My love affair with colour (continued)

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Last week I talked mainly about the different products I use to make my colourful artworks. This week I thought I would tell you about some of the ways I use those products and share some of the results, too.

There are many different ways we can approach starting a piece of work but to begin with, the way I tend to work is in a series. This approach may very well have started because as a printmaker you always produce a series of prints, which is known as an edition. However, unlike an edition, unless they are monoprints which are by their own nature different every time, my artworks series are different.

I employ a few different fun ways to approach the start of a series of paintings, but normally I have an idea, or at least a thought, at the start. For instance, I have the bubble series, the shopping bag series, the garden series and currently I am working on a woodland flowers series.

I generally pick out three colours to start. A red, a blue and a yellow. As you can see from the colour charts below, there are so many versions of red, blue and yellow to pick from that I am spoilt for choice, but these three colours – plus black and white – are all I will use, certainly to begin a piece. If things go well, I probably won’t introduce other colours but mixing three colours together will give a beautifully harmonious finish. However, if the first layer isn’t working for me, I will often choose three other reds, blues and yellows and then work over the top, allowing the layer underneath to peek through. More about that later.

As you can see there is really no such thing as red, blue and yellow

The three colours I pick out to start a painting are not random choices. For instance, the woodland flowers series is in response to a request for a commission journal. The client wants bluebell woods as the lining to the journal I am making for them. This sparked off the idea of making a series of linings which in turn will become a series of leather journal linings and so the journals will be the woodland flowers series.

Also, as I know this client wanted that green and earthy feel alongside the vibrance of blues, I decided to make all these works using acrylic inks, which is new for the journal linings and feeds into my desire to make works in series as well as giving me the opportunity to work on a new theme.

However, I normally pick my colours based on how I am feeling. My art is, after all, about me and how I react to the world around me. Even though I am reacting to my client’s request, I am still thinking first about colour and how it works for me on an emotional level. If I don’t like what I have produced I am not going to use it. So, in this instance I am looking for a cheerful, happy feeling with a very slight undertone which reminds me of the earth and all the creatures which live in and around the woodlands, so slightly unsettling without being sinister.

However, all the time I am putting these colours together I am looking to see if a slight hint or hit of something completely different will really make the work “sing”. Sometimes subtlety is what I am looking for but other times I am feeling playful and want something a bit crazy instead. At the end of the day, I just love watching colours mix and react with each other. It is for me, great fun.

So, getting started on a new series can be a bit daunting and this is true for seasoned artists as well as beginners. So many people are frightened by that large white piece of paper or canvas. If you watch Betty Franks’ YouTube videos, she always starts by scribbling on the paper or canvas just to free herself up from worrying about it. She then goes on to use charcoal and black ink to further mark the paper and stop feeling precious about it. Her method of working is well worth watching if you are frightened of that blank white start, even if you don’t like her work. The way she starts then layers the work and finishes with pens and crayons, is a very intriguing and worthwhile approach.

I tend to simply pick a colour and just start. I have no expectations of the first marks being any good and by being so unconcerned about the outcome I find that something will quickly start to emerge. Sometimes that happens too quickly and there is not enough paint or ink on the page to give any depth to the finished piece. This is frustrating but if you can do it once you can do it again, although it will never be quite the same twice.

If you look closely you can see the yellow tape around the edges and across the page.

If a large sheet of paper frightens you there are two options: one is to use a smaller sheet of paper. Obvious, eh? Two, which is much more fun, take the largest sheet of paper you can find and, using masking tape, section the paper so that you finish up with reasonable-sized areas and then just let loose over the entire sheet, ignoring the tape. At the end remove the tape and see what you have. I tend to cut these pieces up before I do anything else to them and just live with them for a day or so.

You may be delighted with the results but for any that don’t turn out well for you, you can then either retape the pieces attached to a board and make sweeping adjustments, or you can get out some Posca Pens, woody 3 in 1 (sic) pencils by Stabilo, water soluble pastels by Caran D’Ache or any other product you enjoy using which works over the top of your base layer.  

This final layer can often be the most fun as this is where you can add in a pop of colour using any number of products. I tend to use acrylics, which means I can use any of the products mentioned above as well as chalk pastels, oil pastels or inks.

If you are using this method as part of your experimental pieces, get out the orange, place it next to the blue and see how that makes you feel. If you don’t like it, you can paint over it, but you will have learnt that you probably don’t like those two colours together. Don’t discount it forever, though, as three months down the line you may find that it makes you feel really happy.

This is why I say I feel like a kid in a candy store. Experimenting by putting colours next to each other, over each other, under each other, you never know what you are going to get. The outcome is different every time.

Sometimes it doesn’t work but when it does, it is so exciting. Which brings me back to the beginning: pieces which don’t work for me or have peaked too soon. Whilst I may pick a different set of red, blue and yellow, I tend to stick with something that will ultimately feel harmonious.

For instance, if I have started with a “Barbie” pink for my red, a turquoise blue and a lemon yellow, I probably wouldn’t put earthy colours like rusty red, teal blue and yellow ochre over the top, but then never say never. It could be that having those colours of top with the hint of the strong, bright ones coming through is what makes you smile.

Some of these pieces have been used as linings to the leather journals I make, They need to be protected with layers of varnish but they make wonderfully colourful linings.

So, find what makes you smile, what gives you joy. Play, play, and play some more until you find what makes you happy and go with it. This method of working and playing is just as valuable to realistic artists as to abstract artists. Once you know what gives you joy, it will show through in your art.

Here you can see how I use these experimental pieces as linings for the leather journals I make.

NB As with last week’s blog, for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the brands I have mentioned above. These are all products that I use and genuinely believe in.

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