Personal Color Palette
Drawing inspiration from our daily lives - and artists Alma Thomas & Bisa Butler.
Hello DT GUTsters! You’re looking particularly good this Sunday.
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Let’s do this.
Personal Color Palette
You’ve heard me say it before: I struggle with color. It took me months to decide what color to paint my bedroom. After countless nights comparing color swatches and scrolling through Pinterest, I took the leap and ordered a glowing peach color called “Champagne Bonfire.”1 After a weekend of taping, priming and painting the walls, ceiling, and trim, that glowing peach color ended up looking more like the flesh of an electrified fish. I slept inside a champagne bonfire barf tank for weeks.
So yeah, I struggle with color. Ask me what goes well with a light blue and I am lost. But when I’m working on my own drawings and paintings, somehow I have color confidence. Why??
Unlike when I’m selecting a bedroom wall color, when I draw I never choose colors out of thin air.
Where Does Color Inspiration Come From?
Sure, there’s a field of study called “Color Theory” and gorgeous books filled with blocks of color. They explain, essentially, that color is not static, all color is relative, and we all see color differently. It’s fascinating! But does it help me choose “brick red” over “deep magenta”? No!
When I draw or paint, my color palette starts with a moment or a memory. A feeling or an idea. The colors I use in my drawings are always inspired by something I’ve seen, often my own daily life.
Sometimes it’s not that literal. You know the flavor wheel in Salt Fat Acid Heat I mentioned last week? The colors in that chart were inspired by old masters paintings that feature food connected to the chart’s subject. Specifically, for the “World of Acid” I referenced Caravaggio’s “Basket of Fruit”.
Nerdy but true.
I’m not saying this is the right way to do things. It’s how I do things. I think a lot of our best personal techniques are actually strategies we’ve developed to compensate for areas we suck in. But it does give me a boost that many of my favorite artists - even those who understand color theory like a native language - draw color inspiration from the world in the same way that I do. Here are a couple:
“Man’s highest inspirations come from nature. A world without color would seem dead. Color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.” - Alma Thomas
Painter and lifelong art teacher Alma Thomas’ work focused on color. Those color choices were inspired by the two things that excited her most: nature and the cosmos. The titles of the work below speak to the color choices she made. The colors speak to the feeling of her subjects.
Click here to listen to the DrawTogether podcast episode about Alma Thomas’s remarkable life and work.
“If I’m doing [a portrait of] somebody who is considered powerful or a leader, I might use a base of red [wool], and then all the colors that go on top of that are interacting with that red.” - Bisa Butler
The colors of artist Bisa Butler’s life-sized quilt portraits of African Americans are strong, bold and vibrant. She often works with colorful, patterned fabrics popular in West Africa, and uses symbolism when she selects color, too.
Click here to listen to the DrawTogether podcast episode about Bisa Butler’s work.
Both these artists pull from a mixture of reality, imagination, and reference to create an emotionally charged field of color Their own interests and experiences form a unique color palette that conveys their feelings of joy, celebration, power and reverence.
Down the road I’ll invite some visiting artists to help us learn about color in terms of complements and contrasts and tints and tones. But for now, let’s forget about theory and explore our own experienced. Let’s create our own personal vocabulary of color.
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