Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Color

From Earth to Art: Thoughts on the History of Color

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I have always liked history, and I applaud television series like The Borgias, The Crown, Downton Abbey, etc., for the ways in which they employ art, music, story, and cinema to recreate history. I have recently completed the watching of all 3 seasons of The Borgias, and perhaps because I am also teaching a class about shading with colored pencil, I noticed the casual mentioning of Umbria.

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I found myself thinking that the color Umber must come from Umbria, which I discovered is in the Papal States, just beneath Siena [as in the color Burnt Sienna].

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I began reading about the mining of these two earth-like pigments and before long, I found myself considering again how men, since the period of their having lived in caves, have sought to devise means to express themselves visually through variations of color.

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Cave Art Above – From Lascaux – 16,000 Years Ago

The cave art at Lascaux, France, was discovered in 1940 by 4 teenage boys,

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“Red, Yellow, Black, White, Brown. These were the colors of the first known art in the world. You could say that this is what you’d expect; they are, after all, colors found easily in nature. Red and yellow ochre are found naturally where the ground is full of iron. Black can be made by burning a stick into charcoal or collecting soot from a fire. White comes from chalk. And browns is just the color of dirt. If these materials are pounded into powder and mixed with animal fat or some other binder to to make them stick, then, with the right atmospheric conditions, they can stay n limestone walls for thousands of years. But  that isn’t the full story of the colors of what became known as the Lascaux Caves.” Finlay, Victoria. The Brilliant History of Color in Art, p. 9.

Most of the figures on the walls of the Lascaux Cave are animals, but there are also abstract symbols and representations of humans at Lascaux:

“Of the animals, equines predominate [364]. There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle, bison, felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. One of the bulls is 17 feet (5.2 m) long – the largest animal discovered so far in cave art.” See more Here

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“In the 2000s. French scientists took a tiny sample from the snout of the Great Bull. They found that some f the black was not just soot or charcoal but also contained a rare kind of manganese oxide called hausmannite.” Finlay, Victoria. The Brilliant History of Color in Art, p. 9.

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Hausmannite

“The paint on the Great Bull was applied by mixing ground minerals with something liquid and then spraying it from th e mouth, either straight or with a blowpipe. It probably tasted horrible, but the same idea occurred to a a lot of people around the world in prehistoric times. You can see similar techniques in other caves, not just in Europe but also in Australia from 40,000 years ago, as well as in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, in the Patagonian Mountains in Agentina, and in Baja, California.” Finlay, Victoria. The Brilliant History of Color in Art, p. 10.

Map of Prehistoric Art from Metropolitan Museum

The Lascaux Caves were painted by 16,000 to 17,000 years ago, but there is evidence that men have been creating paint for at least 100,000 years.

“Apparently one of the earliest human instincts was to paint things, including bodies and cave walls. That’s the conclusion from scientists who have discovered something remarkable in a South African cave — a tool kit for making paint. It looks to be the oldest evidence of paint-making.

“Over in southern Africa 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens was pretty new on the scene. A favorite hangout was a cave named Blombos near the Southern ocean.

“Archaeologists like Christopher Henshilwood have spent decades finding stuff there that our ancestors left behind. Recently, Henshilwood uncovered two abalone shells with ocher ground into the shell. ‘Above and below each shell and to the side of each shell was a complete kit that was used for producing a pigmented mixture,” he says.

“In addition to the shells were stone flakes, grinding stones and bits of bone with reddish ocher on them. Ocher is a kind of iron oxide dug from the ground that early humans used as a pigment and to thicken glue.” See More Here

“Red ochre has been used as a coloring agent in Africa for over 200,000 years.[22] Women of the Himba ethnic group in Namibia are famous for using a mix of ochre and animal fat for body decoration, to achieve a reddish skin color. The ochre mixture is also applied to their hair after braiding.[23]” Wikipedia

“The most common red pigment on Earth is red ocher, also known as iron earth. Barns in Scandinavia are painted with it; roads are sometimes surfaced with it; red bricks get their color from their iron content.” Finlay, Victoria. The Brilliant History of Color in Art, p. 15.

Traditional Swedish House Painted Falu Red, which Is Made from Red Ocher

Making Falu Red Paint

“Falu red or falun red (/ˈfɑːluː/ FAH-loo, in Swedish falu rödfärg (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈfɑːlɵ ˈrøːfærj])) is a dye[1] that is used in a deep red paint, well known for its use on wooden cottages and barns. The paint historically originated from various copper mines in Sweden. Most well known is the mine at Falun, in the province of Dalarna. In Finland, falu red is known as punamulta (“red earth”), after the pigment, which consists of finely divided hematite. Since the binder is starch, the paint is permeable to water. In Estonia, falu red is known as Rootsi punane (“Swedish red”) and is most common in Western Estonia in the former Coastal Swedish territory.

“The earliest evidence of the use of falu red dates from the 16th century. During the 17th century, falu red was commonly used on smaller wooden mansions, where it was intended to imitate buildings with brick facing. In Swedish cities and towns, wooden buildings were often painted with falu red, until the early 19th century, when authorities began to oppose use of the paint. Increasingly many wooden buildings in urban areas had by then begun to be either painted in lighter colors such as yellow or white, or to be sided with stucco. The number of buildings made of bricks had also increased.” Wikipedia

I have decided to research the history of the creation of paints and pigments further, and I found some books that you might also want to explore:

The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay

 

There are several books that provide information about the historic evolution of color, but I especially like Finlay’s The Brilliant History of Color  in Art. Because of its outstanding photographs, this is the book that I myself will purchase.

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Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Finlay’s first book Color: A Natural History of the Palette has over 400 pages of text, and it have very  few photographs. I plan to read both of Finlay’s books.

 

Color: The Story of Dyes and Pigments by by Bernard Guineau and Francois Delemare

As I consider the inter-connection of the soil, pigments, color, and self-expression, I am reminded of the final pronouncement: from earth to earth and ashes to ashes, and I realize that we are the earth which has historically provided the pigment to create our art. Our spirits–our souls–are linked to the pigments that lie within the bedrock of our lives. Perhaps it is primarily because of mankind’s need for self-expression that the human can be distinguished from beasts.

“Drawing gives shape to all creatures, color gives them life, such is the divine breath that animates them” – Dennis Diderot – 1713-1784

I hope to read all of the books listed above, and afterwards, I hope to have more to say about this topic. But in closing, I want to congratulate yet again the way that film is able to bring history to life and the way that it lifts its viewers to a pinnacle from which they can experience meaning in a more dynamic way. I love the way that good cinematography fosters better thinking. For many years, it has been faddish to denounce television as the evil sponge that siphons the mind dry, but I disagree with that thought. I believe that good television and good movies can actually exceed the teaching value of mere reading; yet, I would not like to live in a culture that would force me to choose between the two.

©Jacki Kellum July 18, 2017

Soil

I Love Color – There Is Nothing Gray about Me

In addition to writing and painting, I am also a gardener, and I frequently shop at my local plant market which sells a huge variety of flowers, and the prices are very reasonable.

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I love it when they have a new shipment of Gerbera Daisies. It is a spectacle. Like a magnet, the brilliant display pulls me from across the room. I always want to buy all of the daisies for my garden. One plant will not do. One color will not do. To emulate the riot of colors in the display, I want and need the entire bunch. Of course, I can never buy that many flowers at once, but I love color, and when my garden is in perfect form, it is a kaleidoscope.

Jacki’s Garden July of 2015

I like it when my garden screams! There is nothing subtle or subdued about me. When I paint, I celebrate color in another way. Even when I paint the green areas around my florals, I often flood them with color.

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In the Pink – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles. – Audrey Hepburn

I use the brighter colors to add punch to the green areas of my paintings. Too many people only see black and white — right or wrong. In my experience, that type of life-view is terribly narrow, and the people who cannot stretch themselves to see more of the variances of living are missing a great deal. Like Audrey Hepburn, I believe in Pink, and I also believe in Red and Yellow and Orange and Blue.

I am also suspcious of people who are always gray. If you will look carefully, you will see that there are no gray flowers. Gray is a neutral. Gray is a lack of color, and while I am guilty of other weaknesses, I do not lack color. I have definite opinions. Some of my opinions are red. They are loud and they shout. Other of my opinions are softer and more like lilac. Some of my opinions, are bright and sunny yellow and others are cooler, like green, but when I am asked how I feel about something or what I think about something, I say what I honestly believe. I don’t weigh whether I am speaking to a group of people who prefer red or who prefer gray or green or black or white. I simply say things the way that I see them–to the best of my ability.

For people whose primary concern is that of finding approval, honesty is not always the best policy. The safer route is to ride the fence, but in my opinion, fence riders are gray. They are like piles of mashed potatoes.  Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves. They have no color at all.

Life is not lived on the fence. We must have opinions.  We must take a stand in life.  In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated from the gray, faceless mob. The only way to be meaningful in life is to let your life mean–to let it actually stand–to let it stand out, and to let it stand for something.

  1. In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated.
  2. In taking stands in life, we do more than exist–we mean.
  3. The only way to be meaningful in life is to allow your life to mean.

When we begin to take a stand in life, there will people who absolutely hate us for our opinions; but in being real about who we are and about what we believe, we offer other people something real and tangible to love–we offer people an authentic mind, words with meaning, and color.

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Social media has several limitations, and one of those limitations is that people might easily be controlled by a desire to be “liked” or disliked because of what they have said or posted. If contributors are not careful, they might begin to write to be” liked.” and they might quit writing what is real. The same thing can happen to bloggers. Simply to be liked–or at least not disliked, writers may begin standing in the middle of the road.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher

Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time, you have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence and to get out of the middle of the road.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” –  Abraham Lincoln

 

I agree with Abraham Lincoln. Regardless of how we play the game, we will never please everyone. Selling our souls to try to please everyone doesn’t really work. When we write and say what we actually think, we do allow ourselves to move out of the gray, to be colorful, and to be real.

©Jacki Kellum April 26, 2017

Gray

Why I Use Bright, Vivid Colors When I Paint – I Love Color

I often frequent my local garden market, and I love it when they have a large assortment of Gerbera Daisies. It is a spectacle.

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Like a magnet, the brilliant display pulls me from across the room. I always want all of the daisies for my garden. One plant will not do. One color will not do. To emulate the riot of colors in the display, I want and need the entire bunch. I love color, and when it is in perfect form, my garden is a kaleidoscope.

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Jacki’s Garden July of 2015

I like it when my garden screams! There is nothing subtle or subdued about me. When I paint, I celebrate color in another way. Even when I paint the green areas around my florals, I often flood them with color.

tulips1 (1)

In the Pink – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles. – Audrey Hepburn

I use the brighter colors to add punch to the green areas of my paintings. Too many people only see black and white — right or wrong. In my experience, that type of life-view is terribly narrow, and the people who cannot stretch themselves to see more of the subtle variances of living are missing a great deal. Like Audrey Hepburn, I believe in Pink, and I also believe in Red and Yellow and Orange and Blue.

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October Leaves – Watercolor Study by Jacki Kellum

Not long ago, I demonstrated painting a close view of a tree trunk surrounded by October leaves. As usual, the class was appalled that I had used a lot of blue in what was supposed to be a brown tree. I explained that I use blue because I love color.  Color is a communicator.  The colors chosen to paint a tree or the sky around that tree determine much about what the tree will communicate in a painting.  For many years, I have told students that if they only want a pretty, accurate representation of a scene, they should buy a good camera.  The camera can do much that I could never do with paint–and it can do it much more rapidly and with much less expense.  A camera simply slices a piece of life and preserves it–just the way the lens sees it.

The camera is a machine–it reproduces what it sees and it does that without bias or emotion.  If the scene is beautiful, the photograph should be beautiful. If the scene is ugly, the photograph will be ugly. The camera mimics what it sees.

The artist has the option to move beyond a mechanical rendering.  The artist has the option to be more than a machine and to simplify or to omit unnecessary details and/or to exaggerate others. In doing so, the artist begins to tell a personal story.

Scientists and sociologists have studied the impact of color for many years.  It has been noted that since ancient time, colors have been used to evoke emotional responses.  Because I want my art to have an emotional response, I paint with exaggerated colors.

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December River – Watercolor by Jacki Kellum

In the above painting, December River, I purposely exaggerated the blues to convey the cold, dreary mood of winter.  Red, being the color of blood, is the color of energy–of life.  When I paint, I use a lot of red–and I do it very deliberately. I use red to infuse my subject matter with energy–with emphasis–with punch.

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Thanksgiving Across the Lake – Watercolor by Jacki Kellum

My paintings are a continuous battle of darks and lights–regressions and egressions–of deaths and life.  I use color to express that battle, and in every painting, I count on red to not only win the battle but to fly the flag of victory.

©Jacki Kellum October 15, 2016

Subdued

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