A Process of Selecting a Palette- an Example

Color Study

Over the years, my painting practice has become more and more refined. I always begin with sketches from memory followed by several sessions from life working with a model to achieve the subtlety and feeling I am after. I then begin to re-express the image with color before I venture into the larger, final image. This is a very important step. In a sense, I am setting the stage for my character- the lighting, the mood, for the performance. Color is critical. Color provides the emotional key. It acts immediately upon the viewer almost prior to his very recognition of the forms presented.

This re-expression of the image through color- the key– takes different forms. In most cases, I construct the image as I imagine it, including the color. I then look to several color combinations called chords and re-develop the image “color key” depending on which combinations I feel are most evocative and carry the emotional tenor I am after. At this stage, I lay the colors on my palette and work the possible combinations. My primary concern being, can I achieve the realism I am after along with a heightened sense of emotion? Can I achieve the lights and shadows, the cools and warms as I see them along with the temperature variance in the flesh tones? I am looking for the most dynamic color combinations that can coexist, providing an inherent unity as well as fluidity throughout the image.

I want the paint itself to be beautiful-the color to be full and lush. Paint must describe the form but it must also have its own beauty and sensuality- its very materiality  touches us in a sensate way. Color must exist in a duality-expressed as pure paint as well as a description of form. So the color must be beautiful in itself, impressive to behold.

Sometimes there are two chord combinations that are very close. And either chord would work effectively. At this stage, I take each combination and proceed to paint a study from life. It is only by working from life that one can examine those subtle shades of indescribable colors and how to achieve them. And in almost all cases the dominate chord will become self-evident.

In the present painting I am working on, I was torn between a more balanced “Major Chord” and “Three set against the complement” color combination. This terminology is derived from the notebooks of Robert Henri. In the 1990’s, I spent about 4 years researching Henri’s color theory, taking extensive notes which I still refer to. This has been the most influential study I have ever conducted and has effected my work ever since. My eyes were opened to a new world of color and its expressiveness. Here are the two combinations:

The “Major Chord”:

 O   –   G   –   BP

Yhue- GB bi  –  P hue


Y hue: O + G

GB bi: G+BP

P hue: BP+O


“Three Set Against the Complement”:

YG          G          GB

RO bi      R hue    PR bi



RO bi: R+YG

PR bi: GB+R

R hue: O+P


In the end, I chose the complement combination of Red set against Green, bordered by its near neighbors because the darks held together in such a way as to allow the lights of yellow-green and red to feel luminous. I have included both combinations so that the reader could conduct their own experiment and see the variance between the chord and the complement combinations. One can only really get a feeling for color through mixing on the palette in a tactile way.


Material Memory

In my last blog I spoke about the ability of matter to evoke the imagination of the artist allowing him to not only take matter and give it new form, but also to transform himself and the world. But I am curious about the connection between matter and memory. Memory, like matter, is the basis of an artist’s ability to express. Memory attaches itself to matter in many ways. One’s memory recalls images- images of material objects that carry significance. Memory holds these images allowing them to live in the mind and soul of the artist. Memory allows the images to gather, collectively, reinforcing a sense of meaning. They are magnetic, a larger image gathering to itself smaller related images creating a conduit of thought. When images gather together in this way, the artist feels more compelled to listen to them. They take on an import that seeks expression.

As one is engaged in matter, the very act of painting and observing, memory is constantly recalling related images in its storehouse. This storehouse contains not only first hand memories of the artist but also those of the collective unconscious. These collective images give one’s own memories a context- they are images within a greater myth. One’s personal image fits within a larger story. It is why we are inherently attracted to myth. One’s vision is a smaller chapter in a larger work that includes all men and all things.

Although this is the case, it does not diminish one’s personal memory or personal images. Instead, the path between memory and image travels two ways. It moves one towards a greater myth but also returns one to one’s very center. There is an outward movement that ends in oneself. This movement gathers strength and momentum as it cycles to its return. This is the same movement that occurs in reverie- one’s thoughts gather around an object and travel beyond it connecting  all sorts of images to that object making it evocative and memorable- creating significance.

The strength that returns upon the image is meaning. Without memory, one could not gather the import of understanding necessary to create. Creativity hinges upon the power of the image to evoke upon the viewer’s heart a memory residing deep within. Art touches that hidden memory, through the very matter which is the art piece, and calls it forth and joins to it a superabundance of meaning.

There is a collective memory that the artist taps into as well. It resides in the works of artist’s of the past, their material productions, creating a lineage of memory upon which the living artist is placed. Robert Henri called this “living” memory, the Brotherhood. One could call upon these artists of the past to help and guide one in the present.

Without memory one could not hold onto an image. Without matter, image could not be embodied. Image is the very materialization of meaning held between memory and conscious perception. Image embodies “…the oneiric forces which flow unceasingly through our conscious life…The earthen objects we work return an echo of the inner forces we expend on them.”      ( Gaston Bachelard, Earth and Reveries of Will, pps.3 and6) These oneiric forces we recall out of memory and materialize them through the art, the craft, the manifestation of both our conscious and hidden life.

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