Wild at Heart

“Color drives me wild!” I had the misfortune of uttering those words during an interview with a reporter from our local, small town newspaper. She was covering the opening of my first one person exhibition sometime in the late ‘80’s.  Of course the editor captioned the large photo that accompanied the article with that quote.  Humiliation. Not  only because it sounded pretty silly for a serious artist, or at least someone who wanted to be a serious artist, but because it was perfect fodder for some of my buddies who have continued to torture me with it even some thirty years later with their hilarious mocking.

The statement rose out of the depth of passion for something to do with paint and paintings that I didn’t fully understand at the time. What I knew was that when I looked at the opulent, velvety ultramarine blue as it butted up against a blend of a Marc Rothko warm red/orange, I swooned.  And the play of violet and yellow in Van Gogh’s Sower made my heart skip a beat.  And the endless, uncontrollable aquamarine that floats through Monet’s Water Lilies made my knees weak.  Yes the use of color can be powerful.

The sentiment is something I hear often from novice painters. And rightly so.  I mean COLOR is a seductive siren. Used to its full advantage it can make fools of us all.  Scientifically proven to impact human physiology and mental state, color has a powerful subconscious effect on our perceptions, on how we feel, choices we make and even how we behave. (No wonder we will pay so much for a tube of paint.) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10767459/Seeing-red-The-mind-bending-power-of-colour.html

It’s a powerful tool for the painter. But it requires some restraint and a little knowledge and most of all it is best used with a proper respect paid to value.

Value, the difference between light and dark, is what defines form.  It tells the viewer if the subject has volume or is flat. It shows where the light source is located, and how bright it is and that in turn speaks to the relationship of where the viewer is relative to the scene or the subject. And it describes what kind of texture the surface of the subject has. It can also reference time.

Values create the visual structure of an image. Remember Notan–(http://www.amazon.com/Composition-Understanding-Notan-Color-Instruction/dp/048646007X )—the harmonious interaction between (essentially) black and white. It is achieved by reducing an image to its lightest lights and darkest darks—no mid-tones, no graduated blending of value.

So I have a challenge for you this week to see color as value. We’ll be revisiting a familiar image, but instead of deconstructing and rebuilding, we’ll let the structure stand and instead interpret the value as color. Not to the extreme that Notan does, just enough to see the different values in an image as a color and see if you can end up with a structure similar to the source material.

Since mixing color is complex and borders on scientific- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_theory , (fodder for continual exploration), I suggest that you set out to learn a “favorite” mix each week and use it repeatedly.  I still remember when I first glazed  or mixed Golden pthlao turquoise and Nickel Azo Yellow.  It indeed drove me wild……

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