Earth colours are appearing in my paintings. What I mean is red earth colours. Not the loamy dark browns of the northern hemisphere.
I am drawn to the sight of red earth. It’s a throwback to a childhood in Southern Africa. The familiar rich red colour of the earth always makes me feel at home. On the way from the airport when we arrived here, we passed an extensive road construction project and there, heaped up on the side of the road, was a pile or rich dark red soil. It was almost as if this part of the world was inviting me to add a new dimension to my work.
Even though I love the sight of rich red earth colours, these are not colours I generally put into my landscapes. Usually, it’s blues, greens, yellows and just sometimes, some pink/lavender tones. colours that are all very refined and safe. They are very northern-hemisphere, cool-light colours. So does this imply that your surroundings influence the colours you use in your paintings? It certainly could be part of the reason, I suspect.
At art college, my sister was advised to wear neutral colours. The theory was that the colours you wear have a tendency to creep into your palette. That may be true. I wear a lot of blue and lo and behold, there it is in my paintings. An old friend commented on one of my Facebook posts that Australia is doing interesting things to my work, and then the conversation continued to the point of speculating about whether the English light would change that when I get back into my studio. That remains to be seen but I hope it doesn’t.
Earth colours in my paintings
There is a different quality to the light here, and to the landscape. It’s bigger, and it’s redder. To my eye, the earth colours seem to come to the fore more here. That could be because I am more attuned to them because of my childhood. But whatever the reason, they are there and I am relishing the bold brashness of them. I have painted a couple of dozen small paintings for Running With Brushes while I have been here. They have the advantage of being small and portable. I can work out my thinking for larger paintings by creating a smaller version. I’ll pick the ones I like best and work them up to bigger paintings when I am back in my studio.
At first, the earth colours were appearing in a more figurative form in the paintings. But gradually, as I have spent more time here, the reds have just had to be put down on paper.
The paint colours
Fortunately, my palette has a glorious Pyrrol Scarlet pan, and I squeezed a juicy blob of Transparent Pyrrol Orange into one of the extra pans. (The orange is one of my all time favourites. Depending on how intensely you use it, it can range from being almost red to a delicate orange. I recommend it.) Of course, there have been washes of beautiful quinacridone gold, sepia and burnt sienna. But the reds and oranges are the ones that pop. Perhaps my choice of palette was starting to change before I got here and being away from my studio has only made me realise it. But it definitely feels as if there’s a shift away from playing safe.
In my last week here, I’ve sketched a red pandanus tree. What next? I’m not sure, but I am looking forward to splashing some earth colours around on bigger pieces when I get back into my studio. If you want to see more of my little plein air Australia paintings, they’re on my Instagram feed. Let me know what you think. Do you like the funky reds?
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