The Problem With Color

Posted by on Dec 16, 2016 in Blog | No Comments

Besides the fact that I learned to spell color as colour when I grew up, the biggest problem I have now with color is the inherent difficulty in discussing it when one is most often looking at reproductions. I love color but it is hard to discuss unless we are looking at the same real object together. I often get a little anxious if someone buys my art by only looking at a jpeg, however, I think the work always looks better in person, so it hasn’t been a problem, and people are becoming more comfortable consuming art on screens these days anyway.

I was going to write a post about finding the right colors in my recently finished painting below, the inspiration for it discussed in my last blog post, but then I realized how hard it is to talk about color. A little about that…

My studio is set-up with high quality 5000-5100K full spectrum fluorescent light bulbs. I did a lot of research in getting the right lights for my studio, …”of course you did,” my friends would say. Without going into a scientific color temperature discussion which you can easily Google if you are interested, I wanted a nice white light that was in the daylight color temperature range but was not at the high end since many people and galleries display artwork under warmer light. As an aside, I also wanted CFL bulbs as they are eco-friendly, and you end up saving money in energy costs. The only thing is they take about 10 minutes to fully warm up so if you drop by unexpectedly and want to see my studio, expect a cup of tea first while the lights reach their correct color!

Once I am finished with a painting in my studio, I usually look at it in a different light location in my house just to make sure it still looks good. Then I photograph it. I actually photographed the image below twice, because the first day it was a dark and rainy day and I wasn’t happy with the result especially since I was planning to talk about color in my blog post. I actually waited until a bright day which yielded better natural light in my house. I don’t have strobe lights so I try and shoot in natural light, or in my studio having to change my camera color settings to match the 5000k light first. In the past I’ve had a photographer come shoot with strobes especially when I have a lot of large work, but recently I tend to do it myself because it costs way less! I use Camera Raw/Photoshop to try and match the image as best I can to the original, and once it is acceptable enough to me, I then have no control when I send it out into the world as to how someone else will perceive it on their particular screen, or how it will print in a publication unless I’m involved in the printing.

With all this in mind, when I talk about finding the right colors in this painting, keep in mind that you are not actually seeing the exact colors I am talking about –unless you come see it in person!

Having studied art in school, I am of course aware of color theory and how cool colors recede and warm colors advance and how color will look different next to different colors. But when I paint, color is a very intuitive thing. If you look within the confines of the turquoise “boulder” there are many shades of grey. Cool greys, warm greys, light greys, darker greys. Some advance and appear to give dimension against other greys that recede. Some remain very flat and two dimensional. And some colors can at times seem to switch back and forth between advancing and receding. The darkest triangle shape seems to do that for me. Perhaps it is the contrast with the outline, but at times it seems to pop forward and at other times recede. It also has an interplay with the larger “yellowish” grey triangle (above and to the right of it) that I find interesting. Some greys I mixed and painted and left unchanged. Other greys were tweaked multiple times until they were the “right” color.

For me the definition of “right” color is when a certain harmony or conversation is happening within the color palette and I no longer feel the desire to change anything…a very intuitive decision.