“I often collect small twigs, leaves or rocks and have learned a lot about seeing color by doing this. The twigs vary in color from olive green to gold to burgundy and I’ve only ever seen a few brown ones. Even the needles on a spruce tree have a wonderful range of colors and color is what inspires me to do a painting.” – Lorna Dockstader
Studying color palettes in art class was painting color wheels and learning things like which colors were primary, secondary and tertiary, analogous or complementary colors. Being an artist means that for me learning is a visual and intuitive experience so this learning tool was not very helpful for me. Learning and studying the color palettes in nature was much more helpful. Colors in nature surround us and we can use them in our art. Whether you are creating paintings, designing textiles or making greeting cards using the color palettes of nature will being life to your art.
Studying color in nature gives an artist a remarkable ability to learn harmonious and interesting color palettes. Winter, spring, summer and fall each bring a different color palette for artists to utilize in their art. Even if the subject of the art is not an autumn subject, the viewer will unconsciously associate the color palette with the melancholy of autumn, or the resurrection of spring, the sweet days of summer or the onset of winter. Abstract art uses this color concept a lot, even if the artist doesn’t know it! Each season evokes emotions and colors in us, which an artist unconsciously or consciously uses in art.
Fashion designers are aware of natural color palettes and each fashion season brings new color palettes as they try to re-invent the fashion, but if you observe the color palettes, they are almost always a similar seasonal palette. Interior designers are acutely aware of the “color of the year”, which Pantone announces each year. Once you know the “color of the year”, you will see appliances and all sorts of items for sale in that color. In greeting card making, it is helpful to remember the colors of the four seasons because using these color palettes helps set the mood for the card. Often Asian greeting cards are made only in red and black, but since Japan has four seasons the cards should be created out of other color palettes, too. Japanese kimono designs reflect the plants and colors of winter, spring, summer and fall. Red is primarily a color of celebration and for New Year.
When I studied quilting and made a pastel pink and pastel blue quilt, I couldn’t understand why those colors appealed to me as they had never been my favorite. The teacher informed us that those colors were the colors of Florida and that often where the quilt maker lives impacts the color palette of the quilt. This was an interesting insight; that we soak up the colors of our environment and they seep into our home décor, our clothes and our art. That is why when people go to Italy and come home and try to move the colors of the Italian landscape into their homes it is too jarring for where they live and is quickly seen as a mistake. The first time I ever went to Hawaii I noticed immediately that among all the deep greens there were red roofs on homes. I think of the color palette of Hawaii as red and green, but other tropical environments can be bright turquoise, hot pink and soft yellow. If you think of Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti, an immediate color palette comes to mind. Picture the landscape in Greece and immediately you will see bright white and cobalt blue with a turquoise sea. Imagine your favorite place and you will have a color palette, which you will love. Since my favorite place is the beach, guess what my favorite color palette is!
Winter Color Palette
In winter, the colors are subtle. Pale colors of earth tones and shades of whites fill the landscape. When snow & frost arrive, the entire landscape glitters and shimmers. Frost ices leaves, dried out flowers and spider webs. The sky during the day is a pale gray sky, with a slight tint of yellow and at night the sky is a deep midnight blue dotted with sparkling stars. The pale earth colors come from tree trunks, shrub branches, rose hips and other seed heads and leaves left on branches. Sparrows add a touch of earth color, too. Pine trees, pine cones and other evergreens add life to the pale landscape. White birch trees add texture to the snow-white landscape.
Winter also has a surprising jolt of color from red berries and red birds such as cardinals & finches. Blue jays add a splash of bright color on occasion to the landscape. In Japan, red Camilla flowers bloom in early winter so the Japanese often paint Camilla flowers with snow on them.
Spring Color Palette
When flower bulbs burst up through the snow & ice, every creature knows that spring has arrived. The first crocus bloom announces that winter is over. Bulb flowers bloom everywhere. Each crocus, hyacinth, tulip, iris, snowdrop, violet, lily-of-the-valley, daffodil, & ranunculus fill yards with colors that almost shout with the joy of spring. These bulbs are shades of pinks & reds, violet & lavenders, orange & yellows & arrive with the perfume of spring. The landscape also comes alive with every shade of green as tiny new leaves unfurl and bring dormant plants back to life. The whole landscape sprouts with life.
Cherry blossoms, pear & apple trees burst open with “clouds” of flowers prior to any leaves appearing. It almost seems like the flowers alone are responsible for the return of the migrating birds to nest and sing. The sighting of an orange-breasted robin in spring is a cause for rejoicing. In Japan, the blooming of the cherry blossoms is a national holiday.
In California, wild mustard plants dotting the highways and roads with swaths of bright yellow announces spring.
Summer Color Palette
Summer gardens & landscapes are drenched in color. Sunny yellow & orange flowers like sunflowers, black-eyed susan & nasturtiums reflect the long sun-filled days of summer. Roses & peonies nod their heavy flower heads in respect to the hot sun & summer showers. The blues and purples of delphiniums, iris, cornflowers, violas, sweet peas & lavender add the colors of sultry summer nights. The pinks, peaches and pale greens of cosmos, poppies & limes reflect the sorbet colors of the coolness we long for. Hot fuchsia, bright turquoise and pale yellow remind of us of tropical paradise. Pale aqua, sky blue and soft pinks make us think of days at the beach with cool sea breezes. Vegetable gardens are bursting with red tomatoes, yellow corn-silk, yellow zucchini, squash, green beans and crisp cucumbers. Summer umbrellas in bright colors dot the beaches where the seashore palette of sky blue, sand and blue sea fills the eye.
Autumn Color Palette
Autumn is the season of earth tones in all her glory. Maple & oak leaves turning shades of red, orange & yellow light the landscape afire. The bright blue sky with crisp air is an accent color of the coming of winter. Faded and yellowing lawns let us know that frost is on its way. Chrysanthemums bloom, but their colors are rusts, golds with a hint of chartreuse green to say goodbye to summer. Even the produce harvested reflects the tones of autumn. Pumpkins, apples, pomegranates and Indian corn all herald the arrival of autumn. White birch trees put on a show of amber leaves. Scarlet, gold, amber, salmon and all the chestnut and mahogany shades of brown bring the melancholy of autumn. The scent of autumn leaves inspires us to light the fire, pour a glass of hot apple cider and start to wind down and buckle in for the long winter ahead.
I have studied Japanese brush painting for more than 13 years and one of the disciplines is to paint only what is in season at the time you are painting. We would never paint cherry blossoms in winter or pomegranates in spring.
Living in the season that you are in, is to live a life in harmony with nature.
“The spring flowers, the autumn moon; summer breezes, winter snow. If useless things do not clutter your mind, you have the best days of your life.”