My Study in Scarlet

I love it when things converge around me. Call it coincidence, call it synchronicity, call it whatever you like. A good friend of mine used to say “The cosmos is revolving,” in such moments, and I rather like that thought.

I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes, Study in Scarlet. So I did a double-take when I opened the latest issue of Artist magazine and found A Study in Scarlet. The sub-title of the article tells us that “This passionate color ignites the imagination.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of red as an imaginative color, and it’s not a hue I use often in my artwork. I tend to think that a little red would go a long way, and I’m inclined to agree with Henri Matisse that “A thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful.”

Among the interesting tidbits of information given in the article is this:

“In the Middle Ages, vermilion was the red pigment of choice for painters. Fast forward to the early 20th century, and the vivid synthetic pigment cadmium red became the standard red of Henri Matisse and other Western artists.”

Now, you know how I am with reading — how I like to get hands on and up close to whatever I’m reading about — and I just happened to have vermilion in my palette. No cadmium red, but I do have alizarin. 

So for my morning brushstroke practice, I created my own Study in Scarlet using both red hues. It was interesting to really see the differences between the two.

Study in Scarlet
I see an ancient statue — a man pondering the mysteries of life.

After playing around with colors and a couple of brushes, I stepped back to see what I’d created. To me, it’s a statue of an old man contemplating the mysteries of life. I can clearly make out the eye, the nose, and I think that’s a long red beard.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s nothing more than a jumble of vermilion and alizarin brushed onto a pale violet background. No matter what it is, it was a fun practice. I enjoyed making this.  It would be fun to do similar studies using different blues, different yellows, or different greens.

And don’t be surprised if I find places to dab in a bit of vermilion or alizarin in my landscape paintings. Hmmm… guess I’ll have to keep working on perspective so I can paint a few old red barns.

Red is a fun color to work with. Although my art isn’t usually bold and bright, I liked squeezing out these vivid colors and seeing how they looked on my canvas. I’ll probably add cadmium red the next time I go paint-shopping. I might look at other reds, too.

Excuse me now, please. I think I’ll go sit for a spell and ponder a few mysteries of life, too, like the fact that as I look again at my scarlet study, I see a circus clown. Yep, I see his hat, his hair, or… well, you know, maybe red is more imaginative than I thought!



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