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Sunday, 26 October 2014





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The actual colour in painting

The ability to identify actual colour is not as simple as it sounds. The ability to correctly identify colour is to first cleanse the mind of any preconceived notions as to what colour we have been conditioned to see.

With changes of colour you can create a different atmosphere

Skies, for examples, are rarely blue. Secondly, we must identify colour in relationship to surrounding colours.

A red ball on a green floor has a very different colour from the same ball on a yellow floor. Thirdly, we must be specific about colour's subtle changes of value and intensity. Lastly, we must remember that the three-dimensional world, from which we gather our colour clues, is filled with reflection.

Every colour we see reflect on to every other colour. It is this reflection of colour that makes even opposite colours harmonious. The flat surface on which we paint cannot reflect a colour on to its neighbour. Therefore, it is our job to make the colour changes to achieve the same effect.


The truth of the matter is that local or actual colour is of little value other than a beginning point. The best paintings are not those that match local colour to record the truth but those that exaggerate colour to express it.

Be sensitive to colour. Look at the scene, room, figure and identify the ambient colour, temperature and intensity. Then use that information expressively and compositionally. The colour of the ambient light affects the colour of everything it touches. If the sky is blue, there should be evidence of blue on every plane upon which the blue light falls.

Expressive colour

There seems to be a belief that if a painter matches each colour exactly as seen reality will be the result. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You need only look at the photographs from your vacation to know that they don't reflect the feelings you had when looking at the real scene.Our impressions of a place are the result of many realities, the visual reality being only one.

How you feel about a place might be in direct conflict with its appearance. Blue skies, blue-green water and green foliage are not very expressive of the warmth of a tropical island.

Take time to look beyond the visual facts. At times the local colours are appropriate to the subject, and at times they are totally inappropriate. You need only look at the work of great painters to realise that many of their colour choices are not factual but expressive.

'What if' approach

An approach to colour selection that I find informative and exciting is the "what if" approach. Here you look at the local colour of a shape, such as the sky, and say, "what if?" I paint that blue sky yellow. After having painted the sky yellow you have set in motion an entirely new direction for that painting.

First, you have escaped the rigidity of the factual colour. Secondly, all subsequent colour decisions must be related to the initial colour. Having freed yourself from the fact there are no limits to possibilities, you may discover that you are a latent abstract expressionist who has been dying to be set free. Why, you may find that green roses against a red background are not only more exciting but even more expressive of how you feel about roses than you imagined.

People will look at your work and praise your creativity or perhaps suggest you are crazy. In either case you will know the satisfaction of receiving a genuine response.

At the very least you will know the joy of making colour choices that come from your heart and mind rather than your eyes.

Your willingness to experiment with colour will yield many surprising results, the most rewarding of which is when selecting the opposite of the actual colour turns out to be exactly what you want to say. Another benefit of "what if" colour choices is the satisfaction you get from being creative.


What was thought to be outrageous 100 years ago is now considered ultimate beauty.

This can only be the result of changed taste. Our changing tastes are the result of education, familiarity, and conditioning. What has this to do with designing with light or creating moods? Nothing! It is just a way of encouraging you to free yourself from erroneous concepts of what painting should be. The choices are clear.

Either you follow the traditions of an evolving art or you break tradition and explore the possibilities. I am not talking about change for the sake of change. I am talking about your willingness to listen to your inner voice and make art that is an honest expression of what you think, feel and know. It is not so much a case of seeking new approaches to art, as much as a willingness to let go of the old. If it feels right to print the shadowed shape of a figure's face green, do it! Who knows, 100 years from now your paintings may be the standard of beauty.

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