Mindfulness and colours

The more I do art, the more the world becomes a giant palette. From billboards and trees, to skies and fruit, colour ideas are everywhere and they are as useful for writers as they are for artists.

As I got ready for the school run the other morning, I glimpsed in the mirror ‘burnt orange’ fabrics against the cold of an aquamarine wall. (Or ‘arsenic’, as the Farrow & Ball paint company calls that aquamarine!)


Colours have character and mood. Marketing sites will have reams of thoughts on the influence of colour! But also, our perceptions of a single colour’s mood might change depending on our own mood in that moment. In a low moment or context deep blue might feel gloomy, in a positive moment or context it might feel serene? (And while one person might associate violet or magenta with their cosy bedspread, for another the same tones might be the dreaded reminders of an ex’s sweater!)

Either way, colours form relationships with one another – complementing, enhancing, clashing. The interplay of aquamarine and orange puzzles my senses daily. Our curtains – warm and positive – rebel boisterously against the cool wall hue that was painted before we moved in. Meanwhile this aquamarine, an undecided colour, teeters between peaceful and brisk. For me the complementary combination both satisfies and agitates the eye. It is calming and jarring all at once. But it interests me, and in pale morning light the addition of a tangerine shirt jumped out like a composition.

Getting ready each day can be both a calming and jarring ritual. It can be a time of satisfying preparation and agitating anticipation. I haven’t done a self-portrait for years but the hues framed that morning moment.

So I painted the image later that day, trialling out ‘oil paint’ on the iPad’s Procreate app. At first it felt stark as the two colours battled one another, so I threw in an imaginary vase of greenery to take the edge off.  The window seemed to gape like an empty stage, so I added Frieda our cat – always a sentinel on the sill. 🙂


The more I draw, the more I see colours when I am out and about. One art book I read suggested making colour swatches, so I have started to do this.

We have a little tree in our garden. Yesterday, at the kitchen sink, I noticed its leaves shining in wintry light against brooding, inky skies. I jotted the colour combo down in a notebook, alongside ‘arsenic’ and burnt orange. I keep on adding to the list.

You can collect combinations from anywhere and transfer them into unrelated images. Next time I might use this aquamarine and orange in a picture of seascapes or mountains, flowers or outfits.

If you want to make a colour swatch, here are some ideas of where to spot combinations you can use for any composition:

  • Nature
    – Shades of wood against greens (dark leaves or bright moss) could become the basis for a character’s outfit.
    – Blue skies against clouds (stormy greys or sunset pinks) could set the tone for a picture of an alien planet, a living room or a bike.
    – Think of the wonderful pastel colours in rock pools.
  • Decor and clothes
    – Note colours on people’s rugs and walls. Could you recreate such a room in art or use the colours for made-up animals?
    – What colours do people combine in their outfits? A red necklace on a blue dress? A lime jumper with an orange scarf? These hues could dress passersby in your pictures. Or would these colours stand out well on the umbrellas of a rainy street, or the parasols of a tropical beach?
  • Advertising
    – What colours please the eye on leaflets and posters?

The list goes on. But I find that the more I draw and paint, the more I notice colours and want to make something with them. I am becoming more mindful of my surroundings, which adds quality to the day.

The trees and painted houses I used to stride past on the school run now brim with suggestions. Tree trunks are not entirely brown – they are brown and purple and yellow and green and more. Some days the red house on the corner dazzles like a tomato against blue skies, on others it glows like embers against moody rainclouds. As the sun rises and falls, and clouds pass over, the tones change every hour of the day. Just like our moods.

We need only remember to stop and look about. Really look. Each day is a rich tapestry of colours, furnishing our world, telling stories. And these colours are the free materials for our imagination!






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