I’m always on the lookout for color inspiration, even if we are attending a friend’s wedding. After a recent summer church wedding we all drove out to the country for a tent reception and dancing later in the barn. Late afternoon light has a way of making mundane things enchantingly beautiful! I definitely will paint with this color palette soon. I’m calling this palette “Barn Dance.” Giving it a name helps me remember this color collection too!
Here are some reasons why I collect color in the form of photographs, fabric swatches and magazine clippings, to name popular sources.
1. Photos aid color memory. Our brains have the ability to remember not just the colors in a scene, but individual hues and color temperatures. This comes in very handy for me as a painter. I can call up favorite combinations for use later, and remember why they seemed particularly stunning to me. You can practice this every time you think of it.
Memory exercise. Try this: take a minute or two to look at the flowers image below and note the colors of each object. Then close your eyes and have someone tell you to describe what you saw, asking you these questions without looking at the photo.
How many yellows are in the flowers? What is the color of their centers? What is the color of the dish? Blue of course, but is it a cool blue or a warmer aqua blue? Light or dark? Is the background a neutral color of table? Describe it. What about the color of the water class and leaves and stems of flowers? Describe the colors of the water and leaves. (sample answer at end.) Let’s call this palette “Gold Floral Blue Plate.” Descriptive for me to remember it, plain and simple for now.
How did you do? Were you able to talk about the colors in detail? The next time you look at a painting in a book, magazine, or gallery, try this again. Focusing on pinpointing and remembering colors sends you on your way to reason number two of why we collect color. (If you create your own photograph next time, and then analyze why the colors of the subject attracted you, it’s likely you will pay much more attention to the color palette of the scene, because of the personal connection for you.)
2. Cultivating color discernment is SO helpful when creating art. Collecting color gives me time to really observe an image and pay attention to the properties of each individual hue. Take a look at the photo of the flower in the white bowl below, surrounded by succulent plants and sitting on a glazed ceramic plate. There’s a green in the palette collection strip to the right of the photo that is not a good match. It might be obvious to you that it’s the swatch in the center of the strip below the other two greens above it.
When I first began to paint, I was not very good at discerning greens, and so when it came time to mix and paint them, my greens were often looking harsh and out-of-place. This is a common mistake when working with greens, I later learned. I had to learn to really pay attention to the look of my green mixtures. I finally learned “why” a green was wrong, instead of just knowing my greens were simply not working. Observing and discerning is crucial. It’s all about practice.
The yellow and red colors in the center of the palette strip are also “off.” The red swatch is in need of some blue to mix in for better harmony that is closer to purple on the color wheel. The yellow needs toning to make a darker, more harmonious hue. If you click on the photo to enlarge, and then cover up the 3 offending colors in the center of the color palette, you will see how the harmony of the whole is restored. I’ll call this palette (minus the 3 “off colors”) “Magenta Five.”
My “Invincible Summer” painting uses a similar (not matching) color scheme as in the blossom and succulents image. There are some very small areas of accent colors: a touch of turquoise blue, a bright purple stem, and a light, transparent-looking green. Accent colors add zip and zing, and in small doses don’t upset the overall harmony.
The building on the right of this cafe patio photo was the first thing that caught my eye as my sister Leslie and I came around the corner in Estes Park, Colorado, on our summer art treat day yesterday. With it’s soft yellow walls, red tile roof and touches of light blue, it looked like it was straight out of the South of France. A closer look reveals many other great highlights in the scene, like the red umbrellas and some aqua, yellow and pinks in the background, sprinkled among the leafy trees. Rich brown wood colors anchor the scene and provide a harmonious tone. I will use this palette in a painting from my own imagination. It may even be a subject entirely different that this cafe scene. Color will be my focus, rather than adhering to this subject matter. I’m calling this palette “Estes Cafe.”
If I pull the colors out of this horse-drawn cart image, they will look very neutral by contrast with the above collections. Blue/grays, warm browns, and black and white dominate the scene. Little bits of blue and burgundy provide the highlight hues. I love working with neutral palettes now and then. They can be very soothing. These people in the carriage probably were caught in a downpour only a few minutes later, as my sister and I suddenly went dashing for our car as the rain came down! The mood becomes so different when a rainy scene ensues. I will call this palette “Belgian Horses in Rain.”
3. Color collections are very personal, and teach me about my own preferences. The more we understand why we are drawn to certain color combinations, the more confident we can become with each new creation. I save samples for different reasons, and love to see the variety. There are no worries about getting in a rut if my color collection reflects a curiosity about all manner of things in life. Color, like art projects, can be new every day.
Do you collect color too? An individual color palette can contain just 3 or 4 hues, or up to several. The point for me is that I have a visual idea to get me started. Then I can change things up as I move the project or painting along.
How do you get started with color? Do you have a current favorite color combo you are simply crazy about? Thanks for reading and for your comments! -Karen
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Sample answer to memory game questions:
How many yellows are in the flowers? Two, a light yellow/orange and a darker tone of same color.
What is the color of their centers? Dark brown.
What is the color of the dish? Blue of course, but is it a cool blue or a warmer aqua blue? Light or dark? It is a cool blue with medium value textured.
Is the background a neutral color of table? Describe it. The table is gray, ranging from light to dark.
What about the color of the water class and leaves and stems of flowers? Describe the colors of the water and leaves. The water in the glass appears to be shades of light blue, medium light gray and near white. The leaves range from a light grayish green to a very dark muted green.