Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let's Hear it for Brown!

I'm standing at the door of the senior painting studio, watching the student artists at their easals. It's 1977 and I am an Art Education major student who wants nothing more than to be in there painting just like them. I have never painted before, but I just know that once I'm in there with the collective wisdom of the professors and the infinite inspiration of God, that my talent will overflow and I will have found where I have always belonged.
Fast forward another semester. I am in the senior painting studio, struggling with my inability and lack of knowledge, and mustering the confidence against all intimidation to find ways to put the damn paint on the canvas and make it look like I knew what I was doing. I longed for my teacher to sit down and impart to me the secrets of painting. There were other students who she favoured, upon whom she bestowed her attention and praise. But all I could get from her was "finish this one and start the next one". I had never felt so boxed in to myself.
By the fourth or fifth painting I was starting to loosen up a bit. I slowly realized that I would have to just paint and let come what may.(Which was the point of Introductory Painting 101!) I was doing a painting from a drawing I had done of a tree with interesting patterns of light coming through the leaves. The emphasis was on the patterns of light and shade and it was not meant to be realistic. The colors were simple: green for leaves, brown for tree, blue for sky. My professor came up behind me and watched for a moment. I was expecting the usual response, "finish this one and start the next one", but lo and behold she said something else. Pointing to the top of a huge tree that was growing outside the studio windows, she said "Go downstairs, go look at the bark on that tree. Touch it, study it, and look at how many colors are in that tree bark." Okay, that's it? That's your collective wisdom for my life and my painting?! Yes it was. Obediantly I went down the three flights of stairs, ran outside and up to that glorious tree, and started counting colors. What did I see? Brown? No. Red, yellow, blue, green, white, mauve, violet, gold and bronze? Yes, yes, yes!!
What did I learn about paint that day? That brown is NEVER straight out of the tube called brown. It is a mix of all colors.
Remember the good old color wheel? If you take each of the three primary colors, yellow, red and blue, and swirl them together, guess what you get? Did you guess brown? Yes, and yet each of you would get a different version of brown, because there is a huge variety. Add more red and you get a rich sienna brown. Add more yellow and you get more of a tan brown. Add blue and you get a cool grayish brown.
Let's hear it for brown! The wonderful neutral color made famous by UPS, the hue that harmonizes your wardrobe, your interior design, and your landscape painting. For more on the earrings, lovingly named "Let's Hear it for Brown", go to my store at and look at Autumn colors. Enjoy!

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