What Color Are You?

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Transits 3, Untitled 4

“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.”

Henri Matisse

I like a lot of negative space in my figure work – I usually shoot the models against a black backdrop and like to print in fairly high contrast to accentuate the difference between the skin and the background. It allows me to focus the attention of the viewer on the figure so that it becomes almost an abstraction.

This is such a foreign concept to most painters, particularly watercolorists (one of whom I am married to!). There is generally so much white in watercolor. I don’t think I am a person who could tolerate that much white.

I suppose each of us is drawn to certain colors or a particular palette and that this reveals something about our personalities. I wonder what my use of pure black in so much of my work reveals about me – perhaps my own dark side is coming forward. I guess I feel the need to leave nothing of the paper revealed, I want to make my mark on all of it.

I am thinking again about all that white in so many watercolors – have you ever encountered angst in a watercolorist? I haven’t…

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8 responses to “What Color Are You?

  1. hi ! just today i discovered your blog and it was a very good surprise !
    your works are really good . i like the way you see the light and express it .
    i spent a good time here observing it all .
    thank you !!
    oh… about Okland bridge , are you fron there ? or that area ?
    do you know an artist fron there named Susan Sanford ?
    she is really good and is the only artist i know fron Okland .
    well … see you !!

  2. Caio

    Welcome to my blog! Thank you for the nice comments. I currently live in N. California about an hour north of Oakland but spent many years in the East Bay near the Bay Bridge. I don’t know Susan Sanford but I looked at some of her work on a website and, you’re right, she looks very accomplished!

    Hope to see you again…

  3. Interesting discussion. I hadn’t thought of watercolorists as angst free. Perhaps your dear wife is one of a very special group! I think of all artists as somewhat conflicted, even when cheery.

    As to the color black and white…I don’t believe there are any ‘bad’ colors, just colors that may not be appropriate for a particular painting/combination. I heard once that, “We wear black until something darker comes along.” That implies a richness and depth of all colors being absorbed, doesn’t it?

    I did find the following about color that you may find interesting: Color Symbols Do you find these descriptions useful?

    Loved the quote from Matisse!

  4. Oh, bob, you are wrong about black and watercolorists! (ok, some, like susan, like whites… i do too… but…) You know how many different sorts of watercolor blacks there are!? peach black, Ivory black, Smoke black, Payne Grey (not technically but practically a black) and more, I think… Why would it be so many if watercolorist do not like them?

    And there are some pretty dark watercolorists too: Otto Dix, Grosz… for instance…I’m too modest to mention myself (pretty dark sometimes)…

    And I start to believe Matisse, you know… some pretty damn good painters were skilled with black: Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Eduard Manet… You have to be immenselly talented and have plenty of experience to play with such royal color as black (and you are…)

    One thing I know though: black is better when mixed a bit with some other colors (blue or red especially, but also green or violet) But never put it near a yellow, or else!

  5. This was a fascinating post — a subject I hadn’t thought about before. I know that I love white because of the feeling of light and spaciousness it offers — white in watercolor, white in my house: white walls, white sheets, white towels. I like white because it doesn’t distract my attention the way a red wall might.

    When I started oil painting it completely freaked me out to start using white paint after learning the watercolorists rule of no white paint. I’ve also been taught to not use black paint — to mix my own darks from colors.

    And I have to admit I’m scared of the dark and scared of darks in my paintings, something I have to fight against in order to avoid lack of contrast. Thanks for getting me thinking about this and “the queen of all colors is black.”

  6. Hi Bob,

    coming to your blog I just realised how long it has been since I was here last time! Mon Dieu mon Dieu, time is flying again!

    I love black, I love white, but most of all I love the contrast between them. more generally the contrast between light an shadow, and the way how they enhance each other. Your photos picture it beautifulley.
    I have no idea if black has anything to do with “angst” (by the way I had no idea that this word is used in English, I was quite shocked!)…

    But funny that you speak about white and water colour painters… i just finished an interview, where I was asked, among other stuff, which technique I prefer. i answered:

    “… Which technique I use and when, only depends on my actual mood. Water colour is for light moods, when nothing is troubling my mind, I suppose because it does not allow mistakes. In this sense acrylics is more appropriate for difficult times… ”

    Meaning that somehow, for me, water colour has to do with a trouble free mind…

  7. Jana –

    I do think we have this association unconsciously of white and black with our feelings and moods. One technique I found interesting to play with when I was using pastels was to start with a completely black surface (you can buy pastel paper that way) – I loved the results. Maybe you should try it – face your fears!

    Miki –

    A very interesting take on watercolor vs acrylic, but it makes perfect sense! A conflicted watercolorist is in for trouble!

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