"Red"

I don't consider myself to be very good with color, especially when it comes to my drawings. The style of my art started as translations of henna from skin to paper. Unless you add glitter, the most color variation you're going to get with henna would be by doing different dying times to get various shades of orange, red, and brown. I only cared about the lines since I was just practicing on paper until I could save up to buy some real henna, so for me at least, I have always only imagined my drawings in black and white.

 "Red" in progress.

"Red" in progress.

Well, it might be more accurate to say I only see my works in terms of opaque (positive) space and blank (negative) space, and color is kind of like a semi-transparent space to me. Color attracts our eyes like blank space does, but I have to actively put it down like I do for opaque space. We don't really look at black, opaque lines, we look at the blank spaces they sculpt on the paper. But colors can't shape blank areas the same as black lines do because color gets seen. Not only that, but black lines will push our eyes to notice the color areas too in a way that blank white areas can't. I think of it in terms of color cones in the eyes being stimulated. White (aka a reflection of all light wavelengths) stimulates the most and black (aka an absorption of all light wavelengths with Vantablack at the absolute bottom) stimulates none. Color stimulates in between there.

But there's a lot of super lovely colored inks out there, so I've been trying to understand color more to try and be able to add it to what I do. This is part of what led me to my most recent completed drawing, "Red." I created the drawing in black and grey, trying to imagine filling in color in the central birds later. I have a lot of different ink colors available to me right now, but what I really didn't want to have happen is to put in a color that wouldn't do anything for the drawing that black couldn't do. I also didn't want to put in color that would change the "direction" of the drawing or of course the feeling it represents as well. So what color to choose?

 The background bird in "Red."

The background bird in "Red."

Humans have three different photoreceptor cones to see red, blue, and green wavelengths. The red and green cones are clustered in our most sensitive spot, the macula, and blue cones are around the edge. Over 60% of our cones are red, only about 30% are green, and less than 10% are blue. It ends up that we're fairly sensitive to blue despite having so few cones and their location, and in general it seems America's favorite colors are blues and greens, but I think probably because of how many cones we have for it, red really ends up demanding attention.

Red pushes out other colors in a way that blue and green cannot, no matter how vivid. Blue and green make great background colors, but red is only second to white in grabbing our attention. Culturally, red carries a lot of meaning as well. To most of the world red is an auspicious color, a lucky color. Red is vivacious, red is confident, red is passionate.

 The top of the main bird in "Red."

The top of the main bird in "Red."

So for this picture, with one bird flying proud and the other falling to the ground behind it all against a backdrop of a moon, two clouds, and a rumbling black sky, red came out the winner. I think the other colors I have right now, sapphire blue, teal greens, yellows, and purples, would all have struggled to get noticed in the way that red easily achieves. They also might've made the scene more romantic or sad when it's more about moving confidently beyond past failure. 

For the birds outlines and black pieces I used Sailor Kiwa-Guro black ink, but for the background I used J. Herbin Stormy Grey and J. Herbin Rouge Hematite. Both of the J. Herbin's have gold sparkles when tilted in the right light as you can see in many of these images. Their colors come out very strong and don't have any trouble with feathering or bleed-through on my Borden & Riley paper.

 "Red" in full.

"Red" in full.

Part of the other reason why I prefer not using color is because I think of color as "helpers." They help sort through the chaos that I create and give other brains a leg up in understanding what's going on in the picture. I like the cold silence. When every line is the same color, the background isn't a repeating pattern, and large areas of negative space are hard to come by then our eyes have a hard time sorting out where everything goes and making sense of all the lines let alone any meaning that the picture might have. I like making people struggle. But I also realize that even with "helpers" people who are new to my style especially still have a hard time seeing what's going on, so I figure it's not so bad to let up a little bit here and there.

I had almost entirely sworn off of using color in my art, but I think I'm finally starting to understand how to use it effectively. We'll see though. What do you think? How do you approach color?

Materials:
"Red" was drawn on Borden & Riley Paris Paper for Pens. It is 14x17in. I used a Lamy Safari F with Sailor Kiwaguro for the black lines on the birds, J. Herbin Stormy Grey for the background, and J. Herbin Rouge Hematite for the red on the birds which was applied using a Pilot Metropolitan (F). J Herbin inks show up on Borden & Riley paper closer to the colors that they do on Rhodia than on Tomoe River, but they still look great. Gold shimmer is clearly present with these two inks and there was only one spot of almost bleed-through and extremely minimal feathering (and zero fibers stuck in my nibs!). Crushed copper on dyed purple Indian cotton acid-free paper background.