The Calligrapher's Life

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The Color Challenge

If you’ve ever experienced trouble choosing the best colors for an art project…join the club.

At an early age, I normally drew pictures using charcoals and pencil. Whenever the mood struck me, I’d color the finished drawing with pencil, pastels or watercolor, but I never really put much thought into the color choices. If I were copying from a color photo, I’d attempt to match the colors as closely as possible; but most times, I chose whatever color attracted my attention at that moment. As a calligrapher, I’m forced to plan color combinations and resist the urge to “throw together” whatever I want.

Like this weekend, it dawned on me that I need to place more thought on my color choices so the artwork achieves some type of balance. Unfortunately, I think I’ve practiced with black ink for so long that working with color hasn’t come easy for me, especially blending and pairing the hues.

Now I experiment during practice using various colors to see what combinations work and which ones to avoid.

But, practice alone hasn’t altered my color perception. On a weekly basis, my classmates provide tons of inspiration with their finished pieces.  For example, the instructor placed everyone in pairs to complete a team project. Rosie and I paired up last week and decided to use pink and green colors for our lettering. After we completed the project, the color pairs resembled a flower petal and stem. If I were alone, I don’t think I would have considered those two colors, but they worked well together.

A few weeks ago, I chose a decent color combination based on inspiration from a classmate’s prior classwork. During the project, I created the piece with pointed pen uncial, and used gouache to add color. In an effort to offer depth to the writing, I decided upon three shades of green paint to create a 3D effect with the same quote written three times.

First, I used dark green for the initial one sentence quote, and then I added white to achieve a lighter shade of green. Once the dark green dried, I applied the lighter shade. Next, I added white again and received a lighter green tone, then I put the new color slightly atop the new line, so the letters were layered. The final piece looked nearly as good as the experienced calligraphers that sit around me. At that point, I realized the effect color achieves to add personality, interest and depth to calligraphic words.

After playing around with colors and admiring others’ combinations in their work, I’ve complied a list of favorite  color pairs:

  •  Blue-green
  • Turquoise-blue
  • Orange-yellow
  • Blue-purple
  • Red-purple
  • Pink-purple
  • Lavender-purple

I’m sure more color pairings look beautiful together, but I’ve been exposed to the colors above and plan to use them in future projects. 

It’s probable most artists learn color and its importance for blending and matching early on in their education, but I’m a self-educated artist learning as I go along. Unbelievably, I’m finally paying attention to the value of color and I’ve grown to respect its power to create beautiful calligraphic art.

Don’t let color challenge you! Get out of the black and white rut…leave the black ink behind and pick up watercolor, gouache or your favorite colored inks for your next calligraphic piece.

If you’re already working with color, what color combinations are your favorites?

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