Friday, May 20, 2016

The World in Color

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“My favorite color is light tan.”  – Sister Encarnación, in the movie, “Nacho Libre”

Color is a funny thing. Unless the artist is one of those cutting-edge wierdies that uses light energy in his work, artists use reflective light to portray the world. That same world, however, is a constant mishmash of direct light, reflected light, diffused, refracted, and iridescent light, and on and on until the nerds in the room bring up gamma rays, x-rays, and bioluminescence. All art is illusion, and the artist choreographs color in sophisticated mimicry of reality. But, no, the colors are not pulled from a rainbow terminating in a pot of gold.

A lot of colors are pulled out of the dirt. The “earth colors” – ochre, sienna and umber – contain naturally-occurring minerals. Sienna and umber are available “raw” or “burnt.” I won’t trouble you on whether raw or burnt is darker.

Ultramarine blue also had its origins in the earth. Before being chemically-produced, the color was made by grinding semi-precious lapis lazuli stones.

Other colors are simply nasty, and artists are wise to avoid contact with skin or inhaling dust or vapors. Colors that have cobalt or cadmium in the name have been suspects in some artists’ madness. And not in a good way.

Some art supply companies cheapen their product by offering a color suffixed by the word “Hue,” which in essence means you are getting an imitation flavor, and not an extract. Things like that annoy artists.

Of course, the colors above are traditional standards of oil paint, watercolor, and pastel media. Once one ventures out of tradition, the naming convention becomes random. Luma dyes come in “Process Cyan” and “Daffodil.” Sure, cyan is one of the four ink colors in the CMYK combination that printers use, but daffodil was probably invented by a Hippie to throw everyone off.

Being a relatively new invention, colored pencils and crayons come in colors assigned to objects in reality, like “Flesh” and “Grass Green” and “Grape.” This may be fine with two-year-olds, but it gives artists hives.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are PMS colors that, no, were not invented by a gynecologist. The Pantone Matching System (Trademark, Copyright, yadda, yadda) is a carefully developed and calibrated range of colors used in the commercial realm. They are numbered entities that are consistent to the nth degree. The colors are also given nebulous names, and Pantone yearly announces the Color of the Year. For the first time in its history, Pantone released for 2016 a combination of two Colors of the year – Pantone 13-1520 (Rose Quartz) and Pantone 15-3919 (Serenity). I’m pretty sure that combination makes a light tan.

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