The other night as I stood outside on the porch and looked upward, I thought of color. Usually we think of the night sky in deep tones… midnight blue, navy blue, ultramarine, with perhaps some velvet black thrown in. But gazing upward I saw the silver pinpricks of stars, and a trace of misty white as clouds floated across a finger clipping of pale moon. And, yes, there was a plane returning from some faraway destination, its lights blinking red.
The English language can be frustrating, contradictory and often peculiar, but it really is a wonderful one in which to describe color. There are so many ways to define any hue—red never has to stay a prosaic red but can morph into scarlet or crimson or ruby or magenta or even, if so inclined, go pink. Green, on the other side of the spectrum, can slide into emerald or lime or fern green, forest green, jade green, hooker’s green, shamrock green, teal, or olive. And so it goes.
Just as an artist uses brush and paint to find the exact color wanted, writers use words to get the same effect, and indeed poets would be at a loss without it. Sylvia Plath’s “Sheep in Fog” and Robert Browning’s “Meeting at Night” rely on color to create image-filled verse. And those are only a few. I vividly recall Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and Basho’s simple but very powerful haiku:
Slender, so slender
Its stalk bends under dew…
Little yellow flower.
Describing color can be a challenge, too. Take a misty morning like the one that enveloped us at Emerald Isle yesterday. As I walked on the beach, mist hung about sand and ocean giving everything an effect of translucent gray. But amidst the gray there were variations. The breakers cresting near shore were pale, almost silver. A flock of pelicans, flying low, were gunmetal gray shadows, and a lone fisherman was an ash gray silhouette. Sand, always contrary, obstinately clung to beige tones.
After the subtle shades or gray, I returned with some relief to my work in progress, a study of three trees, one of them cut down with a new green shoot to symbolize rebirth. I have collaged the two standing trees in bold colors which probably would never appear on a tree in nature. Yet the colors have blended, strongly suggesting the vigor of the Life Force.
Collages are fascinating things, and the process usually takes me days and many snippets of fabric. There is always that moment when I find the perfect bit of fabric and also when nothing seems to fit. But eventually, the work is done.
Whether we work with brush or with words or camera or simply enjoy the natural world around us, I believe we all, in our own way, are artists. We enjoy the bold or subtle colorations of that world— and we all look up with wonder at the night sky.
Can you taste moonlight?
Does warm sun shimmer on leaves?
Magic surrounds us!