When I was in grad school, most of my time was consumed with required studio classes, seminars and thesis development. The undergraduate program was extensive and deep, not only because of the professors and the student body, but because of the variety and depth of the curriculum. I was lucky to be anywhere near it. Because of that, it was a great opportunity to take as many undergraduate courses as I could fit in. One of them was a winter session color class. Winter session is a six week accelerated semester, between the fall and spring semester.
The introductory color theory course with Aki Nurosi was intense. I’d never taken a class that was only about color. I’d learned some of the color basics like most art and design students do, but never as immersive as this class. All color classes are good thing and when you start from scratch and create everything from scratch, I think it sinks in a little deeper. By scratch, I mean that color courses are taught many different ways. Sometimes it’s mostly academic. You read about it and you participate in lectures and demos. The next level is to use special silk screened paper swatches that you can purchase at art supply stores to create projects. Because of the range and quantity of the color swatches most everything is achieveable. The third and most intense is hand painting the colors with guoche pigments from scratch that you plan to use on specific papers and then hand assemble the compositions on illustration board using a dry mount procedure similar to the process used when mounting prints in a photography course.
The very first assignment was to create the color wheel presenting primary and secondary colors. The second assignment isolates specific colors, like compliments, and presents them as pairings. A couple of assignments explore various color relationships, like simultaneous contrasts, and I began to see interactions that I’d never seen before. The next series of assignments explores value through black and white. For our final assignment we had to pick an object to translate in color and in black and white. This assignment doesn’t require painting on paper, cutting the swatches out and assembling them like the others, this assignment requires you to paint onto a single surface. I picked a conk shell. A conk shell. What a ridiculous object to pick if you’re a beginner in this type of work like me. A much simpler, more defined object would have been a better option. I’m pretty sure Aki asked me if I was sure I wanted to translate this object. I assured her it was fine. It wasn’t. It was a huge mistake. I broke it down into approximately 22 colors which were all within a very small range, for the color version and another 22 or so for the black and white version. If I hadn’t gotten impatient, it probably could have been more like 35 colors for each. I drew the conk shell within a 10 x 10 square format with a light pencil and began to outline general color breaks. Have you ever seen the inside of a conk shell? There are no color breaks. The different colors smoothly transition from light to dark. Once I had the composition determined, I began to mix my colors.
Mixing the appropriate colors for the assignments is the most time consuming part. When I mixed my colors I used small pans about the size and depth of a hockey puck. It seemed like a good decision at the time. After completing them over the course of a couple of days, I covered them in cellophane. I don’t remember why I left or where I went, but I didn’t return to the studio for a few days—first mistake. When I returned to continue my work, I peeled of the cellophane and most of them were dry, almost dry and mostly unusable. I sat there with my mouth open. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I had to start completely over with the exception of a few colors that I could salvage. When I spoke with Aki to let her know what had happened, she was empathetic and let me know that a different type of container, still small, but deeper and had lids was a better way to go., like the ones above — second mistake. What a horrifying debacle my final assignment was turning into. I remixed all of the colors and the gray values and began the painting. It started out fine, but this along with my other coursework, I ran out of time. I didn’t finish either of them completely and she had evaluate them on what I had. Sometimes I still have ‘school dreams’ about that project during periods of high stress and and self doubt.
© C. Davidson