orange in either.   Instinctive palette by Karen Pettengill, Pownal, ME, USA  

“Evan Notch”
pastel painting
by Karen Pettengill

Your insight on the language barrier translating into art and particularly color interpretation strikes a familiar chord. I’m a self taught artist and have no classical training in color mixing… don’t even ask what colors I use in my paintings. The colors I choose and when I choose to use them comes from the gut and is purely instinctual. I push color intensity and hue in most of my paintings and I’ve been asked to teach but how can I do that when I don’t know where this comes from? Until the last few years I yearned to go to art school and learn to mix colors from a technical stand point but the color palette I use is unique to me and expresses what I can’t seem to say in words. Color mixing is a gift or a learned skill or both. I’m sticking with my colors, they speak volumes for me. There are 2 comments for Instinctive palette by Karen Pettengill
From: Rick — Sep 06, 2010

Your painting is lovely. It looks like you instinctually use a good deal of optical mixing, like the impressionists used. Anyway, your colours speak volumes to me!

From: Kay Christopher — Sep 10, 2010

Love your painting!

  Different roads, same result by Terry Rempel-Mroz, Ottawa, ON, Canada  

original painting
by Terry Rempel-Mroz

I have always been able to ‘see’ colours, what they are composed of, how to match colours, without knowing the theory behind them. My ‘natural talent’ helped immensely when I was a paper and book conservator as I could match any colour in any medium. My sister, accomplished watercolourist, knows colour theory inside out and thinks in language terms about the mixtures required. Seldom arriving at the same time, we arrive at the same end result from different roads. For me, consciously using colour theory interferes many times, but it also helps when I am at an impasse. I do think one can learn to see colours truthfully, you need to have a good teacher and be prepared to work at it — but it is never beyond reach.   Letting go of labels by Monika Dery, Hinton, AB, Canada  

original painting
by Monika Dery

I teach the odd batik workshop and make sure that I bring a colour wheel and colour info for mixing but I don’t really understand it myself. My way of planning ahead is to buy all the colours that I love and be done with it. I have about 30 or 40 absolutely beautiful tubes of high quality paint, three of which I’ve memorized because I can’t be without them: Prussian blue, Turquoise and Payne’s Gray. Somehow my paintings turn out well and people seem to love them, love the colours, love the vibrancy. This tells me that I must be doing something right. From now on I won’t be obsessing about colour names and whether or not I’ve got the right combinations.   Biased eyes and blessed genes by Gerry Conley, Seattle, WA, USA   It is my belief that two of the factors at play, color perception and color memory, are at least partially genetic. My wife has better color perception and memory than I do. She can go to a store and buy a scarf that exactly matches the color of a dress at home. Few people can look at a color and match it by mixing that color in a separate pile even if that pile is close to the first. That is why we have to put a spot of the second color on top of the first. I used to think of this as “failing” and that would disappear with experience. Now, I accept it as a fact of life. I do believe that lack of color vocabulary holds us back as painters. When I started painting, I was thrilled to expand my vocabulary to the range offered by the names on my paint tubes. I have been most impressed with the solution offered and implemented by Richard Schmid as described in his fantastic book, Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting, Stove Prairie Press. With his fellow students he spent two weeks creating color charts. The design is a chart for every pallet color pair, using a grid 11 wide by 5 deep. The top of the chart is pure pigment, pure color 1 on the left most corner, and pure color 2 on the right most corner and a 50/50 mix in the middle. Then these colors are tinted down with white in the next 4 squares. He then carried his charts with him for two years or more and learned to be able to perceive colors as to family mixtures and degree of tinting so that he could recognize a color by its place in his charts. Michael Wilcox, author of many color books including Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, carries on with this theme. Each square can be coded with its grid position, i.e. 6b for example in the pairing of Alizarin with Ultramarine blue. This process permits one to create a color vocabulary that is highly detailed and also gets at how to make that color. Although I did learn a lot from making those charts, I haven’t sustained the effort. They could be particularly helpful for color strategy formulation of studio paintings but for me the plein air situation is different. In the tradition of an Arts Student League master painter, I was taught that I should go into the field with 10 tubes of personally prepared formulaic greens. Even with 10 greens I never had the ones I needed to match what I was seeking to paint. Humans can distinguish 30,000 different greens, more than any other color. No wonder I didn’t have the right ones! The physics of color gets into the fact that we are not good at “true” color recognition because our eye structure biases us to see certain colors in preference over others. For example a candle emits more red light than yellow light, but we see it as yellow because we are biased to see yellow in preference to red. We see blue when there is even more violet in the sky because we are biased to see blue, but in the evening light as the proportion of blue declines we can see the violet. Further, light is scattered but not randomly, explaining why the sky is blue overhead and lightest at the horizon, and why sunsets are red. But scattering also explains why there tends to be such a mixture of colors at any given time. Also, the physics of the mind explains that we can significantly change what we see by being attentive and really exploring the colors that exist before us. We are basically programmed not to see what we don’t look for.   Words can stifle creativity by John Rocheleau, Kelowna, BC, Canada  

“Two Monks”
original painting, 24 x 36 inches
by John Rocheleau

You said, “The human eye is most often a prisoner of language.” I would alter that to say, “We humans are a prisoner of language.” Language is necessary for communication between people where it is intended to be word oriented audible, but language is not necessary for any communication that is rendered visually. If we employ language and words when we are alone with our work and not intending to speak, then those words in our head become a serious limitation. For just a moment, try to imagine what it might be like to work without thinking in words. If you can eliminate words from your thought processes, you will eliminate the limitation that words produce. Words can only describe a tiny slice of experiential reality. If you think in words to describe your creative thoughts — be it colour mixing or anything else — you will instantly kill them, or at the very least stop them from becoming what they may. The moment you introduce words into your thought processes you “fix” them; you impose the limitations of the accepted meaning of those words upon your creative thoughts. If on the other hand, you can let go of all the words in your thinking, you will experience your full range of creative thought. Until 15 years ago, I never thought in words unless I was formulating something that required them. My thought processes were completely perceptual. Without words to define and confine them, my thoughts were allowed to blossom to whatever natural beauty and power they carried. Having experienced this transition to thinking in words now, I feel qualified to comment on the value of words in thought compared to eliminating words from creative thought. In my opinion it is best to let the words go. Be free to perceive, feel, intuit, and act. Meditation practice can help you in letting go of the words. Can anyone name the original artist of this painting? I painted this piece for my mother 24 years ago from a print she sent me possibly from the “National Gallery” at Trafalgar Square in London. The painting has come back to me and when I view it in my living room I feel my mother’s love. Such is the power of art and colour. The value of words comes into play now.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Talking about colour

From: Faith — Sep 02, 2010

Too true. Colour is very much a victim of language. I’m lucky to have a good awareness of colour. I can match any given color e.g. when buying clothes, accessories or sewing materials, without taking a sample with me. My mother was good at it, too. It’s a big help in painting. But it can be learnt and I think the best starting point is actually black. Black is probably the best example of colour not being all it seems. Is black a colour or an absence of colour? Quite a lot of painters argue about that. Watercolorists (the ones who deny themselves the joy of black) make it with all sorts of mixes. It’s there in nature in the form of carbon, jet etc. Charcoal is loved by all. It doesn’t take much white to stop black being black, though. But try matching a sweater with a pair of pants and you’ll be lucky if it’s the same. Old garments take on a green sheen. Blacks can be bluish, reddish, yellowish etc. (back+ a yellow shade makes a reliable green in every medium). For painting I can choose between many versions of black or mix one from other colours. All this is very elementary stuff. Or is it elemental? There’s a subtle difference. I find it interesting that we can often only describe a colour by mentioning something universal e.g. blood red. If you then say poppy red your brain immediately switches over (unless you’ve never seen blood or startlingly red (wild) poppies). In German, pink is actually shocking pink and the German word for pink is generally “rosa”, which I find highly misleading since there are countless pink shades and types of roses and of course, the word for rose in German is also Rose (with a capital). If we say rose pink in English we are thinking of a specially soft, pretty color – and that is also a feature of language. Germans describe some pinks as “Schweinchenrosa” = pig pink, which leaves little to the imagination. At the other end of the scale is white, which is undeniably another color conundrum – at the very latest when you try to describe it. Tell someone who has never seen snow that something is as white as snow and they won’t really know what you are talking about. Fortunately, kind manufacturers put colour labels on their products. Mind you, a color from one manufacturer won’t necessarily be the same as that color from a different manufacturer. The clue for the painter is probably association….

From: George Forder — Sep 02, 2010

Great Article. I spent yesterday afternoon battling through practical perception issues with communication science students. Your succinctness would have helped a lot.

From: John Farnsworth — Sep 02, 2010

Even if you could go to the art supply store and buy “cigar brown”, you would still have some mixing to do in order to paint all the colors you’ve perceived in your cigar. That’s why I teach the (Un)limited palette in workshops and on my website, With the right three and white, you can paint all that you see. With a little practice, finding the right color can be so much easier. But you still have to see beyond “brown cigar” “green tree” “blue sky”, etc. John Farnsworth

From: Barbara Yalof — Sep 03, 2010

Great article, really enjoyed it. I have struggled with trying to explain to students how very small differences in color make a huge difference! One think I found that helps is to learn to create neutral colors from combining complementary colors- it is absolutely an eye opener to see how many neutrals there are. And learning with hands-on color mixing exercises, for those who cannot yet see the hues that subtle neutrals are made from, is alot of fun, too. After mixing black into color to try to create unusual neutrals, students are amazed how easy it is to see the difference once these exercises are accomplished with complementary colors instead. You will never take a neutral color for granted again! And you will also know better how to harmonize your palette for your paintings or, in the case of my students, for interior design.

From: Kathleen — Sep 03, 2010

Whereas I agree with the content of Talking about Colour and enjoyed the comments I’ve read so far, I have to say that I see nothing except joy in the fact that there are so many ways to perceive, name and identify color! If you are speaking to the public through color it is good for your work to ‘learn THEIR language’…you will never suffer from being bilingual…and THEY may learn something new from you because when you speak in tongues of pigment and paint in terms that others understand the language becomes universal.

From: Julianne Biehl — Sep 03, 2010

I thought there was something wrong with my color approach for I always have been able to instinctively work with color without bothering to learn the names. It is my main objective in life. Even the neutrals are a form of color to me. Color mixing is a playful joy. Let the beauty you love be what you do. Rumi Inside you there is an artist you don’t know about… say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from the beginning of the universe. Rumi When you do things from your soul, you find a river moving in you, a joy. Rumi

From: Clare Wassermann — Sep 03, 2010

This is the old ‘duality of language’ of Buddhists. Just look, just do, don’t define. It’s so much deeper than verbalizing, the looking and the doing.

From: Penny Duncklee — Sep 03, 2010

Especially when painting something “ordinary” like sky, I need to allow myself to paint it the color I “see” in my mind, not what “they” tell me is the color of sky.

From: Linda Saccoccio — Sep 03, 2010

Recently this point has been coming up regarding writing. That your first language colors the way you see and therefore the way you write. A suggested remedy is to learn another language and see how it changes your perspective and approach to writing. It seems like a valuable exercise for understanding people for different cultures as well and perhaps bridging gaps caused by biases or prejudices.

From: Lanell Penrod — Sep 03, 2010

The other night, at an auction of Bonsai articles at our yearly fundraiser, an interesting wisteria came up for bid…had no flowers on it, and someone asked what color they would be…the bidding was going kind of slow…and someone replied they were red. Now wisterias usually flower in bluish mauve or white…we don’t usually see ‘red’….bidding was still sluggish, and I stood up and told the audience, this isn’t a coca cola red, this is an AGGIE red! Bidding then picked up, and we sold it at a good price….I’m in Texas, so of course, the AGGIE red is in reference to our Texas A&M University in Bryan/College Station in the heart of Texas. Yes, I agree with you, when you get the colors right, you get progress.

From: Neil Taylor — Sep 03, 2010

Robert, your eye is obviously not a “prisoner of language” – your two spellings of “colour” roam free and borderless!

From: Margaret Bremner — Sep 03, 2010

The May 2010 issue of the Saskatoon Express contained an article I’d written on the subject of color. Robert’s comments about language prompt me to share some of it. “Could you describe your home using only two colour words? Primitive languages have only two and they are for black and white, or more accurately, for dark & bright. If a language has only three colour words, the third is for red. Probably because red is associated with blood, and therefore with life and death. Colour terms are added in a fixed order as a language evolves. First in are green and/or yellow (first one, then the other); then blue. All languages distinguishing six colours contain terms for black, white, red, green, yellow and blue. As languages develop, they add a term for brown, followed by orange, pink, and purple and/or gray, in no particular order. Finally, a basic term for light blue appears. Not all languages have words for colours that are equivalent to our English words. Hungarian recognizes two shades of red as separate and distinct: piros and vörös. Vörös – related to the word for blood – refers to a deeper red and typically refers to animate, natural, serious or emotionally charged subjects. Piros is learned by children first, and is generally used to describe inanimate, artificial, or cheerful things. In many cases either word is adequate. Irish uses two words for “green”: glas denotes the green colour of plants, while uaithne describes artificial greens of dyes, paints etc. Apparently this distinction is made even if two shades are identical. Mandarin has words for “blue” and “green,” as well as a word that covers both. Japanese also has two terms for “green,” one of classical origin and one derived from English. In Japan, although the traffic lights have the same coloured lights as other countries, the green light is called the blue light, because green is considered a shade of blue. Languages also split hues into different colour names based on how light or dark they are. For example, English splits red and pink, and orange and brown. To English speakers, these pairs of colours, which are really no more different from one another than light green and dark green, belong to different categories. A Russian will make the same red-pink and orange-brown distinctions, and will further distinguish between sinii and goluboi, which English speakers would call dark blue and light blue. To Russian speakers, sinii and goluboi are as separate as red and pink are to us.”

From: Thierry Talon — Sep 04, 2010

See today’s article in the NY Times about language affects you:

From: Ruth B Timid — Sep 06, 2010

Sixty-seven years ago the veils were lifted from my eyes with a set of watercolors.From the 3rd floor windows of my high-school art class we were directed to paint a scene from the autumn neighborhood below (a working-class neighborhood in Chicago). I thought of the dreariness of greys and browns, until I poured out the pigments from umbers, ochres and siennas. I had never heard the names before and never seen the richness that had always been surrounding me. I still drink in the earth colors that are so abundant. The wabisabi remains of decaying farm buildings in my present rural Michigan environs beg to be preserved. At the very least I can photograph them, but so far the camera hasn’t been at the ready when the sunlight has glorified them, but perhaps there is still time? At least I have rubbings of old barn wood. I call them knot art, with allusions to greatness “to be or knot to be!” A bit of punography…..

From: Erik Speyer — Sep 06, 2010

Very interesting and though provoking. I learned to paint in oils from Kevin McPherson who teaches his students to use only three colors plus white. His book on the subject of painting en plein air using just those colors is a true discovery. It teaches the ability to correctly paint what you see without naming the colors, since there are no named colors on the palette. You mix what you see from the three primaries, forget the names.

From: Lynda Davison — Sep 06, 2010

The amazing thing about color is the way it becomes enhanced or defined by the presence of more color… Take for example a small red circle…as soon as you add that dot of white or yellow – it shines! Add a touch of orange to a grape and you get a “glow”. It’s like reading a single word versus seeing the word in context; So much more meaning then! I guess that’s why artists and people in general are attracted by multi-colored images over black & white. It’s the language of color in full context…no matter what language we speak!

From: Diane Voyentzie — Sep 06, 2010

As a decorative painter , I understand immensely that people see color differently ….A designer may have her eye on a color in a fabric that she wants to see in a mural…and yet, she and I may see it differently…i.e. more green or more brown, etc… after painting with designers for over thirty years and also very involved with house painters…I can assure you that a “yellow” in one person’s eye, is a much different “yellow” in another person’s eye…..We are all special and we see and feel and wonder at our own pace…that is the beauty of the beauty of color!

From: Esther J. Williams — Sep 06, 2010

I was intrigued by this color subject as I had just completed a color chart for experimentation to develop more color hue and blending awareness. I followed an exercise in a college art school book to make a chart of all the basic colors on the color wheel and how the complimentary colors blend to make a neutral. Plus how each of the twelve colors on the wheel gradate in value with the addition of white or black. I chose a limited palette of red, yellow, alizaron crimson, ultramarine blue, violet, black and white to mix all my secondary colors. It was an exercise that was fun, but also a pain to finish. I would rather be painting, but I felt this was a growing measure I had to do. On the left side of the image is the complimentary colors like yellow blended with violet in steps, blue blended with orange, etc… On the right side is each color blended with white on one end or a chromatic on the other end. As I mixed each addition of color, I thought to myself, what color in nature can I identify these with? I came up with some color names, but after awhile, I just decided I will know it when I see it in reality. Don’t ask me to name them all, not now. When I mixed them, I realized that one spot of color too much skewed the portions, it was a drill. I enjoyed the gradation of colors in the right chart. But in the complimentary chart, I think they turned to muddy brown or green in the middle. You can see those colors any day in the dirt or leaves, mold, tree trunks and on and on. I will just call them muddy colors. This will hang in my studio for reference. I will make more neatly arranged charts again, it really taught me something about color`s many hues.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Sep 06, 2010

That is indeed a very enlightening concept. I have never thought of it in that way. How about the play of light and shadows that influence our perception of the color we see. I just had a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the colors that is displayed as the time of day moves on the colors are always changing depending on the light and shadows that is caused by the sun as it rises and sets as the earth revolves around the sun. I also think that our mind set also influence our perception. Some of my fellow artist I paint with have affinities to certain colors they like. Some like to play with colors in their abstract painting and others like realism in their work so that they lay colors as they see it.

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 06, 2010

A big problem I find when teaching students is this constant attempt to put a name on a particular color, which in my estimation is a big waste of time and effort. When I show them how and what to mix to get a particular “hue” , I start with the general terms of the colors they have on their pallet. i.e red, blue, green. But when mixing “true” color, I try and get them to think in “grays” i.e bluish gray, reddish gray, green gray. This, to me, is where the true colors lay. Most everyone sees the primaries, few of us see in between these colors. Seeing in between takes years of painting. I try and make them create a “value” color from what they see in the blue, red, green. And these have no names. The names on tubes are the from manufactures, not artists. I use the names of colors only when I purchase my paint.

From: Robert Hagberg — Sep 06, 2010

Try talking color with someone when you are “color blind”. At least I am according to those eye charts of little dots that have numbers in them. You couldn’t prove it by me that there are numbers. But I paint and have a long list of national shows that have accepted and sometimes awarded my work. So I ask the doctor how is it that I paint in colors everyone accepts but I don”t see color the way a “normal” person sees color? His answer was that I have learned to identify colors for myself so red is red and green is green even though I can’t pick out a red flag in a bunch of green trees. I see color, just not like everyone else. When I paint I can mix a color that matches what I see, which in term matches what others see. It is a skill I have learned with years of practice. I’m just not good at verbally identifying color to someone else. So, what is that color? Green or ultra marine with cad yellow deep and a touch or alizarin?

From: shirley fachilla — Sep 07, 2010

A couple of years ago in an art forum, several artists became embroiled in a controversy over color. One pushed neutrals as the key to proper painting and said neutrals were all important to many of the “great” painters of the past; another advocated true color and claimed these same “greats” relied on color to bring life to both shadows and high key passages. Turns out the battlers were simply using different names for the same hue. One guy’s neutral was the other’s violet, etc. I use a limited palette of primaries plus white and have found it helps me to see the difference in neutrals. All greys are not equal; all browns are not the same and black can be many, many things from blue-black to dark, dark red.

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 11, 2010

I find any discussion about color, there is always lacking the principle aspect of color which is value. We can do more and say more with value than with color. Many of us see color differently and thus get different points of view from a work. Reduce the work to black and white and many pictures get “clearer”. Color is a tool and works for us to make a certain point. But not all viewers will get the same point, because we all see color differently. We not only respond to color differently, color also can obfuscate our intentions if color is used for colors’ sake only. I was taught to minimize color and keep my work to three or four values (no matter the colors) I think a painting is stronger and has a better chance of being understood and appreciated if colors are minimal and subdued as well as values being no more than three or four. To prove this theory, look at some master paintings and you will see what I mean. Look at Velazquez, Sargent, Bouguereau or Sorolla who painted outdoor sunlight. The adage “less is more” has much truth when it comes to color.

From: Badagala Ramanamurty — Sep 16, 2010

The production of beauty for the purpose of giving plesure is art it has no limits, purly personal it is wonderfull

From: Paula — Sep 20, 2010

“Soul-Mates’, yes a true connection with art, with Pure Love! Thanks

From: Art Martin-Cox — Sep 23, 2010

“Name it and claim it” are overtaken by “see it and feel it.”

     Featured Workshop: Dee Beard Dean
083110_robert-genn2 Dee Beard Dean’s Plein Air workshop   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Persimmons on Purple

oil painting by Sydney Brown, AZ, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Brad Greek of Mary Esther, FL, USA, who wrote, “I haven’t been able to name most colors that I’ve mixed nor do I care to try. I know that I’ve given my printer fits trying to color balance my work as prints. You can spend a life time mixing colors and never reach the end.” And also, Susan Marx of Orange, NJ, USA, who wrote, “To the untrained eye mist and fog are ‘gray.’ However, there are no blacks, whites, or grays in nature.” And also, John Smith of Durban North, South Africa, who wrote, “Most people do not see ‘things’ let alone colours. When opening an exhibition a friend of mine stated that 90% of all people only have eyes so they do not bang into things.”