When I was in grad school, most of my time was consumed with required studio classes, seminars and thesis work and occasionally grocery shopping at Star Market, laundry on Capitol Hill and exploring when I could. The undergraduate program was extensive and comprehensive, not only because of the variety and depth of the curriculum, but also because of the amazing professors and dedicated students. I was lucky to be anywhere near it. So for all those reasons, it was a great opportunity to take undergraduate courses when I could fit them in. One that I did fit in was a winter session color class during my first year. Winter session is a five week accelerated semester between fall and spring semesters.
The very first assignment was to create the color wheel composed of primary and secondary colors. The next couple of assignments isolated specific colors, like compliments and presented them as pairings to demonstrate various color relationships like simultaneous contrast. Our next series of assignments explored value through black and white comparisons. I saw interactions that I’d never seen before. For our final project we picked an object of our own choosing to translate in color and in black and white. This assignment doesn’t require painting on paper, then cutting the swatches out, assembling them and mounting them like all of the the others, this assignment required us to paint onto a single surface.
I picked a conk shell. A conk shell… what a ridiculous object to pick. A much simpler object would have been a better choice. I’m fairly certain that my professor Aki asked me if I was sure I wanted to translate this object. She may have even raised an eyebrow. I assured her it would be fine. Apparently because I thought it looked pretty. I broke it down into approximately 22 colors for the color version and another 20 or so for the black and white version. If I hadn’t gotten impatient, it probably could have been over 30 colors for each. Have you ever looked at the inside of a conk shell like this one before? There are hardly any distinct color breaks. It’s just a smear that transitions from one to another. I lightly drew the conk shell within a 10 x 10 square format with a pencil and began to outline general areas. Once I had the composition determined, I began to mix.
I used small aluminum pans about the size and depth of a hockey puck to hold the colors. They seemed perfect when I started. After completing them over the course of a couple of days, I covered them in cellophane. I don’t remember exactly what transpired after that, why I left, or where I went, but I didn’t get back to the studio for awhile. When I returned to continue, I peeled off the cellophane and discovered that most of them were dry, almost dry, and mostly unusable. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I would have to start completely over with the exception of just a few colors that I could salvage. When I spoke with Aki to let her know what had happened and that I was way behind schedule now, she didn’t judge me and she was empathetic. She simply let me know that a different type of container was probably a better way to go, like the ones above. So I bought them and started over. I remixed all of the colors and all of the matching gray values and began my two studies. The days flew by and I eventually ran out of time. I didn’t finish either piece completely and Aki had to evaluate them on what I had. It was a disaster. Sometimes I still have ‘school dreams’ about that class during periods of high stress and self doubt, reliving the shame and regret and the tediously prepared useless gouache chunks.
© C. Davidson