No Time For Brushes

painting knife painting, Musician, oil  on board,  by Beth Inglis Simmons


For artists, brushes aren’t always the best tools for making art. Brent Cotton, a living artist in Montana, says his painting pieces are usually  three quarters done by using a “palette knife”. Otherwise, he finds some hardware store brushes to lay in the initial draft of his painting. Palette or painting knives offer much for the artist. To clarify if necessary, there is a difference between a palette knife and a painting one. A palette knife generally has a long blade which is used to mix paints on a palette. They also clean palettes by scraping off  unused paint. A painting knife has a somewhat flexible metal blade with a wood handle. Just above the blade, there is a bend whose purpose is to keep knuckles from touching wet paint on the canvas.  Blades come in pear , diamond, and trowel shapes. The similarities between palette and painting knives include having blunt  ends and very sharp edges. Both palette and painting  knives are available in various sizes.

Why use painting knives instead of brushes? For one, to get different effects like impasto texture, large areas of smooth flat color and to make a three-dimensional effect. Painting knife method does liven up an area of dull color and enables an artist to paint more loosely and painterly.  Plus, painting knives are much easier to clean. Just wipe off excess paint with a clean cloth.

Which is better: to use metal or plastic? For those starting out, plastic painting knives are ok;  however, the springiness of a steel blade can’t be beat for  more advanced painters. These steel knives are less likely to break and will last longer, too. In the spirit of experimentation, other knife like materials to use are old credit cards cut in half and metal or plastic rulers.


Painting knives generally have blunt ends but come in different shapes and sizes. For example, an angular long blade makes sweeps of color , while a knife  with a more rounded end is useful for adding dabs of color layering. A sharper, pointed blade works well for making sgraffito, as in scratching in blades of grass. When choosing a knife, one which  is comfortable to hold and has a “springy” blade is best.

The versatility of painting with a painting knife is worth doing. For example, to first get paint on the canvas hold the knife like a conductor holds a baton and then sweep up swaths of thickly mixed paint with the side of the knife. For small details, use the tip. Cleaning your knife withe the wipe of a clean rag after applying each color keeps your colors from getting muddy.

Another technique is to use the long side of the knife and apply paint like buttering a piece of bread. To create some texture, press the blade to the surface and lift off. For fine lines, use the edge or tip of the blade and for dots, use the rounded tip of the blade, which is similar to a filbert brush. To make some heavy duty ridges, press  the blade flat into thick paint. Sgraffito is a useful way to expose the under layers of paint perhaps made with a brush.

Painting without brushes is nothing new or modern. Renaissance and Baroque artists used  this painterly style. Van Gogh painted with painting knives in the 19th century and artists like Jackson Pollock and Frank Auerbach did so in the 20th century. There is much wisdom to be gained from the past. For example, to avoid cracking of the paint as it dries, use a very firm surface for the painting to begin with such as Ampersand and Gessobord. Also when making an under painting, use oil paint thinned with Gamblin Gamsol, or something comparable,   and then apply the mixture with a large bristle brush like a #10 or #12. For the under painting using analogous colors to the final layer brings greater harmony to the painting.

Best to let knife paintings dry for a long time. Dry to the touch is deceiving because usually there are under layers that are still wet. Sometimes a painting takes 6-12 months to dry, after which it is advisable  to varnish as a seal of protection.

In conclusion, if there are too many hard edges in the painting, soften them by using a paint brush or to let the first layer appear through the second layer. What are the advantages of painting with knives? There are many  but mostly to facilitate painting with energy and expression!



Painting at the Boston MFA




In a surge of focus and commitment, I headed to Boston for a 4 day workshop of intensive painting.  My familiarity with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts goes back  many years;  say to the mid- 1980’s when I enrolled in two classes: design and painting at the Museum School adjacent to the the Museum of Fine Arts. It was spring and my last few months in Boston before returning home to Wisconsin.

My memory of those classes propelled my art endeavors for a long time afterwards. Mostly, I felt so appreciated for becoming an artist and fine art enthusiast.  It made sense then to rekindle, get clarity, or simply immerse myself in some serendipity by returning to this museum for a brief time. So painting in oils for 4 days seemed just right.


The Museum of Fine Arts faces both the Fenway and Huntington Avenue. Remembering the Fenway, I entered through the doorway and with directions in hand followed a byzantine pathway to a room somewhere on the lower level.  The workshop had started  and we were introducing ourselves and mentioning what each of us liked. There were about 10 artists attending, all female except one male besides the teacher. Ethnicity was varied and I was the only one from Wisconsin. Not wasting any time, the teacher, Jeff Heins, gave a demonstration of our first painting assignment.  Jeff explained how to start a painting focusing on  the figure – ground relationship. Then he proceeded to show us how to paint the cast shadows thus establishing a value system. Pieces of artificial fruit were placed on a table with a dark  background and direct lighting. From this set-up,  our 1st acrylic paintings of the figure – ground dimension were created. The results were clarifying and pleasing.


For the next day and a half, the class continued to develop this initial painting into a completed realistic oil painting with color and a 3-dimensional quality.  On the third day, each artist brought in a photo or some favorite items to make as a still life. These paintings began in the same way as the first painting by creating the  value structure. Subjects included were various like a champagne bottle in a bucket, photo of a windmill, photo of an Indian dancer, photo of one of Sargent’s portraits in the Museum, a picture of a dog, a landscape with a sailboat and a still life of pieces of candy. The atmosphere was focused and friendly. The schedule during the four days started at 10:15 AM until 2:15 PM with a break in between.

By workshop participant

Om the last day, Jeff  took the class into the museum to see several paintings which showed how certain artists approach making the 2-dimensional canvas  into a 3-dimensional image fit for a museum. John Singer Sargent’s room of paintings was a highlight even with a very large painting by Kehinde Wiley which could have a room of its own.  At the end of four days,  a variety of oil paintings from everyone brought something new to my painting process as well as benefiting from the  liveliness of painting with other artists.  Many thanks to Jeff whose guidance , suggestions, and oversight kept all the  artists engaged in their paintings. Continue reading “Painting at the Boston MFA”

The Painter : Fairfield Porter

How does the American culture jump from the turn of the 20th century Impressionism to the Abstract Expressionists of the mid-21st century? Part of the answer may lie with artists like Fairfield
Porter of Southampton, New York. His career took off in the 1950’s at the same time as the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson
Pollack and deKooning.  Fairfield Porter was both an art critic for the  “Art News” and an accomplished painter. Portraiture and figure painting were losing the attention of New York galleries and the rest of America in the face of these new trends. Porter fought tenaciously to become a figure painter and not only succeeded but mentored younger artists while leaving a legacy of many paintings to the  Parrish Art Museum  near Southampton, Long Island, New York.

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Fairfield Porter in studio

Born 1907, Porter was the son of James Porter, an architect, and Ruth Furness Porter, a poet from a literary family. One of his brothers was Eliot Porter, a nature photographer. Their father , a wealthy man, bought an island Great Spruce Head island in Maine where he built his family’s summer mansion. Fairfield’s wife, a talented poet, was known as Anne Channing Porter of Southampton. After graduating from Harvard where he studied philosophy, he moved to New York City to study at the Arts Student League.


Fairfield Porter has said that those who influenced his art the most were the French Impressionists: Edouard Veuillard and Pierre Bonnard. Porter saw in Veuillard’s paintings images of French domestic interiors with out the fine detail found in more Renaissance and classical art. He also appreciated Veuillard for his talent to paint some physical details without losing sight of the composition as a whole referring to Veuillard as the “abstract impressionist”.

Impressionists , as Porter thought and wrote about in the 1930’s, were very much engaged with societal changes in the US and abroad. The industrialization of Europe led to the demise of artist
guilds but the rise of factories. With this loss of the guilds, Knowledge of the craft of painting and the arts declined. The communal aspect of learning was important for the transmission of this knowledge. So what occurs is a starting from scratch mentality. The Impressionists were amateurs becoming professionals. This situation led to much of the criticism against these artists who abandoned or found inaccessible the classical Renaissance traditions of art. Also Fairfield Porter thought differently from Seurat on how important knowing the physics of light was rather than painters understanding :
“the nature of pigment in the representation of vision”.
Modelling as a method of creating form was much less important to Porter.

As a writer and critic for the “Art News Magazine” and ” The Nation”, his criticism of art was praised by contemporary artists like Larry Rivers and Alex Katz. Porter was early in recognizing the
promise in the art of Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtensein, and Bruce Marden. As a painter, his achievements included major group shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York city and this museum also collects Porter’s paintings. He was reviewed by prominent journals as the Art Forum International Magazine, the New Yorker, and Art in America. Porter has donated 235 pieces of his art to the Parrish Art Museum of Long Island. His legacy resides in following the Realist tradition in art while mentoring younger artists as Eric Fischal through his words and paintings.

Fairfield Porter’s study with Jacques Maroger in the 1940’s provided him with the know-how of mixing a medium to be used with oil paints to make them more fluid. Maroger’s medium is well known among painters. It consists of toxic white lead heated with linseed oil and mastic, a natural resin, which then becomes a gel. Once the mix is taken off the heat source, it cools after as hour to the color of Italian coffee, after several more hours : the color of American coffee. When used with oil paints on canvas, Maroger medium is transparent, blended into the hue of the pigment.

Although Porter was meticulous in keeping records of painting recipes, his studio was kept in a style of creative liveliness with canvasses , paints, gels, easels, and brushes occupying its space.
Like Velazquez, Porter liked a “hands off” approach to nature and the portraits he painted. He also, emulated deKoonings style of keeping the painting process open and unrestricted, sometimes not even finishing the details on a painting. This adherence to the
Realist tradition coupled with the openness of Abstraction gave the art world a fresh view of portraiture and landscape painting by this Yankee American painter.

Is the Ocean Blue?

Blue is a color which took  long time to come into existence and eventually gain the popularity which it has this day. When Homer wrote his epic poem the Iliad and the Odyssey, there was no “Blue yonder” but only an ocean filled with adventure described as the “ wine red sea”. According to a theory  by Hugo Magnus, the famous poet Homer and contemporaries could not yet see blue as a color but later as the human species evolved, their eyes could see blue. Language picked up the new perception and coined the word “blue”. Magnus was confusing the biological function of sight with perception which is created  by culture. So if Hugo was wrong , when and how did the sea become blue?

The history of color is huge and beyond pure science. Color naming is made by societies with their own words, languages and cultural perceptions. For example, in the European culture of the high middle ages, the colors of importance included red, white  and black. Green was added as a noun for vegetation and then last in place was blue. Skies in art works were painted red, white, or gold, not blue. Blue, however, played a role among the peasantry who wore clothes dyed with woad, which made the color of fabric slightly blue. This was a Germanic and Celtic tradition.

Christine de Pisan, professional writer who wrote in 1390: Book of the City of Ladies, about women in the Middle Ages.

By the 13th century, Pope Innocent III had gained singular authority over Church practices.In his papal decrees, he outlined the specific colors to be used for the Catholic mass. Blue was never mentioned but red, white and black were. However, in the stained glass windows of the 12th century churches, blue glass was used in the backgrounds to allow more light through the stained windows.

photo by Dominic Arizona Bonucelli, Rick Steve’s “Chartres Cathedral: The Age of Faith in Stone and Stained Glass.”

Finally, by the high medieval period, artists found an aesthetic role for blue. Mosaics and holy book illuminations of the early Christian era used blue often. By the Carolingian period of the 9th century, blue was used in miniature paintings, especially as a background color. The robes of the emperor and those of the Virgin Mary and the Saints were often painted in blue. The meaning here of blue became one of divine presence . As artistic technology improved, blue became less murky and was used to bring light and celestial illumination to a painting or stained glass window. While the aesthetic role of this color was more and more appreciated, many debates about the true nature of color intensified and continued on. These debates centered on the question of whether color was of matter or light. How the ocean became blue since the time of Homer’s epic remained unanswered. For interested readers, the story can be found in Michel Pastoureau book Blue…, which is one in a series he has written on various colors. These books are beautifully illustrated. Blue:The History of Color.

Catching up to modern times, the color blue connotes a general impression of calm, coolness, quiet and unassuming qualities. When blue is used in food, however, it suppressed the appetite. A shade of blue like dark blue connotes integrity, professionalism, and power while light blue suggest softness, healing and understanding. In relationships, blue has a calm, peace loving albeit distant sex appeal. People who like blue make good partners and are in control. Blue-eyed people have the second most eye color  and are believed to be tough and have stamina.

Two artists wearing blue: the one wearing dark blue expresses masculinity and the other wearing a light blue shirt expressing a more feminine color choice.

Blue is symbolic for masculinity so dark blue pants on men look especially fashionable. Women wear blue,too, just lighter and may be matched with a forest green, mint, white , or scarlet top. Blue is an outstanding logo color. It exudes reliability, stability, and trustworthy, intellectual qualities. One finds conservative corporations use blue frequently in their logos. Blue logos are found with technology and health industries,too. Indigo, a form of blue, speaks “new age” while bankers, lawyers, and educators like to use indigo. This indigo blue works well with magenta, turquoise, and emerald.  For color blind readers, it may be good to know that using the contrast colors of : black and white; or yellow and blue create greater readability for this particular audience.

“Birds and humans prefer blue because of the color’s association with all things pure”.

                     William Henry Hudson, Birds and Man

Lastly, colors have different meanings depending upon where they are used geographically throughout the world. As mentioned previously, in the US blue symbolizes masculinity for the most part while in China, blue symbolizes “the feminine”. For Hindus, blue represents immortality and Krishna. For the Ukrainians, blue means healing and in Turkey, Greece, and Albania, blue will repel evil.


  1. Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of Color, 2001,Princeton University Press

Thanksgiving USA 2018

Turkey trot in Cambridge,MA 2018

Thanksgiving is a time of feasting and gathering of friends and family  to celebrate the bounty of this country and its future promise for all.

This autumn, as I was visiting Cambridge, MA.and walking in the neighborhood, two turkeys,male and female, were also walking in the street and then along a sidewalk. Naturally, I wanted to catch up with them and we walked along for a block or two . Astonishingly, they seemed to have no fear of cars or humans. At one point , I thought the turkeys would follow me back to where I was staying or maybe get lost.  So I walked ahead, looked back at Mr. and Mrs. Turkey, and then continued my way back to my lodgings. Oddly enough, these turkeys also stopped and then turned back and trotted on home.  All this is to suggest that a Thanksgiving meal does not have to include turkey meat. See the link below for some scrumptious recipes from the New York Times food section, that  are vegetarian.  Enjoy!

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Autumn Landscape with a Flock of Turkeys, Jean-Francois Millet, 1872-73, oil on canvas,collection of Mr.and Mrs.Isaac D.Fletcher, Gallery802, TheMetFifthAve.

New York Times :   Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes


Turkey in the street, photo by Beth Inglis

The Martchmaker by Gerrit Von Honthorst,


Color provided the key to light and shade in painting, in such a way that chiaroscuro should  be a function of color, not a part of design in the academic manner.”     Roger de Piles, 1655, “Dialogue sur le coloris”


The French word for the Italian noun “chiaroscuro” is clair-obscur. Simply, Chiaroscuro means light:dark or the contrast of light and shadow. Since the solidity of form is detected in the presence of light, the use of chiaroscuro is what painters use to create the illusion of 3-dimensional form. Without difference in shadow and light, a form would look flat. This effect of flatness comprises many great works of modern art; however, for realism, it is necessary to use chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark. The pioneers of chiaroscuro go way back to the Renaissance. They include Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. For the later Baroque and Mannerist periods, Caravaggio and Rembrandt were pioneers.

 One finds chiaroscuro in the oil paintings of daVinci, Raphael, and Rembrandt; however, this style is used in other media , too. Woodcut prints using several blocks each in a different tone would produce an image with chiaroscuro in the final print. Artists owe this discovery  to a German: Hans Burgknair in 1508. Chiaroscuro is also created in drawings by using colored papers where light is depicted by white gouache and the dark shadows are depicted by various dark inks. To find examples of chiaroscuro in the 18th and 19th century, see works of Fragonard, specifically “The Swing”,Watteau, and Goya,specifically “Nude Maja at the Prado”.

When painters use lights and the dark contrasts, chiaroscuro shares characteristics with another technique: tenebrism, another Italian word meaning ” murky” and used often in Mannerist paintings. Both chiaroscuro and tenebrism use the contrast of light and dark in painting and drawing. The difference lies in how chiaroscuro is a painterly term describing  how painters create the illusion of 3-dimensionality while tenebrism describes a compositional technique . When artists use tenebrism, they may paint some areas very dark for the purpose of allowing one or two areas on the canvas to appear strongly filled with light. The overall effect is very dramatic.

But unlike chiaroscuro, there is no modelling of a form to make the illusion of 3-dimensionality. Also, tenebrism connotes something negative while chiaroscuro is positive because it reveals a positive form. Another painterly word to include here is sfumato.  DaVinci was the pioneer of using sfumato. When light and dark meet, sharp lines and contours appear. DaVinci wanted to soften these sharp lines created by the contrast of light and dark so he blended the borders “in the manner of smoke”.  Sfumato means  “vanished gradually like smoke”. To make sfumato, da Vinci used several translucent glazes over each other to create a gradual spectrum from light and dark. Giorgione and Correggio also employed sfumato to soften the edges.

Chiaroscuro, as previously mentioned, is used in paintings , drawings, and prints.It is also used in modern photography . In 1915, Cecil B.DeMille coined a new phrase  while filming “The Warrens of Virginia”. The phrase  which refers to dark and light contrast in photography is “Rembrandt lighting”.  The story goes as such: de Mille was using a spotlight to create shadows on an actor, but Sam Goldwyn didn’t like that only half of the actor’s face was in light. Sam thought his patrons would only pay ½ price for the show. So DeMille eagerly quipped by describing the half-light as “Rembrandt lighting”. Sam bought the explanation and hoped his patrons would pay double!  Rembrandt lighting is used primarily in photography. One light  and a reflector or two lights are pointed towards a model. The effect creates a very natural looking image of the model. This was also popular because there was little need for lots of camera equipment to create the naturalness of the image. A distinguishing mark of Rembrandt lighting is the appearance of the illuminated triangle underneath the eye of the subject on the less illuminated side of the face of the model. This lighting lights up one side of the face while leaving the other side in shadow. Part of this shadowy area includes the geometric triangle which is no wider than the eye and no longer than the nose.

Photograph of John Lennon (in Rembrandt lighting)

To conclude, oil painting is the best medium for using chiaroscuro. The pigment can be suspended in oils to make glazes that can be layered to create sfumato effects of dark and light. Tempera and egg emulsions are too opaque to create the translucency needed for blending, shading, and layered glazing. Put light glazes on top of dark tones and it is possible to create that memorable  “figure emerging from the darkness”.






Portraits Known and Unknown

Alfred Stieglitz, well-known photographer of Georgia O'Keefe, believed in the fragmentary nature of the portrait, stating that a portrait must evoke the countless aspects of the self rather than capture likeness.  : on the go site for learning art skills in portraiture, photography, painting, and lots more.

Abigail Inskeep Bradsford, by Rembrandt Peale, oil on canvas, 27"x22", 1803-8, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

In executing a portrait, getting to a likeness requires lots of skill and sensitivity to the person being drawn, painted or photographed. However, Stieglitz's thought makes portraiture painting an art, rather than a dead-end. Who we paint is more than the model's face we see. These following portraits were painted in a past time . Do we glean any meaning or prominent personality from these portraits? And does more expressiveness always capture the personal essence of the portrait?

  • Abigail Bradsford was from a well-respected family of Philadelphia. She married John Inskeep who ran a successful publishing business. Rembrandt Peale painted both of their portraits, but in Abigail's, her head is tilted away from the viewer as was custom in that era. Women in the public arena averted their eyes so as to remain aloof to the mundane affairs of the world. Peale painted Abigail to include  more female subjects in his portraiture collection.

Woman with Hat, by Henri Matisse, oil, 2'8"x2'

  • Matisse painted his wife Amelie in expressive colors and loose brushstrokes. The portrait was very controversial and marked a "stylistic change" from his earlier works. Woman with Hat also legitimized the burgeoning art movement: Fauvism.  Fauve, meaning wild beast, may refer to the brightly colored paints used in their art.

Lady with a Bowl of Violets, by Lilla Cabot Perry, oil, 1910

  • Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933) painted with the Impressionists and became a close friend  of Monet. She was married and a mother of three daughters. Perry also wrote poetry and published a collection of her poems : The Jar of Dreams.  There is some mystery in the name of this portrait. For some thought the Lady was Lilla's sister as she resembles another women in Perry's paintings. Also, the violets referred to in the title are not the flowers in the painting. These flowers are pansies when looking closely.  It has been conjectured that Perry may have used the scientific classification of the word violet as meaning a small flowering annual of the viola genus which includes pansies.!






Why Study Color?

Why study color? For instance, color combinations can add to our sense of beauty and wellness. Knowing how these color happenings occur is illuminating rather than mysterious. Color communicates, too. The Munsell Color System is a good start to study color but also realize that this system has been reworked for the 21st century by the Pantone color system.
Artists use color abundantly to describe the objects that are being drawn, painted, or printed. The Fauves, an art movement led by Matisse, made color the subject and object of all painting.  In a sense, this may be when color really arrives on the scene. The colors used in painting are different from those used in the digital processes of various media and the internet. Color systems are explained according to the medium which is used. For instance, painting uses an oil based medium that is subtractive: meaning the color system
begins with white and ends  darker and eventually with black after all colors are added. With digital media, the system is reversed: color begins with black, gets lighter and ends in white. The primary colors used by a painter are yellow, red, and blue while those of a printer are yellow, magenta, and cyan. Theories of color were made by giants like Isaac Newton and Wilhelm Goethe. Goethe’s nine part harmonic triangle of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors reveals how color works as a system. He wrote a book in 1810 Theory of Colours. However, his acute observations were contradicted by the scientific community of Isaac Newton who originated the wavelength theory of colors. One of the differences in theories involved the color of black which Newton understood to be the absence of light .  While Goethe theorized black was the sum of all colors and an active agent in the color wheel.

Fields of Roussillon, Renee Gandy, oil painting

When color expresses emotion through the English language, color study becomes broader and more creative. Examples include : once in a blue moon, the red carpet treatment, out of the blue, brown bagging, white as a ghost, green thumb, and many more descriptive phrases. Another reason to study color is for its symbolic meaning which evolves from political and cultural contexts. For instance, the symbolism of white is not the same from country to country. In the Western hemisphere, white means purity while white in Japan signifies death. Another example is how red means war but also romance and love. Geographical locations and historical periods reveal differences in what colors may symbolize. Christianity uses color symbolically and so does Buddhism in a different way. Experiencing the full sensual sense of  color brings joy to the viewer and with the creation of synthetic colors, color choices are limitless.

Portrait of Madame Matisse (Green Stripe), Matisse, 1905, oil painting

“Color must not simply ‘clothe’ the form, it must constitute it...when I use paint, I have the feeling of quantity- a surface of color which is necessary to me, and I modify its contour in order to determine my feeling clearly in a definitive way.” Matisse


Reaching back to the 15th century, Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first painters to describe the four primaries: red, yellow, green, and blue. He also included black and white.  Sir Isaac Newton discovers the color spectrum in the year 1666. He joined the ends of the spectrum to form a circle which became the familiar color wheel. A century later, Le Bon discovered the nature of primary pigments: red, yellow, and blue. He learned how to make pigments from minerals and rocks and recorded their properties. That is how artists know that red comes from cinnabar, yellow from opriment, and blue from the deeply blue lapis lazuli.  In 1766 Moses Harris discussed the three tiers of colors in his published The Natural Systems of Color , one of the rarest manuscripts in the history of color. The primaries referred to as primitive, fundamental, basic, or principal while the secondary colors were defined as the mixtures of 2 primaries. Secondary mixtures could be referred to as compound, mediate, or intermediate.

By the 20th century, color classification becomes more sophisticated. Albert Munsell was responsible for the 3-D color tree in use today. The centennial celebration of Munsell's death in June 1918 took place this June in Boston at the Mass College of Art and Design.  The 3-D color tree comprises a vertical scale of values from 1-9 (dark to light). The horizontal branch of this tree is the chroma of color at its neutral gray saturation. As the chroma of a particular hue moves outward from the value scale, the hue approaches its lightest saturation. The Munsell tree comprises 12 gradations and 10 hues. Each of these hues or colors were given numbers. The numbers indicating paint colors originate from the Munsell color tree. To know primary colors in a more general and less historical way, consider red, yellow, and blue  as the raw colors: capable of high intensity and very pure chroma. Beware, though. Film using only primary colors produces a very, ugly movie. Filmmakers discovered that using a variety of less saturated raw color does not tire the eyes as easily or look as artificial. None-the-less, cartoons are notorious for using raw colors at full strength. In storytelling, to use a brightly,saturated primary color emphasizes significance or importance. For example, Saint Mary wears a blue robe. Saturated primaries are indeed mood changers, like a thunderstorm graying the sky’s horizon.

Because our brains seek closure, there is a tendency to see incomplete patterns as a completed whole. This applies to color also. Seeing color opposites by staring at one color, looking away and then staring at a blank,white surface. What appears is the opposite of the first color which is an example of how our brains seek closure and wholeness. This afterimage
phenomenon is explained further by the popular Trichomatic theorydeveloped by Edwald Hering, physiologist (1834-1918).

Christ with Globe, Titian

Two artists, Titian and Michelangelo, used contrasting colors to enhance their paintings. Titian aimed for tonal unity by subduing the foreground and background with blending and avoiding the sharp contrasts of a silhouette.  Michelangelo used color brilliantly. He painted crisp contour edges on colors contrasting the background hues. Michelangelo also used white and black to maximize the range of color in his paintings. Cangiantismo was an art term used to describe the use of high color contrasts. In fact, Venetians in the 16th century, criticized Michelangelo for his use of such “licentious colors".

Doni Tondo, Michelangelo,circa 1503-6, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy, courtesy of


Sources on Color:

  1. “Our experience is that we seem to simply see color, but it’s really much more like construction of our minds. (the receptor cones in the retina responsible for the perception of three colors) sensitive to overlapping distributions of long, medium, and short wavelengths of light all within a very narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum” Frank Durgin, p.25  Swarthmore College Bulletin Spring 2018 
  8. www:colorvision&
  10. www:
"All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites"  Marc Chagall