I walk in the studio wearing jeans with holes and paint stains, my fingernails dirtied from charcoal. In this building, no one notices, but on campus others must think I can’t afford soap. I hang my coat on a hook I installed myself and get to work.
My tubes of paint fill a yellow bucket in no specific order. They are in the same place, but not organized. I have two tubes of ultramarine blue, both opened. Both in use simultaneously. Why would I not finish one first?
I dab quinacridone violet on my palette. Its label reads “Permanent Rose,” but this can sometimes be a trick. We must have only pure pigments in our arsenal of color, only quinacridone violet and cadmium red medium for our choice of reds. The warning on the tube reminds me: This product contains cadmium, a chemical known in the state of California to cause cancer by means of inhalation. I must be lucky to be a Midwesterner then, I think.
Or I hope. What will the Midwest offer my artistic career? Unemployment? Dissatisfaction? There are two whites on my palette- zinc and titanium. Both are white, but produce different results. Zinc produces beautiful, vibrant tints, while titanium is chalky, clouded.
Lemon yellow sits next to viridian hue on the palette, without exception. You need only this one green, viridian, and a warm and cool version of the primaries to mix any color imaginable. It’s formulaic, always these ten colors on my palette, always ten colors in the same order. Yet at the store there are dozens of color varieties on sale. Why produce them then, if they are superfluous in their purpose? We have a formula for color.
Cerulean blue is pure, clean. They are out of it at the store, so I rebel. I buy cerulean blue hue. I am sure this little stunt double will be left unnoticed. Ivory black flanks my blue, but we are urged to use it sparingly. Black, ominous and powerful, stains a painting too easily. A student favoring black errs, does not understand the formula. When did Rembrandt reject the formula?
A warning label adorns Cadmium Yellow Medium as well: This product contains cadmium, a chemical known in the state of California to cause cancer by means of inhalation. All ten pigments come with MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheets. Most are mildly toxic.
I begin mixing colors with my stunt double blue, with no luck. The formula is broken, my colors muddied by the culprit. Cerulean blue hue is packed with fillers that ruin the tinting strength and purity of the pigment. My palette contains a criminal. Where is the warning label on this color?
Nine colors and a phony live on my palette. Evidence that a career thriving on innovation and creativity remains slave to a formula. The other colors at the store are traps, tests to see who is loyal to the formula, insiders to the art world. They lure the naïve amateur in with their lust of vibrancy and unique colors. They think, “Ah! The perfect purple for my…” Artists know that no object is a single color. Even a red ball has many hues if rendered accurately.
They know the formula. They have ten colors on their palettes. They have listened to the ways of professors and masters. They followed the rules. But at some point, they will be left behind. Innovation must ignore the formula already made. I never wipe my palette clear. I rebel. I paint with cerulean blue hue.