Colour diaries

I had been thinking for some time that I could/should do an artistic diary of some sort. I had bought various things to try to encourage me to do so (some chalkboard matryoshka dolls, 100 Pantone postcards etc.) with the intention that I would ‘record’ my day in some way on either the Russian dolls or by colour.

After various conversations with people, I was encouraged to start doing so. So far I have failed to decorate the dolls or write on them etc. I just forget when I am busy. Angela felt that whatever I did should be non-literal, not include words and be easy enough to stick to for a defined period of time. I had looked at diaries written by other artists, such as Eva Hesse and Helen Chadwick, but these are non-visual and are bullet-point written entries about their days. I tried doing a non-literal max-5-mins sketch journal, but this only lasted for a few days. When nothing much happened (which is quite common on work days) there was nothing much I could draw, or it would be the same as the day before. In fact, many days I felt that the drawing would just consist of a dot  and a straight line – meaning nothing much happened.

But one form of recording that has stuck with me and I have been able to continue with for the month I intended. This has been the recording of colours that have been important to me during the day. Initially I was going to do a ‘mood’ colour diary but, again, this can differ very little at times. So, instead I decided to record important colours daily – whilst this is not intentionally a recording of my mood, I know (from the research I did for last year’s essay on the colour blue and mood) that the two are intrinsically linked – which ultimately gives an indication of mood rather than directly reflecting or making a conscious effort to interpret it.

I found an interesting quote from Damien Hirst in The Grove Book of Art Writing (Gayford and Wright, Grove Press, New York 1998) P474-6 which talks about emotion and his choice of colours in his spot paintings.

Damien Hirst says that the point about his dot paintings is that they can’t express any emotion; so what they express, presumably, is the predicament of an artist too self-aware to express anything.

…I started them as an endless series like a sculptural idea of a painter (myself). A scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do. … Art is like medicine – it can heal.Yet I’ve always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don’t believe in art, without questioning either. 

I first studied art in Leeds from an emotional, painterly perspective – ‘paint how you feel’ – painting as truth. But lies are part of life, and painting like life has to take this on board if it’s worth doing. If you’re happy, you paint a happy yellow-and-red painting; if you’re depressed you paint a sombre brown-and-purple painting; or if you’re smart you give up painting and share your good feelings with your friends, or when you’re down, cheer up and don’t drag people down to your level, take anti-depressants – the difference between life and art.

In the spot paintings the grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system; it’s a simple system. No matter how I feel as an artist or a painter, the paintings end up looking happy. I can still make all the emotional decisions about colour that I need to as an artist, but in the end they are lost. The end of painting. And I’m still painting; am I a painter? Or a sculptor who paints? Or just an artist? I don’t know. It’s not important. But it is very important that there is an endless series or enough to imply an endless series (after all, I’m not On Kawara [Japanese artist whose work consists of dates painted on canvases]).

I believe painting and art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz. I hate taste – it’s been acquired.

… If you look closely at any one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colours there is no harmony. We are used to picking out chords of the same colours and balancing them with dfiferent chords of other colours to create meaning. This can’t happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’s there. The horror underlying everything. The horror that can overwhelm everything at any moment. …

… Art is about life – there isn’t anything else.

The paragraph I highlighted in colour above could have been written by me. It is exactly how I feel about colour and how it influences my mood, enhances it and ultimately enhances my life. But I believe that Hirst’s statement contradicts the opening statement that there is no emotion in the paintings. There is. It is full of emotions and he states that he chooses the colours emotionally. But the lack of conscious ‘harmony’ in the compiling/composition of the dots is what I believe he means when he says  the emotions ‘are lost’ because it is hard to feel emotion when the colour palette is disjointed. I have seen this in my own diaries. When the palettes are limited and harmonious, an emotion is easily conveyed. When the palettes are bright and full of vibrant colours, they dance and compete for attention and I believe this is where Hirst’s underlying ‘horror’ is felt. The colours, which individually are joyful, come together to make something that is chaotic and uncomfortable – the sum of the parts fail to create an emotion where the individual components speak far better. Harmonious palettes create the emotion by the sum of the parts where the individual colours say little.

I have decided to simplify my day down to a choice of 9 colours. These colours are important in the day either because they have struck me visually or because they have appeared many times during the day.
I write a brief description of my day in my iPhone app (Day One – Journal) and then list the 9 colours. These remain in my phone until I have time to complete the colour entry with the Pantone postcards (usually at the weekend) when I write the journal entry on my white board and find the Pantone postcards to match the description as closely as possible. The good thing about Pantone is that it is a consistent colour management system – you specify a colour and if it is replicated using the Pantone system (and recipe) then it is the same across whatever you choose to use it on. Although my use of 100 postcards can be limiting (as I am finding the colour that is closest to the one I remember), it is a good discipline and can be extended to use the full range of Pantone colours at a later date (I have an app on my phone to show all the Pantone range and you can either view the fan to pick a colour or take a photo to define the colour). Once I have defined these colours, I will have a bank of palettes that I can choose to use however I like: electronically, textiles, painting etc. My rules for creating this palettes was to record the colours from top left to bottom right exactly in the order I had noted them. This means I am not tinkering aesthetically with the ordering of the colours until I come to work with the colours at a later date. This allows me to learn how the colours work together and affect each other in terms of harmony and emotion.

I have been looking at how a couple of artists use colours and apply them to ‘real world’ scenarios.

One is Stig Evans who works with colour and mood. He has done much work with colour in the mental health realm (such as at Langley Green). He asked patients to keep a colour diary by painting layers of paint over each other over a period of time. These were then sliced through and observed under a microscope to enable Evans to use the palettes for a communal garden at Langley Green for the patients. Evans had some excellent images on his own website however, at the time of writing, he has taken down his website and it appears to be under redevelopment. It used to be found here:

A Google search offers the following links for him:

So I have had to rely on what I remember or have made notes about his website and third party references to this and him. All websites were accessed on the publication date of this post. The following two links explain a little about Stig and his work at Langley Green.

He worked as animateur in residence for the Brian Eno show 77 Million Paintings – below is a video of him talking about this and below that a link to some more information about it.

His work in his series of paintings Happy to Angry may also be pertinent to me in the arenas of colour and emotion. He brings together diary, colour and a contemporary artist and mental wellbeing and has APPLIED in a wider arena (i.e. to create public space/art via workshops – Art is a social situation in relation to a REAL person’s needs and emotions).

He is also conserves paintings. This lead him to work with The Portland Colour Library – which is an hitoric personal colour record of the Portland area from around 1900. Evans’s work has been to record the colours in what he believes was their original state – taking into account their degradation over time. You can read about that here and here

I have also looked up Ptolemy Mann I might have even seen some of her work at Origin or somewhere like that. I LOVE this work. The colours sing out to me, I FEEL them. I had already been thinking about producing my colour diaries as lines or squares or cubes and this shows me I have valid reasoning for doing this. She works with architects and develops emotional colours on exteriors of buildings. They intend to cause an emotional impact, but not in a mental health context as Evans does. Evans and Mann are both using colour and emotion in a contemporary context.

Her work shows me route to applying my own colour palettes to work – as paintings, sculpture, textiles or installation/environment.

I was also reminded of the Art of Faith programme I saw on Sky Arts this weekend which featured a University Campus chapel (Chapel of St Ignatius in Seattle) that was created for people of all faiths and of none, which has great use of colour in an reinterpretation of the traditional stained glass windows and their casting of light.

Another variety of visual diary I saw in the Mail recently was of recording the same oak tree over the course of a year, from different viewpoints – exploring all the view of one item in the landscape has to offer. This obviously includes many colourful and emotive images.

Reflecting on my own colour diary, I have been thinking about my earlier landscape work. Whilst (I assumed) these were about memory and trying to create a sense of calm, they were also about RECORDING the colours that created that FEELING of calm. I struggled with trying to extract the colours or what to do with them. But this colour recording method is perfect. Even my landscape photographs are mostly about recording colours. I know from my colour research last year that your perception of colour changes constantly and is always affected by mood and circumstance, so choosing the same colour on many days may not result in the same chip. Nor may the combination of colours result in the same appearance of the chip than when it is isolated etc. being affected by the colours around it. By choosing to present the colour chips on  a whiteboard with white magnets and black pen I am hoping to avoid any external colour influence of the chosen chips.

The research I have done into contemporary artists and the contexts in which they develop their practices has given me a validation for my own work and how I can develop and apply my own practice in the future.

I’m really excited by recording these colours and the possibilities that can develop from the ‘bank’ of palettes that result.

I am also noting that I should investigate Bridget Riley for future colour work.


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