Finding color in black and white
Remember that feeling you got when you were a kid and opened a new box of crayons? All those colors? All those possibilities? Every color held a world of describing the things around you and the ideas yet to come.
Every spring feels like that for me. Opening the shades from the long winter of monochrome to spring’s blast of light and brilliance of hue, I am in awe every year by the pinks, purples, yellow greens and blues.
This winter I decided to challenge myself and take on the formal study of drawing under the tutelage of Brian O'Neill, one of Rochester's finest painters. We work strictly in black and white in order to train the mind and eye to better see and interpret value. Being able to see objects and the reflection of light with the subtle changes of value from darkest dark to lightest light and how to render those components makes the artist’s ability to express what she sees in a believable way much more accurately. And I am finding that my appreciation of color is expanding as a result of this challenge to work only in black and white. I am beginning to not only see a pink as pure pink but its relation to its origin and the colors next to it.
In his teachings on color theory Josef Albers says “In our perception, juxtaposed colors change each other in two ways, on the one hand in regard to light, on the other in relation to hue.
As there is nothing large or small in itself but only in relationship, so any color appears lighter or darker and brighter or duller in connection with other colors.”
The ability to see the relationships of colors to each other and how the eye perceives this is therefore the real skill. And how to affect another’s way of seeing and feeling is the magic of art.
Of course as a viewer of art, you are not always aware of what it is that is pulling your eye. Or what that feeling is that you get when something pleases you. Or even disturbs you. You are not aware of the principles that go into making a piece work or not work. For me as a viewer, I am drawn to light and rich colors. Paintings that loudly pronounce when a blue is the main attraction. Or when a yellow wants to shine the brightest. So when making art I tend to let colors perform to their greatest capacity.
It is ironic that what seems the exact opposite is the very thing that makes an artist’s ability to say something about color can be said most accurately by her understanding of black and white. I’m not sure to what degree my understanding of this concept can be reflected in my work yet, but I can say that my eye is definitely improving as well as my patience for the process and my deeper appreciation of color. Though I am still in the beginning phases of learning through this particular challenge, I am excited to see what I will be able to say when I apply what I am learning to whatever approach taken to create a painting.
My hope is that whether it is with charcoal and white pencil or with pure color pigment, the person seeing the outcome is somehow invited to see and feel something new and inspiring. And just like the joy that the colors of spring brings after a long monochromatic winter, so too is one’s deeper understanding of color when black and white is studied and understood.
Without dark there cannot be light. Without winter there can be no spring.
– Linda Cala