Let Them Eat Paint: Guest Blog from Artist Susan Tompkins

One of my best friends is a wonderful mixed-media artist from Burbank, California. Even though our techniques and tools for making art are about as different as you can get, we both enjoy one thing: using color to make beautiful art. I'm always finding new inspirations for using color in my beading patterns from her artwork. Today, Susan has shared a wonderful blog about color, how she uses it in her own artwork, and suggests some places where you can find ideas for new ways to use color.

Little Boy by Susan Tompkins

I love color. The brighter the better. My eyes feast on it. Anyone who looks at my art for the first time remarks on the vivid, bright colors I use. I'm a little color obsessed, if you couldn't tell.

Growing up I loved Henri Matisse. If you look at his work in chronological order you see an evolution from Impressionism to his bold colored cut-outs which surrender entirely to just color and form. There's a great freedom in leaving depth, weight and proportion completely behind.Around 1900 in France there was an art movement characterized by bold colors called Fauvism, which means "the wild beasts".  I was born in the wrong time period, so I'm a little out of synch with those guys, but I can relate to their style and understand their color obsession.

If the Fauves were born in the1970s they would have been tasting their Play Doh and finger paints as kids — just like I did. I've heard stories about Van Gogh eating his paint and drinking turpentine. Of course, his being in an asylum at the time may have had a little to do with it, but I can relate to that compulsion. (In a more figurative way, of course, so don't call the Poison Control Center yet.)

Another artist I've been influenced by is Mark Rothko. I was fortunate to catch a retrospective of his work in Washington D.C. in the late 90s in the National Gallery. I sort of stumbled into it by mistake while I was going to see another exhibit. I had seen his art here and there, but it never really struck me until that moment. Looking at his art, I experienced color in an entirely new way. By the time I was in the third room of the exhibit I was in tears. It was all so beautiful! Seeing color on that scale was spiritually absorbing and uplifting. The dissolve at the edges of the paintings was like sugar from powdered candy dissolving on my tongue, sweet and satisfying. I've had a love for Rothko since then.

There are many artists who I've fallen in love with throughout my life because of their use of color. If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with some of these artists I suggest you look them up to see what I mean. Marc Chagall has wonderful, whimsical floating figures emerging from bright blue, reds, yellows and greens. I also enjoy the paintings of Harlem Renaissance artists William H Johnson and Jacob Lawrence. Both seem to use paint straight from the tube, bright and bold. Their use of color gives their paintings a sense of music and intense energy.

Dream by Susan Tompkins

And there are still many others! Who can resist blue trees, purple ocean waves, and skin tones of ocre and iron oxide of Paul Gauguin? Joan Miro's round surrealist figures are superb, like bright crayons out of the box. I also adore the color use in the early works of Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg. They both have a wonderful ability to show paint for what it is in big, drippy, delicious gobs of color.

Color can change the meaning of your work no matter what your art form is. The intention of a sculpture can alter greatly if it is painted versus left untouched. The color an architect chooses for a building can mean the difference between a building that is merely impressive, or one that is legendary.  The description of the color of an object in a novel can intensify the mood of a scene. The color of the jewelry you wear can alter your entire outfit, and the color of the jewelry itself can alter the mood of the piece.

I really feel that it is important for artists to experiment and play with color, no matter what their medium. Each artist should find their own niche and preferences for using color. Some artists work just in black and white because it best conveys the intended meaning of their work. For me, bright color happens to be my personal comfort zone.

Sometimes I wonder if my color obsession needs to be curbed. Maybe I ought to turn down the voltage? Maybe it has become an addiction? It is something I have grown into as an artist that has become my trademark. I drink it in. Color gives me too much joy to give it up. Hopefully after reading this, now you will look at color a little differently as well and go out and experiment with something bold!

Are you looking to stretch your creative wings a bit and try something new? Check out Artist Daily's free eBook, Mixed Media Painting Techniques: Combine Media to Create Inspired Mixed Media Art. You'll learn how to combine art media like water colors, pastels, and acrylic paints along with techniques like layering paper to create texture and effects.

Susan Tompkins is a Burbank-based mixed media artist. Her work can be found in the collections of celebrities and art enthusiasts around the country. Check out her blog, Pintura Pacifica, and her Etsy shop to find out more about her, her favorite artists, and how to love your art!

Bead Happy,


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