Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Color Blue In Life And Art

Thomas Gainborough - THE BLUE BOY
When I woke up this morning "the color blue" popped up in my mind. I don't know why but it did. I know that I struggled trying to find the "right" color blue for some Christmas ornaments I was painting last night but didn't think my poor mind would dwell on it while I slept. Apparently it did.

Blue is an interesting color and an even more interesting concept. I can remember taking my daughter, who was probably about 5 at the time to the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles. There was a show on famous abstract painters from the mid 1950's to mid 1960's. There was one painting that was titled "The Blue Room." For some reason my daughter stared at this painting for quite awhile and finally turned to me and said, "Daddy, there isn't even a drop of blue paint in this painting!" Looking at it myself I discovered that while there were lots of colors in it, blue, in any form, was not there.

Hearing that statement brought everyone in the room to a standstill. I later realized they were waiting to hear what I would say. I actually laughed and told her that while blue is a color, it is also an emotion. In this case (the English language has SO many variables) it meant that the painter was sad or was feeling some kind of turmoil and that he was trying to show us how sad, or "blue" he was. He was using blue to describe an emotion, not necessarily the color. That seemed to satisfy her and my impromptu audience as the room returned to normal. The memory of that day was when we stumbled on Ellen De Generis and her mother who were also at the museum.

Blue has so many meanings. Consider, you are blue, there is blue Monday, then the blue bird of happiness, and feeling kinda blue, "blue" jeans, blue is my favorite color. Getting the exact color of blue is so hard, the skies of Paris have such a wonderful blue, the blue of the sea, the blue of the sky, clothing, house colors, fabrics. Blue is with us everywhere and yet it is such an elusive color.

Anyone who paints knows exactly what I mean. I noticed that the skies of Norway were of a intensity I was not used to. The blue was so intense it could hurt your eyes. The camera had trouble capturing it. Yet it was the perfect foil to greens so deep and so intense that without the blue of the sky you would have complained seeing a photo that I had messed with it in PhotoShop. I didn't need to. It was that way. The sky was a bit softer in Denmark and while brighter different in Amsterdam.

I remembered my first time in Paris and my second, both times in winter. There is something about the sky there that is also arresting. Los Angeles has blue skies, yes we do, but not necessarily of anything you would take note of, unless of course the Santa Ana's are blowing, the humidity drops to around 5% and the sky is deep and rich. Shadows become luminous, the San Gabriel Mountains seem so close that you can touch them and everyone is irritable, especially the drivers!

Yes, the color blue. Consider it the next time you paint. I know that DecoArt has an unbelievable number of blues in their Americana and Traditions paint lines. I believe that they will expand their new Satin line as well. Do we need so many? Yes and no. I find that it takes a lot of time to find the right color rather than doing what the old masters have done for centuries...they mixed the color they needed. We spend too much time finding that particular color and I have found that crafters get upset if they can't find the exact color the "kit" calls for. For many, the idea of improvising is beyond, they think, their ability. I believe, it is what you "see" in your own mind's eye.

As a final thought, let me ask you when do you put in your sky? First or last? This was a debate I frequently had with my first oil teacher. She preferred putting in the sky last and then daubing blue between the branches and leaves. I resisted that especially after seeing a wonderful painting at the Autry that, to me, was ruined because that artist did that very thing. His painting was ruined because the holes of the sky between autumn leaves were just that, holes.

If a painting has a sky, I feel that putting the sky first determines the colors you will use for the rest of the painting. The sky, featured or not, sets the tone for the entire painting. Consider. A stormy blue, a red blue, a sunset or sunrise blue, midday blue, evening blue, cloudy blue. Each one of these skies gives the color spectrum we will use for every other color in the painting.

Again, consider, the color blue.

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