Colors speak to me. When I look at a piece of white silk with a design sketched on it, an area of the design presents itself to me and says, “Me! I’m red!” And once I decide which type of red it should be, mix it and paint it, that particular red informs the next color. Do I want a color that contrasts with the red or blends with it or complements it?
Sometimes the composition informs the color choice. For example, how many blue skies can I paint and still make each one unique? How many different colors of blue can I discover to represent a sky? Do I want the blue to be a “real” sky blue or a shocking, unusual sky blue? Just yesterday, I painted an orange sky—and I’m ecstatic about it. Yes, it is unusual, but the orange spoke to me when I looked at the forest-green foreground and the fuchsia midground. And speaking of foreground and midground, I take into consideration whether I want the foreground color in a painting to bring that foreground close, or to make it visually recede.
It may take up to a week to find the right color. When I’m working on a color, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and it stays with me all day. It’s like a dialogue I have with the artwork and the colors. I cannot explain how my mind “sees” a color and how I then interpret it. But if I have an idea of a color in my head, I may say to myself, “Well, that would take a royal blue, rather than a navy blue, and then I will add some lemon yellow… ”
Sometimes the colors surprise me completely. I was so excited to see that when I mixed the forest green (which took a week to perfect) and the fuchsia, which were side by side on the painting, it created a beautiful deep maroon-burgundy, which then created harmony in the painting when I used it for the details. Divine!
Quite simply, colors make me happy. I relish them, absorb them and study them constantly. When I am driving down a country road in the early morning (which, living in the country, I frequently do), I often stop the car, so I can study the colors in the sunrise. My eyes drink in the colors; I put what I know and what I have discovered about the color into my color memory bank and live with it for a while. I also study artists whose work speaks to me: Henri Matisse and Edouard Vuillard, for example. And sometimes I ask friends what their favorite color combinations are, or I look around to see the colors in my own environment that inspire me. And I use that information as a jumping-off place to begin painting.
Now you know why I enjoy being an artist: I love the feeling of being surrounded by beauty and surprises all the time!
“Discovering the Chattahoochee Valley: Silk Paintings by René Shoemaker” opens with a reception Sunday, Aug. 23 at the Columbus Museum, 125 Wynnton Road, Columbus, GA 31906.
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