One of my international students presented me with a tube of Sedona Red last month. If you don’t follow the Plein Air community in the States, you’ll be unaware it was mixed up by my friend and colorman Robert Gamblin specially for a painting convention held in Sedona, Arizona, with its characteristic red rocks.
I live, teach and paint in Norfolk, England, and while Sedona Red is beguilingly, warmly, deeply, enchantingly beautiful, it just doesn't - just couldn’t - just won't - work here. Norfolk, as Edward Seago observed, is about "cool greens and greys." The hot colors of Arizona have no place in my Norfolk heart or art.
In fact I’ve noticed this aversion for strong or weak color in many of my students. My South African, Indian and Australian students seem to come pre-programmed with a love of bright, hot color, whilst my Dutch students fall straight into line with the subtle, muted colors of the Norfolk landscape. Getting the first group to paint skies anything less than a startling blue is a real challenge, whilst my northern students exhibit almost a fear of strong color and modulate everything with greyed down mixes.
Nature or nurture, I’m not sure, but being able to work in different color palettes separates the good students from the great. Compare an early Van Gogh or Turner, with all of those stolid Protestant greys and blacks, with their later joyously colourful work inspired by the light and color of the South. Good painters seem to absorb and learn from the colours around them; it’s all about having the visual imagination and creative flexibility to challenge what one would normally do.
Incidentally the student who brought me the Sedona Red had visited me straight from Friesland in northern Holland, before jetting off to Arizona. The paintings from his first course were beautifully modulated in shades of grey, whilst those he did on his return from Arizona had far more power and purpose in them. He’s not sure if he’s any good, but on the basis of that last course and the change he made to his style, I’m certain he will become so.
I’m off on one of my annual painting trips to France in a week or so and I’ll be packing that Sedona Red in the hope of seeing the weather I need to use it, although given the forecast here in Europe for the last few months I’d be better off with a pochade full of Portland Grey.
Martin Kinnear is a professional oil painter, tutor, and has been an Artspan member since 2004.