|Leah, oil on canvas, 2010, 24 x 20.|
|The Sicilian Expedition, oil on canvas,
2010, 60 x 40.
They say that there are two kinds of painter: color painters, and the other kind–the kind that focuses on form, tone, and line. I’m that “other” kind of painter. I am absolutely riveted by form, and color does not come naturally to me.
This color vs. form distinction gives rise to another distinction inside the realm of color itself. Good color painters produce what I think of as organic color–they respond to the colors in front of them in a profoundly sensitive way, and reproduce subtle variations in all the properties of color, especially color temperature. Give a good color painter some alizarin crimson and raw umber, and he or she will give you a blushing cheek in early morning light.
Form painters are forced to depend on what I think of as analytic color. They consider the subject they are going to paint, and they think over a system of colors that could be used to represent it. The resulting color choices do not necessarily match the colors that are actually present in the subject. Rather, they are selected either because they’re close enough to mimic naturalism (as in my oil painting, Leah) or because they will produce a strong aesthetic effect (as in my oil painting, The Sicilian Expedition).
Even though I’m an analytic colorist, I have been working hard on improving the color in my artwork. I have a few methods:
1. I study paintings with color I admire, and try to figure out how I would accomplish the same effects. Even if I’m not guessing the same color combinations I actually see in the painting, I’m forcing myself to think about solving problems the way the painter solved them.
2. Just as importantly, when I see interesting scenes in real life, I sometimes stop and ask myself how to mix colors to represent them. This forces me to decompose the complexity of scenes in the world into their component paint colors, a practice that becomes more reflexive over time, and glides into the studio with me as a tool I carry around.
3. I try to buy a tube of a new color now and then and play around with it until I figure out what it offers me.
4. I seek out painters I respect, and if they’re willing to “talk tech,” I ask them how they’re doing things I’ve liked in their work.
Just because you’re born one kind of artist or another, doesn’t mean you have to accept that that’s where you’re staying. Some things are easy for me that are tough for other people, and other things that are easy for other people are tough for me and always will be.
Where do you fall along the color-form continuum? Leave a comment and let me know.