Posted by: cassymuronaka | January 21, 2011

Color me enlightened

Among the many things I recently unearthed in my son’s room, which really hasn’t had a thorough sorting and cleaning since shortly after the new Millenium began, are a lot of envelopes with magazine clippings hat I helped him cut out and assemble by color when he was enrolled in an AP art class several years ago.

I found these packages the day after I read this blog quote by polymer clay artist Kathleen Dustin:

“… I’ve been spending a great deal of time recently just mixing colors of polymer. For example, I’ll mix an interesting green, then cut it up into 8 or pieces and add a small amount of another color to each piece and mix it in – maybe white to one piece, ecru to another, a teeny bit of red to another, yellow to another and mud to another. So all the pieces work well together because they have the same base green, but yet all are different. The resulting richness of color enables me to achieve a successful organic quality.”

I have been thinking about color a lot lately, and Dustin’s brief discussion on how she works out companionable new color combinations was timely for me to read. Unlike some people who work with polymer clay, I am lucky to have an innate instinct for how to mix up up a particular hue or shade.  Color formulas are never an issue for me. I’ve always been able to look at something and recreate it in pretty much the same way that I cook: a little bit of this, a little of that.

But I’ve rarely challenged myself in this area.   I do know that I am drawn to a certain color palette — cool colors and silvers — and sometimes I deliberately force myself to go to far side of the moon and work with flames and golds.

A friend of mine once created a polymer clay sculpture by working entirely in the palette of one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. It was such a revelation to watch her do this. Because I have no formal art training, I have never been put through my paces or learned a lot of basic exercises that are probably second nature to an MFA, including working with a particular artist’s colors.

This is something I’ll probably start doing soon.  I might even play with the same palette of the sunflower painting that once so inspired my friend. Since she first introduced me to it more than 15 years go, I have always been attracted to the work, although I didn’t know why for a long time.  I don’t particularly like sunflowers.

I finally got my answer when I took a class from another friend, a longtime art teacher.  At one point, she explained that we instinctively are drawn to the hues found on our own bodies, and she had us duplicate our skin tones and eye colors on paper in watercolor, including the tiny flecks in our irises.

Turns out my colors are the same as those in the Van Gogh painting.



  1. Loved this post. Color and light are really the reason I love watercolor. The collage and the painting are both beautiful!

    • Thanks so much, Linda. Can you believe that the collage came out looking the way it did? All I did was put some of those old magazine clipping colors on my flatbed scanner (in order of color), just to illustrate this blog piece. Who knew it would look so good?????

      Love your Paradise Fish on your own blog.

  2. I love it and am so envious of you being able to just know how to get a certain color. I am still working on my color mixing skills and although sick of mixing colors I am hapy with the skills I am learning.
    Love your colors btw!

    • thx!

  3. I adore this insight! Great column!

    • Well, being the great cook that you are — a little of this, a little of that — I would imagine that you are a killer with color, too, Dorothy!

  4. That is an incedible insight on color-mixing and a timely one. My workspace is limited at the moment, and focusing on just color mixing will allow me to be creative without hauling out too much equipment. Great column. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • XXX, to you Ms. V. Why don’t you come out here next week and we’ll play with color? And I can show you what I’ve been electroforming. We’ve been talking about this for months. Any day Wed-Sat is good for me.

  5. Loved your post!!! And the assignment to take colors from Van Gogh is a very good idea – think I’ll try it perhaps with another famous artist. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that we are instinctively drawn to colors found on our own bodies. I find that my color range choices change over time and may even be cyclical. It’s good to think about.

    • High praise from you, Kathleen!

      The thought that our color choices might be cyclical is interesting. I do think that people often gravitate to different palettes as their own hair color ages and changes.

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