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can quiet the eyes


For professional painters — who make a living by making and selling art objects, this is a reality check on color palettes. People who buy paintings have been on the highlight tour of “Human Quest for Brighter Colors” for about 100 years and artists have been right there with them, responding with intensely color full paintings.  I hope times may be changing so my eyes will get some relief.


Most artists select their basic palette of a dozen or so colors because those colors enhance their ability to bring their visions to life.  But a dozen or so colors cannot define a career even though I have heard painters brag about making their paintings with only four colors.  I prefer a more dynamic, expansive access to color space.  Regardless, all painters need to review their color choices.  Think of it like clean up - nobody wants to do it.  Also I think visual artists need to appreciate their dealers and customers when you hear they are looking for a bit of novelty every few years.  Adding a bit of new color is way to achieve novelty without changing the palette or even worse, changing painting mediums.  Where to find color novelty?  


Since the 80s I have turned to the interior design and fashion industries to see hue preferences at least once a year.  New trendy colors seem to spark the remodeling urge or the desire to buy a statement piece like a sofa. Next come the clothes in colors that make people look terrific on their new sofa. From their new vantage point, they imagine art objects and paintings that tie design, personal style, fashion and fine art together.


Steadily through the 20th century, colorants - pigments and dyes, were made more intense with fewer impurities. Color has spiraled into the single most important element in painting and buying paintings.  With names like hansa, azo, phthalo and quinacridone, these modern pigments create intense colors with excellent transparency.  When used in tints, modern colors have excellent lightfastness.  Plus modern colorants make artists’ materials significantly less expensive. 

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 Since the turn of the 21st century, visual artists and designers have used brightness and color intensity to push the limits of the human visual spectrum with high frequency colors on the edge of ultra violet into the blue hue and luminescent colors.  


After seeing new palettes of colors from Milan Fashion Week may be times are changing. The glitter, the sheen and shine on fabrics still sparkle away but the intensely bright fabric colors underneath have receded toward a more natural, earthy palette with a few high key highlights. There is a calmness associated with more muted palettes, offering a respite from the frenzy of American culture and politics.   


19th century Impressionism was a reaction to the darkness of the Industrial Revolution which turned the English Lake Country into a slag heap of contaminated metal scraps and toxic waste.  While the Industrial Revolution polluted soil and water, the 21st digital revolution is polluting our senses, especially our eyes which are being stressed by too many color frequencies moving too fast. The intensity of digital color frequencies is exhausting. 


At some level of intensity, human eyes will not be able to keep cool. Because we need some relief, maybe a new art movement is emerging as a reaction to the excessive brightness of the digital revolution.  Or it’s just time for oil painting to come back?  No other media really looks fantastic in muted tones and earth colors!  Glazing!  No other media captures light and causes it to glow inside paint layers.


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To decrease brightness:


Color + black  = shade 

Color + black and white = tone


To increase brightness:

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Color + white = tint.