Families of color


Another thing we have to do while we are working, if we hope to achieve inner light, is to develop a family quality among the different colors we are using. This unifies the space even further.

The simplest way in which colors become members of one family is similar to the process of mutual embedding. If we want to place a red near a green so as to produce inner light, it is necessary that very small amounts of the red are mixed into the green, and that very small amounts of the green are mixed into the red. This softens the contrast and allows the piece to glow.

Sometimes this family feeling exists simply as a feeling, which is complex and not easy to explain at all. I work on the palette, and I can tell when I am making colors of the same family: but they are not necessarily related in obvious ways at all.

For instance, I make a yellow which is creamy and white, with a touch of green in it. Then the blue which makes sense with this kind of yellow is a sad blue, grayish. And another blue that makes sense together has a lilac cast. I cannot easily explain this. It probably occurs because these colors make light together, according to the properties mentioned earlier — but now it is happening while actually mixing the colors.

At other times, I mix the family right on the painting. I chop the palette knife into the red, to reveal the yellow beneath it. I chop the knife into the yellow, and traces of red make the yellow glow, become orange in feel, but a deep yellow remains. This happens in a red vase painting I don’t have room to illustrate. And the blue which is affected like this, by the chopping palette knife, is an extraordinary blue, eerie, dull at first sight, but infused with reddish tones than have been cut in. Altogether, then, the color families work together.

Families of color is a color version of the geometric property echoes that appears in living structure.

(Pages 206-210)

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