What is that color?

Currently I’m watching the water move up and down in tiny rippled waves at my daughter’s swim lesson. The greens and blues with light yellows all twirl around in a dance. The greens look slightly murky while the light that reflects the sky coming through the tinted windows are a bright under saturated orange. Add to this the white lights from above and you have the brightest highlight. It seems simple enough to describe in words but if I sit down and try to mix the colors to create a piece of artwork I would stop at the murky greens. What is that color?

This is the question that I hear in my head the most when I paint, whether I paint a person, a tree, or a still life. Most likely it involves some sort of gray that isn’t the stereotypical black + white gray that we normally think of. Nothing throws me off more than when I stare blankly at my subject and mishmash of color stares back at me daring me to mess up my beautifully composed canvas with a grayish mush that is the wrong color, temperature, and or value. How is it that color that is so highly unnoticeable be so incredibly important? Make no mistake, grays and muddy colors play a vital role in the color composition of a piece of artwork. True colors appear brightest when they are next to these supportive grays. The illusion of light appears flat without the dull grays in the shadow area. 

So what is that color? How is it that we determine the precise color of gray we want? To start off I am not a firm believer of precision or perfection so my process does not involve high tech analysis that will compute the right amount of color of each to create that gray. Once I remove the expectation of perfection I move on to ask myself a series of questions. First I ask what is the general color of that gray? Next I ask myself what is the temperature of that gray? If is it warm than we know warmer colors are involved. If the color is cool I know blues and purples are involved. Lastly I ask how dark is it? How light is it? 

I don’t generally have recipes for grays. With each subject that is presented to me a different combination of colors are called for. I do have favorite colors I use when I begin to paint. I try to match it with what is in front of me. Into that mixture I make grays that are related to the general color that I’m using. For instance, when I mix skin tones I divide the mixtures into two. One for the light side and another for the shadow. From there I mix my grays using those two piles of paint. After asking the series of questions I can usually find the grays by adding little amounts of paint. Once I’m convinced of the accuracy, I can make a separate pile of paint for that gray. It is not unusual for me to have several piles of paint with different grays next to each other.

Often times, there is such subtlies in between the grays and when that happens I rely solely on the temperature of that gray color. This is especially true in skin tone where the combination of the temperature of the light and the pigmentation of the skin collide into a mash of sorts. An eye can get lost easily in the differences. Asking questions and experimenting may be frustrating at first but eventually a painter becomes familiar with the color combinations and can use them to play with the contrast of grays against color. 


Ugh…so disappointed that I can’t attend my favorite part of the week. Due to a stupid virus and/or allergies and /or plain old exhaustion I will be missing figure drawing which will be a historical piece done in 1800s costume. So instead I’ve decided to share one of my favorite pieces of artwork done by Frederick Franck who writes,” This nude I am drawing is not just a body, not an abstract symbol of youth or old age. She is the concrete person before my eyes: this person. It is enough. To draw her is to let the perception on my retina be affirmed by the hand that notes down in obedience. It is not in any way “self-expression “. It is letting the person I draw express what she is through me. Drawing the Ten Thousand Things is being in touch , now and here, with what is particular and universal, what is in time and yet timeless, with the arising and the disappearing, with birth and death”

This is what I love about his work. Though, it maybe void of his self expression is it definitely not void of expression. Especially in the drawing (below) of a dancer he had done in ink. Here, the blurred and bold lines describe a body in motion. One can almost feel the wind caused from the constant spinning. Though, the body may be unrecognizable in a sense it begs the question,”what is it than the artist is trying to capture?” I believe he answers it in the second half of his quote when he says it, “is being in touch with here and now, with what is in time and yet timeless, with the arising and the disappearing, with birth and death.” He so wonderfully captures the timeless and beautifully reflects the present moment in seemingly effortless swoops and swirls of his pen. Though, it is not perfectly rendered it doesn’t have to be because that’s not the point. The point is being in the moment!

And this is my prayer for those who attend my art classes, for those who will attend the figure drawing session today and for many other artists who might struggle with confidence: may they understand that perfection is a dream and that presences in a painting/drawing is what breathes life into artwork! 

My First Class

2017 is the year for my first’s of many things. My first solo show in March, my first in establishing en plain aire group, my first in drawing from life (maybe not my first but certainly has been years since I’ve drawn from a model), but nothing gave me more growth than teaching my first class in art.

It is certainly a challenge to describe how to do something that is completely visual and put it into words. In fact, I have stated many times that art is an entirely different language, one that we are born with but must relearn as adults. So as time went on and I started at the very beginning I began to realize what it was I was teaching. For although as adults we forget that we are artist, my job was simply to remind them.

Teaching art techniques involved a boat load of elements but the one thing anyone of us needs to become artist is something that we are all born with. First, I showed them color theory, values scales, texture, and form. Then I preached about how drawing and practicing everyday can sharpen their painting skills. To this, I know I can also tell them to the study the old masters and visit art galleries and art studios and read all the books they 


can. I can speak for hours about my process from start to finish. I can show countless pictures of my progress with my artwork. I can tell them to visit museums and take classes to further develop and understand the techniques behind painting, but…..without the love of the subtle nuances of light or the awareness of the frailty of the moment or the intensity of an emotion art looses its meaning.

 Technical skill is an important language to learn but learn it so that you can describe the magic of 3 am or the gaze of an infant only hours old or the haunting stare of a dementia patient. Use it to describe the joy of living or the depths of your pain or the desires of your heart. Use it to muse the hardships of the drug addicted or homelessness or the saints that works with both. Use it to contemplate the eternity and immorality of your life among the stars. Use it to describe the poetry of your life. Appreciation for life both in good and bad, is the beginning and the spark for creating art. In this last point, we are all born with the ability to love life.

To teach them was also to remind myself of this very point. So much of the time I get wrapped up in making things perfect I forget that perfection is an illusion that can never be achieved and I loose my focus as to what my personal purpose is for making art. This leaves me quite drained and lost. Every week when I see the enthusiasm of the students when they hold their brushes in hand and the joy they have while in the process of making art pulls me back into the realm of art making I need to be. It is simply the reflection of the present moment and the appreciation of the miracle of life as it is.  And for this I thank them because without this growth in spirit I become a machine that paints pictures with no depth. This is not my art and this is not me.