It’s a rainy day here, though it can’t really be called dreary. After a fairly spectacular Indian Summer, the trees are in full color, and the grass is still green. The colors tend to play off the silvery sky in surprising ways.
I’ve settled into a fall routine centered around my workshop. I’ve tried something different this year, splitting the eight week workshop into two segments, the first tailored to the needs of beginners- basic printroom procedures, paper tearing, ink mixing, etc. The second I wanted to create a project-oriented studio atmosphere for those who’ve learned the basics, and want to professionalize in some way- building a portfolio, executing a thematic series, entering shows, etc.
I’m very pleased with the mix of artists in the new workshop. They seem exactly the sort of artists I was hoping would join. On the first day, started with color.
I find myself helping people with color. Color is complex and very technical, which is not what people sometimes want from their art classes. They want to open up the tube and have the perfect color come out, as in a computer paint program. But mixing color in a studio is still probably the best way to understand color. And that understanding is necessary to achieve unique, engaging color schemes. So to get people mixing, I need a fairly brief and basic intro that still allows people to get pretty immediate results.
To do this I’ve now settled on a rather drastic condensation of my dimly recalled college design course, and a real time demo that involves mixing colors then printing a monotype using that very limited color palette. I’m not at all sure I qualify as an expert, but I seem to have at least thought about these things more than most beginning or returning artists. I’ve gotten better at it- to the extent that it feels fairly concise and logical when I outline it, and people don’t sit there scratching their heads, and are often able to get some fairly balanced color compositions pretty soon after I present it. The whole thing takes about an hour to explain and demonstrate, and pretty much sums up my teaching “style” or “philosophy” which is to fairly briefly touch on art’s more complex problems (composition, color, value, expressive mark-making, etc) then get out of the way and let the artists wrestle with it on their own (with some more kibbitzing on my part). These more technical, or “plastic” concerns do often provide opportunities to discuss art’s meanings: an image of similar-sized objects in a row may suggest a rhythm, whether uniform and machine-like or staccato and musical, whereas diagonals suggest movement; A palette of cool colors can seem emotionally distant or ambivalent while a mix of warm and cool has a tendency to dance in the eye.
It is eye movement in the viewer, I always maintain, that is analogous to visual interest and emotional engagement. There are no rules for which colors to use to achieve this, as color is almost always understood in the context of other colors, but there are very definitely rules for how to get rich and vibrant colors and balanced color schemes. Good memorable color, to me, is like rare, great beauty- it’s almost always at least slightly transgressive. Sophia Lauren had a rather prominent nose. Peter O’Toole had noticeably thick lips. And Picasso’s early “Blue Period”, sometimes ascribed to a lack of funds for any other pigments, actually continued well into his career, in the form of the cooled down tones of the breakthrough cubist years and the sun bleached palette and cerulean beach scenes of his “classicist” period.
Color gets taken for granted, but compare September’s golden afternoons with a grey October day and see how it rules our moods, our sense of time, memory and well being, and the whole of our relationship with light and dark, the primal psychological spectrum that lurks beneath our dreams and rational thought.