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Northern Colours

Outside my back yard

Last month on one of my walks with the dogs out in the forested area in our town I collected colours. A leaf here, a berry there, a flower another place and took them home with the goal of creating authentic colours of Tumbler Ridge.

While I didn't choose all the samples, it was a wonderful experiment in colour mixing to come up with colours that replicated natures beauty. Most often in my paintings I choose colours based on how they speak to me and what emotions they convey, this exercise took me back to looking at the true colours of the world around me. Even downtown was full of colour as crab apples and Japanese plum trees line our streets.

So many paint colours, so many pigments!

While I am sure that there are paints of almost every hue and colour created by some company or another, many artists mix their own from a limited palate of basic true hues. And the list of true pigments that create these hues is pretty much the same for all paints - because pigments are numbered and colour coded. It has been my goal to collect these true colours over my four years of painting - and while this list is smaller than the number of colours that exist it's still an impressive number of paints.

I found this impressive colour wheel on that was created by the writer of that site Bruce MacEvoy. He had mapped over 100 colours, some single pigments with their corresponding pigment code and some mixes. you can find the original site here.

I know right?

It's a good thing that when God created the rainbow he didn't consult a decorator or he would still be picking colors. - Sam Levenson

What you don't see on this list is the beauty of nature - not really. These names are based on pigment colours for the most part with a few favourite mixes thrown in: Sap green, Indigo, Sepia; and this is great for us artists who are scientists too. We learn that cobalts are generally opaque and flat while quinacridones are transparent and luminescent, Phthalo colours are mostly staining and can become strong and dense with over use, while ultramarines are sedementary showing off underlayers of paint and allowing both colours to shine with their beauty.

I'm a scientist artist. Or an artist scientist, not sure if the order matters! So while I love these pigment names of my paints, I am drawn to the hand made paints coming into the market from companies like Beam Paints. Names like Maudji Nme'gonse-Wild Salmon a paint made of mica pigment and moving from yellow to pink, and Myhngun-Timberwolf a mix of ultramarine and yellow ochre just ring with artistic possibilities. And if I was just to look at the names I could be enticed to buy them all - until I look at the pigment codes and see that Blueberry Mountain and Dioaxine violet are both PV23. Ah ha! So if you're a new artist, be just enough of a scientist to pay attention to the colours you are buying, a rose by any other name... is still PV19 (unless of course it's not!).

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. - Ecclesiastes 3:11

Fall is beautiful, if short lived, in Tumbler Ridge. It starts mid August with the slow turning of the rosehips from yellow to cark orange (they won't turn deep red until September), and leaves beginning to change, some taking on a purple tone while others move towards yellows. Again, it's all about the pigments. Yellow leaves contain xanthophyll, orange leaves contain carotene, and red leaves contain anthocyanin. I tried creating watercolours out of natural pigments like these but only created a brown goo, pigments in most plants are water soluble - which oddly is NOT what is use in watercolour! Watercolours use insoluble pigments suspended in a solution that sticks them to the paper - and while some of these coloured pigments are also found in nature - trying to find something that matches the beauty and colour of these fall leaves? Not always easy.

The Wonderful Experiment

Back to the beginning - creating colours that match what I selected in nature. Blueberry , Kinnikinic Berry, Rosehip, northern paint brush, Honeysuckle berry, Aster, Fireweed, and a changing leaf became my choices of colours for my new palate. I decided to ignore the dandelion as the colour needed no mixing - Hansa Yellow Medium does the trick nicely.

I think blueberry became my greatest achievement - 12 tries to find the right mix but oh what a lovely colour it is. Unlike the blueberry mountain paint that was essentially PV23 this one blended three pure pigments to add the depth of the deep blue and the warmth of the violet into one colour. And that's the cool thing about mixing sometimes you'll get a brand new colour with a blend of luminescent and sedementary tones playing nicely with each other. And other times you get mud.

Color is a power which directly influences the soul. - Wassily Kandinsky

Today is a rainy September day. So it's fitting I end this with this - my first painting using my new colours. This painting, like one of my new colours, is not yet named.

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