The Right Color and the Almost Right Color

Mark Twain once wrote that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

This week I had an artist’s equivalent dilemma.

Working on a new painting, I had come to a place where much of it was pleasing to me, but for one remaining large section I knew just the color I wanted.  You’d laugh to see the number of tubes of paint I have in every color of the rainbow.  And I laughed at myself, too.

How, out of all those tubes of paint, could I not have – or mix – the color I wanted?

But paint colors, like words, are specific.  The chemistry of paint is a fascinating subject and variations among different manufacturers are equally fascinating.

I often experiment with the paintings and try out combinations that work or don’t, that please me or don’t and then get busy layering on something different until I’m satisfied and stop.

In this case, however, there was no experimenting to be done.  In my mind’s eye, I knew exactly the color I wanted and why – how it would balance the rest of the work and why I could not just mix up a batch of the “almost right color.”

The particular color I had in mind is Golden’s Azurite Hue, which has some magical quality that a paint chemist could explain.  I’m not that paint chemist.   I use this color often, sometimes full-strength, but in this case I wanted it as a glaze over underpainting that I didn’t want to cover.  And the tube had run dry.

So, I put aside all ideas of mixing and took myself to my favorite art supply store, Artist’s and Craftsman in San Diego, to pick up a new tube of Azurite Hue.

The almost right word is never as satisfying – or as accurate – as the right word.  And neither is the almost right paint color.

Here’s the finished, so far untitled, piece with two coats of Azurite Hue glaze on the left.  Once in a while the mind’s eye and reality match up rather nicely.

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