Blood and Paint

In one of my many notebooks I once wrote: “…and in the early days red was made of the blood of cochineal, a parasite on the prickly pear…..and also used in cosmetics!”

It was December 2014, with Christmas celebrated worldwide. The colors, especially in Europe for these celebrations are red and green. In South Africa, it is midsummer and we started to use more of our local colors, may be more browns and yellows, blues, mixed with the traditional colors.

That summer season my rose garden was blooming is excess. I’ve used the palette knife as my exclusive instrument for applying oil color. I did four palette knife rose paintings, namely red, purple, yellow and pink. The paintings were done plein air (outside, in the garden) and “a la prima” (in one session). I applied the colors thick, (1-1.5 cm in some cases), scooping the half-mixed colors with the palette knife and applied each stroke only once.

While writing this blog about the colors here in South Africa and the connection with Europe I wondered what the link is between a finished painting and the world at large? Is it nature that provides the artist with the color, or is it the artist that interpret nature colorfully? Is it solely the interpretation of the artist via his/her personal preference for a certain color? Is the application of the color on canvas driven only by science? Can it also be the interaction between the science, nature and the artist at the same time?

No matter what your medium, style or colors you use, every artist understands “Prussian Blue, Yellow Ocher or Titanium White”. There are even indications on the tube of how the color is chemically constructed (for example PR101/PY42/Pk11, Yellow Ocher, Senelier).

Color have three characteristics namely the hue (which means the actual color on the tube), the value (the relative lightness or darkness), and the saturation (the degree of richness, the grayness). Understanding the characteristics of color and the way colors influences each other, is imperative for the artist, because it is the main tool for creating a masterpiece.

Green is the most natural color worldwide, but the exact green is also the most difficult color for artists. Green could easily look unnatural, maybe too harsh, too green, to blue, not grey or yellow enough, etc… Green is also, in some color wheels perceived as a secondary color, which means the artist can mix and match a green with two other primary colors, blue and yellow. I read somewhere that the Chinese once had a secret about the use of a specific green they used for their porcelain industry.

Colors also have specific meanings in different countries and their cultures. It could be associated with political parties like the Green Party, meaning people who are concerning about the environment and natural resources. Or green could also refer to life, growth, jealousy and so on. But worldwide a green traffic light means “Go, it is save to move.”

The complementary color of green is red. Red is associated with communism, blood, jealousy, love, hate, fire and danger. But red has also the universal meaning of “danger” at the red traffic light. Although, I must admit, that more and more drivers worldwide choose to ignore this!

Red and green had been associated through centuries as colors fit for a royal king or a very rich person or has religious connections. has a very good article on the “Visual color Symbolism Chart by Culture”, written by Jenifer Kyrnin.

Until next time, be save and enjoy life, whether it is green or red……