Paint it RED
Red attracts the eye. Red says danger, stop, warning! Red is fire and blood. Red speaks passion: it is the colour of anger, the colour of the Valentine rose of love, and the colour of the poppy of Remembrance.
What does this mean for us as artists? Anecdotal evidence from gallery owners and art auctioneers says a splash of red can help to sell a painting. Alan Aldridge of Kiwi Arthouse in Wellington says a little red in a painting can draw attention to the work.
So, how can we use red in watercolour paintings? What pigment is right for what place? How much? Where? Three artists offer their views.
"Wellington Tugs" by Alfred Memelink
As one of the important trio of primary colours, red features as a vital focal point in many water-colourists’ paintings. Arguably the most vibrant of the primaries, red quickly catches the viewer’s eye and can contrast sharply with other muted mid-tones of the image.
Here, in a recent watercolour, I have used the bright red dinghy, pointing inwards, to direct you onto the larger launch – which, in turn, carries your eye right into the overall scene. The dinghy’s placement, as well as its colour, is also crucial to the picture’s overall composition.
Cohesion in colour is also used here – with red blending well with the complementary soft greens in the hills and water reflections. Placed next to each other, complementary colours can create strong contrasts as well as reinforcing each other.
You will see many examples of paintings that demonstrate how the primary red becomes a powerful tool in an artist’s kit when used quite sparingly and thoughtfully placed. Before we leave this subject of primary colours, I recall once seeing a reproduction of a John Yardley watercolour where his creation of a young lady in a bright yellow frock was set amid a back-drop of predominantly muted grey/blue buildings.
The painter’s placement and use of this particular primary was startlingly effective indeed!
"Anchor in the Sounds" by Devon Huston
There is an adage that every painting needs a little red. There is a large amount of cadmium red in this painting.
Red is always connected with activity; it can stand for passion, fire, animation and anger depending on the
context. Cadmium red is one of the warm reds but it also happens to have the strongest intensity on the palette. Any warm colour, particularly red, comes forward and makes the viewer easily engage with the action and subject. Cool colours like blue appear to recede. Alizarin Crimson, with a touch of blue in its make up is a cool red and therefore recedes compared to cadmium red.
Colours are received by our eyes in wavelengths which stimulate colour receptors (cones) and tonal receptors (rods).
The reason for this phenomenon is our eyes work hardest to focus on red so it is more stimulating.
Blue is the only colour detected by both cones and rods and it scatters more easily than longer wavelengths (like reds and yellows) and so is seen in places where other colours are not. This is particularly noticeable in shadows as long wavelengths such as yellows and reds are absorbed and are not reflected back to us; and in the distance making warm colours appear cooler because we are viewing these colours through multiple layers of scattered blue light. Adding blue to red makes a red object browner, thus pushing it back into the middle distance whilst saturated red gives a strong sense of nearness and energy in a painting.
"Entrepreneur Baking (Dee)" by Jacky Pearson
We probably have all heard of the theory about adding a dash of red to a painting, presumably to give it a little extra zing. I recently completed a road trip around the North Island in late autumn and was gobsmacked at the amount of red drenching the landscape, especially the deciduous trees.
Apparently because of the lack of wind, the trees were complete with their leaves and ablaze with colour in the lowering sun. But also the walls of hanging cotoneaster along nearly the whole of the Western Lake Road, walls of red. Also the rocks of the northern bays were red – flashing with gold, not dull brown.
I arrived home thinking that maybe red is awash under all our strong colours: greens, blues and yellows. I am going to experiment with an underwash of startling red over the whole painting in future, forget the tentative little dash.