Friday, January 3, 2020


I once heard an artist say that you have to focus on the things that challenge you the most in order to grow. If you always do what you're best at, you become stuck, and your work stagnates. This may be a bit harsh, but it started me thinking about my strengths and weaknesses as a painter.

The truth is, color throws me a bit. It's not that I don't love it. I use color both liberally and literally; it helps to relay emotions and to celebrate the beauty in a subject. When I used pastel full-time, there was an endless supply of colors from which to choose, no mixing necessary. After transitioning to oils, I remember wishing that Sennelier put their exact pastel colors into tubes. And now, after indulging in oil paint for a decade, I realize that no matter how hard I try, I always mix the same greens, purples, browns and beach tones. My practice has fallen into color autodrive. Eeek! How to extricate myself?

Then, one day last week, I took a walk in the woods near home. I noticed that the only color that stood out in the monochromatic day was the gold of beech leaves that still clung to their branches. I picked one, took it home and set it on the palette in my studio. The next day I attempted to mix it exactly. It was thrilling to have an actual "end-point" and I loved the result, especially when I dropped it into a black and white "start".

One little leaf guided me towards a way out of my entrenched habits with color. Interestingly, my son gifted me a book for Christmas called, "The Secret Lives of Color". In it, the author traces the social and scientific history of color. It is fascinating and has already challenged how I think about this cornerstone of painting. So, I am now committed to study and challenge color in new ways going forward. A perfect New Year's resolution!

"It is the best possible sign of a color when nobody who sees it knows what to call it." John Ruskin, 1859, from "The Secret Life of Color" by Kassia St. Clair.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I need to shake myself out of my same ol' same ol' colors and routine. Not sure how I'll do it, but this has gotten me thinking!