Here's a little colour exercise from a Steiner art class some time ago...
This series stemmed from the wet-on-wet watercolour painting exercises designed to create the three secondary (and harmonious) colours: green from lemon yellow and Prussian blue; violet from carmine, ultramarine and a little Prussian blue; and orange from lemon yellow, gold and vermillion. Using this technique, I had limited control, and for a moment the paint had a life of its own on the page - moving, spreading and expanding. This created an atmospheric softness, with muted tones, light and darkness – perhaps a touch of the ethereal world.
Aside from the technical instructions we were also asked to bring an intention into the painting through consideration of the character of each colour. In other words, if colour were an entity in its true nature, how would it appear, move, breathe, come in to a room and thus come on to the page? In painting each piece these descriptions were formed and visualised:
To me, green is alive and expresses life on earth. It creeps, crawls, sprawls, entwines, uplifts, and sparkles as the yellow reaches towards light and the blue reaches towards darkness. Green is renewing, refreshing, regenerating and harmonious.
Coming from the strong and robust carmine red, and the enfolding and embracing ultramarine blue, I see violet as shy yet holding an inner strength, pulse and rhythm. Like a robe for royalty, violet holds circulating mystery beneath its folds.
I see orange as zingy, zesty, lively, mischievous and flirtatious, like flickering flames slipping between stimulating red and cheerful yellow. It is warm, cheeky, changeable, impulsive, and unpredictable and moves from strength and sureness to infinite light.
In Steiner education it seems there is an emphasis on natural and pure resources like cotton, silk, wood, metal and wool. This appeals to me, as the purity works on the senses, speaks to the heart and fosters reverence for the natural world. However in this modern time I have become deeply committed to acquiring and buying less and buying second hand wherever possible, I began to wonder whether there is a place within Steiner education for recycled materials. Could the essence of the ethereal and colour experience gained through wet-on-wet watercolour paining be achieved using natural second-hand materials?
As a textile artist, typically working with repurposed silk, I was interested by this in-depth study of the true nature of colour. I wondered how these wet-on-wet paintings and the consideration of the character of each colour could influence my textile art. So I attempted to remake each watercolour painting using a recycled silk technique I had previously developed in making homewares and decorative cushions.
The recycled silk technique comes from deconstructing second-hand silk shirts, shredding them into fragments, laying them scrap-by-scrap onto cotton backing, and securing them using machined stitching. Each panel takes many hours to create, as each individual scrap of silk is placed and stitched. In doing this I am able to touch every fibre, select its location, and fully immerse myself in the colour and new formation beneath my hands. Although a sewing machine is used, rhythm and breath is created through the repetitive movements, especially when stitching around in a spiral, as specific hand movements are required to keep it all moving smoothly and continuously. This technique is much freer than say patchwork, as all pieces used are organically shaped, with frayed edges, and they are placed using intuitive selection without too much thought. It is their merging that creates something unique.
During the construction of each silk panel in this series, I viewed the paintings I had created as a guide to the light and darkness, gesture and mood of each colour, brought my intention to the character of green, violet and orange respectively, using the character descriptions previously mentioned, however allowed the form and line to be different, to meld better with the silk technique.
In the watercolour exercises, the deliberate sequence of layering two colour (rather than using pre-mixed paint) and brush technique allowed the secondary colours to emerge on the page in front of my eyes. When constructing the silk panels however, the dyes in the silk were predetermined, so the creation was in the selection of tones (i.e., which silk shirt I would choose to deconstruct) and placement of pieces (reconstruction).
The nature of wet-on-wet watercolour painting is such that the colours appear differently wet compared to dry. A painting is considered finished while still wet and you hand over control during the drying process. Once dry, imperfections in the paper are found and the colours have changed. This is not to say that the end product is no longer beautiful, however this led me to question, is it the process of painting or the end product that is of most interest? In the construction of the silk panels the process moves from a chaotic and rough textured piece, to smooth and secure with more stitching. It is easy to add another scrap and more stitching at any time and the viewer in none the wiser, so in a way you can add layer upon layer ad infinitum (provided your sewing machine could fit so many layers).
The techniques are very different however they both allowed an internal journey into the character of colour. Transferring the colour theory gained from the watercolour exercises enhanced my textile art as I had a much greater intent in the mood and gesture created through the silk placement. Making colour more tactile, so that you’re able to touch it as you create brought a new level to my understanding of colour.