Very Orange


Once you decide it’s going to be orange, there’s just no turning back.

shell inverted shell

Complementary colors are ones that appear especially intense because they contain opposite frequencies of light.  Blue and orange, red and green, yellow and violet are all color opposites. One subject that I portray often in my art — the koi pond — has a natural blue/orange opposition since many of the fish are orange and the water, reflecting the sky, is blue. But the sea shells I collect have strong passages of orange too and placed against a blue cloth they stand out very boldly.

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Exploration of color is one of the principle motives of my artwork. So I try to understand color, making a particular effort to explore different colors and different color combinations. Toward that end I collect objects from different color groups. The orange vase that sits nestled among the objects on my still life table is one such example.

I have also learned about the color orange by looking at how other artists use it, as in this copy of Bonnard’s orange jug that I made in front of his still life using oil pastel.

bonnard after

In Bonnard’s picture you find orange and blue together: the orange of the jug and blue from its shadow cast by the sunlight coming through a window.

Something doesn’t have to be exactly orange to create the dynamic of blue/orange opposition. Something that is almost orange will do it too.  There’s enough red and yellow in the blue compotier against the jade green cloth to create a lot of blue/orange signal in the light. The warm/cool contrasts and the general bouncing around of red and yellow light against bluish color does something similar.

compotier study dec 16

The subjects can be very dissimilar but orange has a mood it brings along, and objects that are orange colored pull that sensibility from our minds. I feel like these things are connected simply because they are the same color, whether they are fish or vases or fruits or something else. They all participate in the essence of orangeness.


One ought to study all the colors to learn their meanings.

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Janos Starker helped with the Dark Colors

By the time I started work on the darker colors I was listening to Janos Starker on the “boom box.”  It’s hard not to make rather vigorous stokes when Janos Starker bows such vigorous strokes.

My orange fish got so orange that I forgot all about his lovely tail.  It becomes reduced to just a slender cylinder.

Meanwhile, the dark fish seems to leap even more swiftly in this version.  All the fish were swimming to Kodály by this time.

To have a listen for yourself:

Silk Colors

Color conveys mood.  One question I begin my koi paintings with is what color blue will predominate?  For this particular painting my studies help me decide whether one fish (now in a leading role) will be a soft pale orange or a richly saturated orange.  The color of the fish is especially important since orange and blue are optically opposite.  If the fish is richly colored he will stand out in a maximal way, and if he is a quietly pale orange he will make a much less forceful impact. 

I’m thinking this little fish deserves a big personality, but I’m trying to make certain the whole painting will balance.  This study tries the quieter color.  It’s also the first time I’ve dealt with the dark fish who dives downwards.

Being Studious

Today was drawing day.  I made three studies for the koi paintings.  The freedom of drawing is exhilerating.  Beginning an idea from the blank page always delights me, but I am supposed to be finishing paintings.  Well, this way I get to eat my cake and have it too.  I am “working on” the painting — indirectly.  I am trying out ideas, rehearsing my lines, all of which gives me necessary practice for the painting.  But I still get to begin from blank.

The version above is a compositional sketch for the whole painting.  In the next couple posts I make studies of the group around the dark fish.

Why crayons are wonderful

The close up view of the drawing reveals the hatching and cross-hatching that I wrote about a few posts ago.  The technique is a lot like what you get from traditional pastels except that there is no dust. 

This is like your traditional kids’ Crayola crayons except with a very rich, heavily pigmented and highly workable texture.  As a drawing medium it is extremely responsive and flexible.  As a consequence you can fully enter into your idea without any hassle about the medium.  And you can find a kid-like joy in this portable, scribbly crayon. 

They’re a little on the expensive side, though.  If one rolls under the couch, it’s worth diving under there to retrieve it!

More scribbles: Yesterday’s Drawing Updated

The drawing I posted yesterday in its first rough lines now looks like this.  I might be doing some other versions as well.  With this drawing I am figuring out what the reflections of the upper corner of the painting should look like: their design.  The reflections are from trees that overhang the pond and the ways that the water’s motion catches and breaks up these dark greens. 

The pattern is very abstract and doesn’t have to follow any particular pattern.  It is entirely adjustable to whatever shapes seem most striking.  So I draw different ideas — all of which are based upon the source photo — but which become slightly amended and distorted versions of it.  The “reality” in this study that will finally matter is the one that evokes the pond’s mood.

A Scribbly Drawing

I have to figure out the reflections around the fish in the top corner of the larger of the two koi ponds.  So I began this drawing today.  The initial lines are totally scribbly.  And there’s a great sense of freedom and enjoyment to be got from a drawing like this.  I will fill out much of it to gather up the detail I need to solve my problem, but I took the photo before continuing just to make the point about how free one’s gestures can be.

Fish coming to the surface

I’ve featured “fish faces” here lately.  This one is composed of little strokes of paint.  The gestures of painting on the small scale of the image — these strokes, these abstract “details” —  can eventually influence a fish’s  likeness quite a bit.  This business of drawing with the paint gives me the sensation of being really near these fish as I paint.  This is like the artistic equivalent of reaching out and patting them on the head.  So far, they are the most obedient fish an artist could want.  They give me no trouble.  They practically paint themselves.