The Secret Life of Color

“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour. Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” – Paul Klee, Tunisia

Isaac Newton changed forever our understanding of light and color when he split a ray of white light into its respective visible frequencies—a rainbow—and recombined them back into white light with two prisms. At that moment he intuited that color is a perception made apparent by our eyes, not an immutable quality which “belonged” to objects. Light is color, and color makes beauty in our eyes.

Southern Tunisian Gardens Paul Klee 1919
Southern (Tunisian) Gardens Paul Klee 1919

Light is made of electromagnetic waves of different vibrational frequencies, which are themselves just a small part of the all-encompassing electromagnetic field which is our universe. Although we are generally unaware of it, the whole world is vibrating constantly within this field. Only .0035% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum is visible to us as white light, which means there is a world of light humans can’t see.

The frequency at which an object vibrates ultimately determines its color—it is the key to which wavelengths of light an object will absorb and which it will reflect. The color of an object, like a beautiful rose, is actually the rejected wavelength of light, not the cloak of red we think it is. The absorbed colors, those the plant uses to give it life, remain hidden to us. The colors of everything we see are the remainders, the unabsorbed hues, which we interpret as the color of the thing itself. If we could ask the rose what color it is, it might just as well tell us that it is all the colors it absorbs, the yellows and blues, but not the red we see. It  radiates red because of its vibrational frequency. But to us, it is a thing of beauty. In a way, beauty exists as a by-product of rejection.

“In a sense, one could speak of the secret life of colour. Despite its outward beckoning, like true beauty, colour is immensely hesitant in giving away its secrets. Painters learn to  respect the hesitancy of colour and endeavour to refine their skill to become worthy of its revelations. A painter learns the language of colour slowly. As with any language, you struggle for a long time outside the language. There is a willed deliberateness to how you sequence the strange words to make a sentence.Then one day the language lets you in to where the words dance to your thoughts with ease and fluency. Perhaps for the painter there is a day when colour lets him in, when his palette sings with synergy and delight.”

– John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

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–John and Ann

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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