Why Do I Exaggerate Color When I Paint?

In a recent class, a student was appalled that I used a LOT of blue and orange when painting the trunk of a tree.  Her reaction was typical of most people who are just learning to paint.  I decided that she and other students deserve more than a dismissive response to the question of why I use exaggerated color when I paint. They deserve an answer; and in this post, I’ll try to provide that.

A very simple response is that I just like color; and I use it every place that I find a chance. But those words do not really say why I use such an intense palette when I paint.  That reason is much more comlex.  To fully understand my color choices, one needs to ask WHY I actually like color.

Color is a communicator.  The colors chosen to paint a tree or the sky around that tree say much about what the tree will communicate.  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 [if the camera and the photographer are decent].


Photographs of Central Park in NYC.


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–and that’s all–just eye candy.

The artist has the option to move beyond a mechanical rendering.  The artist has the option to simplify–to omit unnecessary details and/or to exaggerate others; and to alter colors.  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.  In understanding the emotional impact of color, one moves closer to my own reasons and purposes for using exaggerated colors when painting.


In the above painting, Paint the Blues Away, 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–to infuse my subject matter with energy–with emphasis–with punch.

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.


November Rain


Hallow’s Eve

To read about the meanings of and emotional associatons with specific colors, check out the following post:  https://jackikellum.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/paint-to-experience-the-power-of-color/


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