July 20, 2011

USA: My Love Affair With Color

PORTLAND, Maine / The Elder Storytelling Place / Time Goes By / July 19, 2011


My Love Affair With Color

By Alice Leichter

I remember taking numerous rides as a teenager looking out at what I considered the boring, straw-colored, summer hills and wishing we were finally at our destination. As I gazed out the window, the yellow flowers were mocking me from a distance.

For a long time, yellow was not my favorite color. For many years, I thought that yellow was too egotistical, too showy. I cheered silently for the underdogs, (the less showy colors) because I felt sorry for them.

Yellow is stubborn, too. Anyone who has tried to paint a room yellow, finds it difficult to choose a hue that looks right. So from mustard to banana, yellow was ignored.

Lately, I’ve changed my opinion. I know yellow’s secret. It presents itself as a sunny day. The hills are shades of gold, the poppies shine brilliantly yellow-orange, not like the red ones you see in Europe. The daisies elevate your mood and help you rescue the day.

I am looking at one of my paintings of a local park which is all done in green. You may ask, “How can it be done without it looking like a single subject solid block of green?”

Those of us who aspire to be artists have observed that there are many greens in the world. The grasses of the hillside are a bright grassy green in the morning when the light is bluer and a yellow-green in the orange-tinted afternoon light.

The leaves of the blue-gum eucalyptus trees shimmer in the sun with a blue-gray tint. Some of the local sagebrush turns silver green when the bright light of afternoon shines directly on the wind-jostled leaves.

Take a good look at redwood needles. Even though the tree appears dark green, up close the growing ends are much lighter in color, a yellow green, more yellow than celery. Green is the color of nature. It is the calm hue, renewing and refreshing our souls.

My roses are red. One bush has some blooms that are fluorescent scarlet, another ruby red and a third dark, wine red, so dark that the shadows are black.

Then there’s the bush with coral flowers and the one with the light pinkish-lavender blooms. Right now the front yard is snowing many colored petals as the roses fade.

There is a famous painting by Picasso called The Red Room. If you look carefully, you can see the range of colors: deep reddish-purple for the darks, light pink for the figure-defining highlights. For middle hues there are lavender-pink, a red-orange called vermillion, apple red, dusty rose and raspberry.

The muted colors define the shape and the lighter, brighter colors were used to bring out shapes that look like three dimensional people. Many artists challenge themselves by using as few colors as possible.

Then there are the impostors, the chameleon colors. When red meets yellow, it becomes orange, no longer pure. The same is true for yellow and blue, hiding in green, and blue and red, disappearing into purple. Sneaky orange conspires with blue and disappears into brown or gray. Green and red follow suit. Yellow and purple sometimes hide in a muddy hue.

What about white? White light is made up of colors. White paint comes as titanium or zinc. Is it all colors or no color?

White in nature is seldom totally white. As with other colors, it reflects what is around it and changes color in the shadows. With the exception of the white paper in a watercolor painting, artists do not use pure white very often.

I ran into an Arizona artist who painted a ballerina in 120 shades of white. I remember how surprised I was when I held a bright white card up to the white in the painting. Try it. You’ll see the different tints and hues.

Blue is the tricky one. It fools the eye by changing the landscape. Elements in the landscape are tinted blue the further away they are from you. The golden brown hills look purple in the distance and the clouds are tinted a warm blue. The blue in the water changes with the sky, aqua in warm waters, ultramarine in cold and gray-blue on a stormy day.

Black, the great equalizer, deserves to be mentioned here. Without black and grays, the colors would overpower us.

Look closely, again. There are few pure blacks in nature. Shadows take on the colors that are within them and change throughout the day. We would have to be standing in an unlit cave to totally experience black.

Outside without black we would be in a glare of color bombarding our senses. As velvet night falls we are soothed into slumber.

© 2011 Ronni Bennett.
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