In living colour

Feral cat in the woods. photograph by Elma Schumacher

About a week ago I watched a quilt trunk show where a presenter came and showed a collection of her quilts to an audience. Then just yesterday I shared a photograph of a cat in the forest on social media. I think it works well as a photograph, but it reminded me of how often I have seen someone use a picture like this one as a source while they are learning to paint.

The two seem unrelated, but both of them had me thinking about the use of colour in creating art.

The quilter repeatedly mentioned that she saw her use of colour as a weakness in her fabric choices. She told us that she took a workshop in colour theory to improve in that area. But I doubt that anyone in the audience felt that even one quilt out of the dozens she showed stood out as a failure due to her colour choices.

Returning to my photograph, one of the biggest problems beginning painters face when they paint representational scenes is that often a limited number of colours will seem to dominate a scene or an image. They then try to reproduce those colours exactly instead of using colour to creating something new.

So how are these two things related? For one, they both reflect a desire to follow self-prescribed rules around colour and they are both limiting. One person seems to believe that there is only one colour formula that will determine success in spite of obviously succeeding outside of that frame work, another is bound by a need to reproduce an image exactly instead of using colour to create something of their own.

Anyone who works with colour certainly will benefit from learning about colour theory and how colour works in light, pigments and on the screen. Knowing what happens when various pigments are mixed, how to create tints, tones and shades of a colour, how proximity affects what we see, and understanding how contrast works is important as well.

But we also respond to colours on an emotional level. Bowing to a self-prescribed rule or one particular colour theory, and there are many of them, can restrict creativity more than it helps. Experiment, know that there are no failures, just learning opportunities.

After studying colour theory, there is only one rule that I follow. It is simply this; any combination of colours works. It is how you put them together that matters. The world exists in living colour. Remember to share both what is seen and what is felt. And most of all, trust yourself.






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