Art Unboxed

Art Unboxed Yellow Ochre

Versatile colors are my favorite, I used the term versatile rather than vibrant because they do not always have to be bright to intrigue me. While I love Prussian Blue, I also love Payne’s Gray. Both are intense, one is vibrant, the other is not. Much like them, Yellow Ochre has a richness about it I enjoy.

The color is so rich that it’s been supposed that it may be the inspiration for the fictional story of King Midas’ golden touch. A body was found in a royal tomb, believed to be the father of the historical King Midas, which was wrapped in a shroud died from Goethite, the material that gives Yellow Ochre its color. The shroud was still vibrant, and would have given the impression of gold, though it wasn’t. This was long before Shakespeare said all that glitters is not gold.

The mineraloid Ochre can be used to produce a brown or red. It’s found throughout the world and art. It was an undercoating for gold leaf, another application was to decorate tombs. Because of its accessibility and versatility, it’s been used by numerous cultures throughout history.

One of the connecting factors with colors I enjoy is their history. I am primarily a realist painter, with a deep appreciation of historical artists. Yellow and red ochre were both widely used in the Renaissance, both of which stood out in the vibrancy of the clothing. I do believe that we can learn a great deal from history and from each other.

As an artist and a Christian I find it a great joy that many of the colors we use to paint with come directly from the Earth. While we may use synthetic methods for some pigments now, historically we sourced them from organic materials. I can’t help but think of the fact that God made man from the dust of the Earth, you can find any color in the dust.

For me this is one of the reasons that racism is both evil and ridiculous. All of us are made up of dust, which covers the color spectrum, we are all God’s Creation. When I’m mixing skin tones in watercolor, I will use Yellow Ochre, and a rich brown as a base to paint flesh, then add other colors and vary the intensity for different skin tones.

Yellow ochre can paint a person from any family of the Earth, as well as the golden light of the sun, the colors of the birds in the sky, and be found on a fish in the deepest part of the ocean. The majority of the time, it is the first yellow I reach for whether I’m drawing a sunrise or mixing green. Like any color, it can be used widely, and like any color it can be overused, the key is balance. You want your palette to reflect not to define you.

One aspect of balancing color which you may not think about, is the amount of paint you use. Watercolorists, acrylic artists, and oil painters have all made the mistake of not using enough paint. In watercolor especially, if you don’t mix enough of a particular color for a painting you may find it’s a slightly different shade when you have to mix more.

The same is true of acrylics and oil, but I’ve also found that if I don’t get enough on the canvas, the color of the canvas will come through. Your material will soak up the paint, whether cotton or linen. If you chipped your oldest painting tomorrow, would enough paint remain to not have it ruined or repainted?

The interesting parallel is to use your color most effectively. As an example, Yellow Ochre is at its best when illustrating light. As has been said before, all painting is about reflecting light. Your darkest darks are designed to brighten the light of your painting. One way of illustrating light in a painting is to surround the brightest area of your painting with dark tones, making the brightest tones stand out.

Another method is to balance your color’s intensity and brightness. Whether yellow or white, keep the color somewhat muted except for the highlight, or area you want the viewer to focus on. Using the most intense color this way will act almost as a spotlight to attract the user.

Yellow Ochre is a versatile color and a great tool in the artist’s toolbox. Applying it well can turn a simple painting into a masterpiece, and elevate the artist’s skill to a brand new level. It may not be gold, but many artists have used Yellow Ochre to add a richness to their painting.

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