Color is hard to define. Often our attempts end in ostensive definitions, or instances of pointing, and this isn't the only philosophical consideration that emerges when attempting to understand color. There's also the issue of demarcation, or making distinctions between and among things by listing some set of essential characteristics (blue is a color that evokes such and such an emotion or is the color of the sky). Ask a physicist what blue is and he'll tell you it's electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 450 and 495 nm (Each nano-meter is 1/1,000,000,000th of a meter). But why? Why not 449-496? In this instance we find the perennial "problem of the heaps" among our colored confusion.
Whatever color is, it must at least be understood in terms of relationships. The drawing above used more than 20 different "blue" pastels." Individually each hue (color) looks blue and seems like a clear case example, as opposed to being green for instance, or purple. But when all of the versions of blue are combined into one space, they begin to demand an understanding dictated by their relationships to other blues. Some look more purple, or some look greener, and then some blues have the addition of white pigment, which adds further complication and nuance to how we construe them.
The tendency to read colors in terms of their relationships to others is important in composing a picture. Consider the color of the paper above, a warm cream color (a variant of orange), interacts differently with the various blues differently than a "neutral" gray or black would. This choice of surface color is not without consequence. If an artist has a somewhat muted palette of colors, they can be accentuated and keyed up by using a surface that has a greater degree of neutrality. This is especially useful if you're using less expensive pastels, whose pigments tend to be less vibrant. The toned down color range of many pastel papers helps to direct attention to the colors used. I don't see much use for example for white paper or colors close to it, when painting with pastel. White papers reflect all or much of the light back to the viewr and tend to overpower the pigments in use. This visual competition can be mitigated by using neutral grays, blues or browns. The toned down quality of these surface colors will compliment the pastels instead of diminish their brightness.
Color relationships should be explored for their tendency to create different effects or evoke certain sensations or emotions. Complimentary colors (red and green for example) tend to create tension when juxtaposed. Similarly orange and blue. Complimentary colors are found by selecting one primary color (red, blue or yellow) and pairing it with a mixture of the remaining primary colors (yellow set against red+blue or purple). The pairs always include one primary and one secondary color. These color arrangements, like sequences of words in combination with vocal inflection and tone, should be studied and practiced to the point of near mastery if an artist is going to be capable of expression through visual means. The painter who understands color relationships is like the musical composer who knows how and why to use a minor second or perfect fifth; both are in a position to make a lasting aesthetic impression and shape the imagination.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.