Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wine and color

Bend in the Road
Work in progress  18x24"
by Susan Roux

No, this is not a drinking post. This is a reflection on where my art journey has sent me lately.

Complex color.

I've been pondering this for quite some time now. My paintbrush furiously seeks it. My eyes are beginning to open to it, hopefully my mind is beginning to understand it. I know I've only brushed the surface, but a year ago I didn't even stop for a minute to think about it. An art journey is like that. We become aware of certain things we never noticed before and our exploration of that element becomes our new focus until we finally get a grasp on it and hopefully make it your own. It's what keeps artists so motivated and powering forward. It's also what makes artists feel like they can't ever paint anything good enough. There's always so much more we seek to capture.

My best description of complex color comes from relating it to wine.

We all know that wines can be very complex. The connoisseur can identify subtleties in the flavor that most of us cannot detect nor specify. Be it certain fruits, flowers, spices, wood and even fungi, the palate must be very developed to distinguish many of these wonderful nuances.

Expensive wines perhaps have more complexity than really inexpensive wines. Yet for every wine out there, a buyer exists that will swear by it. The flavors found in the wine may be complex or not. If the individual drinker has not developed their palate they can drink happily completely unaware of the difference.

That being said, I think there are satisfied buyers for every type.

I believe the same is true of color.

If a painting is constructed of simple straight from the tube colors, will the unknowledgeable viewer know it? Probably not. They may be simply attracted to the image portrayed. We all know a handful of subjects that sell because of their popularity. Need I mention lighthouses? An untrained eye looks at a discernible subject and sees very little difference with one that is masterfully executed. On the other hand, someone that is educated in art or has spent hours upon hours honing their skills, the execution of the work is far more important than the subject matter itself. A deeper appreciation for the subtleties exists.

What is complex color?

Think of the difference between a gray from a tube compared to the unlimited combinations of grays achieved by neutralizing those colors on your palette. The subtleties you can achieve and the varying pull towards certain color pigments are so superior to that of the tube gray, yet the untrained eye will see both as gray on a painting. Multiply that to include every color you use and you'll begin to get a glimpse at the idea of complex color.

Stas Borodin told me some Japanese could discern 100 colors in black. I know Monet found countless shades in gray. Those artists fixated on capturing light won't just use a buttery color to depict it. No. There will exist a whole variety of shades and subtle colors, if it's done masterfully.

Yes there will be those who teach less values is key to a strong painting. I don't agree. It's a good place to start to understand how value works in a painting, but a well executed work with a full value range can bring a viewer to tears. Go look at the master works in your local museum. Sorolla and Sargent didn't limit themselves to 3-5 values. They played in complex colors...

The longer you look at your subject the more colors you'll be able to discern. This is even true of a photograph. Trying to capture every color you see while the number increases the longer you observe, can be daunting. As a representational artist, I think these things hold the secret to continuously improving your art. Now attempt to add creative spontaneity to the mix and you'll begin to get an idea where my mind's been existing lately.

So complex, it's hard to put into words...

Not only is complex color hard to achieve, control and wrap your brain around, it's far too complex for the camera to comprehend... Photographing my work has become impossible. I hope you can get to see it in person sometime.


  1. You lost me right after you said this wasn't a drinking post...

    Just kidding.

    The hardest thing about color is that it is universally perceived, but individually understood. For instance, we all know the sky is blue, but two different artists will paint the same sky in two different ways. Which one is right? Both.

    BTW, I love gray! Red... not so much...

    Good post.

  2. You are speaking my language! Even in this small representational image, I see a multitude of jewel like colors emerging tastefully next to one another. I do hope to see your work "in person" one day!

  3. You put it into words very clearly, Susan. And I understand completely that masterfully painted pieces, such as your, with subtle nuances of color shifts are the most difficult to photograph. Some day I hope to see them in person - what a feast for the eyes that will be! Thanks for a wonderful post and showing us the wip. I am sure the final will be breathtaking.

  4. Your work is beautiful! I can see many (hues/colors) and they are lovely. From your photo, the number of (values/shades 1 - 10) that I can find are 5 when I squint down. Art rules from long ago say 5 is the maximum values we should have in a painting but we know that all . . . . and I mean all art rules should and can be broken.

  5. Funny, a few years ago, I hated mixing paint. Now, for my larger more complex paintings, I mix everything. I can't imagine using gray paint from a tube. Lovely painting and you are so good with putting things into words!

  6. I understand what you're saying very well. And it's not just the individual colors themselves, sometimes it's the layers of them, and how they interplay with each other. I've been a fan of Edward Hopper for years, I know many of his pieces intimately. Or so I thought. When I actually saw them in person I was just blown away and stunned by the complexity of his colors. What, in print, looked like broad expanses of colors were actually finely detailed layer upon layer of colors all combining to create an effect that made the canvas come alive. So I know exactly what you mean about your work needing to be seen to be appreciated. You truly do USE your colors, that fact is obvious even from this old faded monitor. Good discussion. Thank you.

  7. Susan, I love your painting..iam also a colorist and i believe a complex color is a multiple color. Dirst you see masses of a landscape which can be different color notes and a painting looks more like a puzzle. THen you start adding color to these masses laying other colors over the underpainted ones. It'a all about breaking colors, so that one color peeks through others above it. This adds complexity to the painting. It is also a way of achieving color vibration. It is a time- consuming painting, as you are supposed to wait for first color notes to dry. Usually i have just no time to wait, so i use fast drying mediums and it helps a lot.


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