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Color Me Intrigued – by Lorena Bowser

"Aha" by Lorena Bowser, watercolor

Color Me Intrigued

by Lorena Bowser
What’s black and white and re[a]d all over?  Green, yellow and blue!  That’s something to think about while you’re painting your next landscape.

It’s such a simplistic statement to say that art does not exist without color. But any artist who has looked further into the qualities of color and its effects on our life will most certainly open a Pandora’s Box of fascinating insights into the subject.  As artists, we need to be intrigued!  There’s more to color “than meets the eye!”

The scientific explanation of color is that it is a perception that depends on the response of the human visual system to light and the interaction of light with objects.  Whaa…?  OK. Let’s put it this way: Light cannot actually make colors on its own.  It’s our visual perception that makes the colors – when there is light.  So we have to think backwards:  Those beautiful colors shining through the prism are only a perception – there’s no color in the light.   So all the time we have been thinking that light contains all the colors, we have been wrong!

I wonder… maybe if there is no light falling on an object it doesn't have a color.   Wow!  Think about it: what if the color of everything we see in the daylight is actually an illusion!

Well, in a sense, it is:  Color theorists have shed “light” on the subject by declaring that an object reflects the color that we see, and absorbs all the others. That is why we see its color. Each color has it’s own wave length, and our eyes react to the color’s wavelength when it is reflected back to us. The color we see is never a part of the object.  So technically, an object is all the colors except the one we see.    If no light hits the object, it cannot reflect any color and we see it as black. Hence my question….what if everything in our material world has no inherent color at all!

Here’s a recap:  black is the absence of color, white is the presence of all colors, light has no color of its own, but without it,  we cannot see any color.  Confused or fascinated?  Inversely, in watercolor painting, if we want white, we put down no color, and we get the richest black by thickly layering red, yellow and blue.

Now we could talk about the difference between the colors we see in light and those we create with paint pigments, because they are not the same, but I’m still thinking about that reflected color. It basically proves that what we “paint” is not real!  That red sports car I so much admire is not actually red!   That beautiful green forest scene I just painted is every color but green.  I’m sorry, but science or no science, that blows my mind!

It brings to mind things like the significance of a person’s aura, the difference between energy and matter, why they paint the walls pink in prisons now, and the reason a rainbow always inspires a measure of awe, no matter how many times we’ve seen one before.

The element that gives sense to it all is Light.  Is it any wonder that we artists are always talking about the importance of light in our paintings?  Light’s relationship to color may give us an insight into the very soul of the artist. An object reflects the color we see.  Our art reflects the person we are – and “Light” makes it all happen!

If the subject of color stops for you at what you mix on your pallet each day, just continue what you were painting and give it no more thought. As for me, I’m making “connections.”  I’m going to have some fun each week with color. Will you join me?  For starters, let’s prepare a pallet of red, yellow and blue paints, close our eyes and rotate the pallet so we won’t know where the colors are, and paint in the dark! While we’re painting, we can reflect on whether the things around  us have any color at all.  This will prove nothing of course, but it may bring to light some interesting conclusions – and it’s fun!  Send in your paintings (and thoughts) and we’ll post them here next week.

“We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” [Pablo Picasso]


Lorena Bowser is a lifetime artist and linguist. She has lived all over the world and really knows how to make the pennies scream. Enjoy more of Lorena's resourcefulness at her website and blog: at http://lorenasartandprose.blogspot.com
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