Well, obviously! A world without red? Red sneakers, red house, red flowers, red stool. Anything I can get! This year, I painted my house red. It makes me feel good. For half a minute I thought about painting it grey then woke up one morning and thought, “No I can’t do that, it’s got to be red. It will make me happy.” The Pacific Northwest has enough grey! I think my house is stunning and it does make me happy!
It’s clear that color is inextricably tied to our emotions and mood. Color colors our feelings. Color also has such strong cultural bonds. Favorite colors can be motivating and enticing when it comes to painting. I know I’m attracted to certain subjects because of their vibrant color. I know that I gravitate towards certain sections of my palette. I choose reference materials that have a particular color scheme or focal point that hits my color barometer.
But why are we particularly attracted to some colors and avoid others? Why do we tend to repeat certain color combinations or schemes and avoid or even repulsed by others? The law of attraction applies. This is something mysterious that we really don’t have control over. Why are we attracted to certain people and not by others. If we had more control over such things our lives might have taken different turns!
Since red is the color of blood, it has historically been associated with sacrifice, danger and courage. Red is also the color most commonly associated with heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy. In China, India and many other Asian countries it is the color of symbolizing happiness and good fortune. A red door is good luck. Red is a primary color and commands attention. I even know a few painters who always include a dab of red someplace in every painting. Orchestrating color to emphasize a focal point is and important concept that is possible only with careful study of the aspects of color. Check out my video A Little Color Theory.
It’s important to understand color and our viewers potential reactions and associations to color. This kind of understanding allows us to convey our concepts with much more clarity. Furthermore, having a good understanding of color interaction can make us much more confident painters.
We all have biases about color but pushing past them can be a means of artistic growth and expression. I often work with students who feel that their paintings always look the same. Usually it’s because they are gravitating to a section of their palette or a number of colors that are all similar in saturation. When everything is saturated, nothing is. When everything is muted, nothing is muted meaning your painting may lack simultaneous contrast. Something only appears as bright red next to something not so intense a red or more muted.
In order to paint something whose local color is red, we’ll probably need the whole spectrum! You can’t paint a red vase using a tube of red paint. Let’s put that to the test. Here is an apple whose local color is red. What colors do I actually need in my palette to paint it convincingly? First of all, I need a background color that is different from the red. Then I need some colors that reflect that background color in some way. I used some purple, some green, some aqua, some orange…a little bit of everything.
The point of all of this is that all the colors in our palette have purpose in our paintings whether or not we happen to like a particular color. Don’t avoid colors for the wrong reasons. Use them all to say what you want to say in your work. This is best achieved with a careful study of color theory and a joyful exploration of the visual cacophony which is on display for us in our world.