In Praise of Red

Everything about our holiday season was late this year. Including this post. It took me until the day after Christmas to dive into a color with which I am not too comfortable… red.

Deciduous holly berries are the only brightness
in my December garden.

Red is one of those colors in nature that works like an exclamation point. In my yard, outrageously colored holly berries (from a deciduous shrub) are the only bright spot in a garden of muted browns. Red male cardinals fight with grey squirrels for the seed I have set out.

I don’t wear red. Perhaps this is an indication of my personality. I’m really a blue-green person. I grew up in a state where red was a political statement, And yes, this was before the 2000 election and the beginning of categorizing states as red or blue.

But today I plunged ahead with red.

A transitional orange stage…

I have been working on a print of two sassafras leaves. The second leaf is now in process, with some bright green peeking out from behind an orange. But really, the orange is just a transitional color to get to…

An intense red layer awaits deepening
with purple.

RED! Right now this red looks very intense. But it is just a bright base as I work toward the rich reddish purple of some sycamore leaves in the fall.

Artists have a long and complicated history with red pigments. Some of the oldest art found in caves in Europe used the red ochre and iron oxide found in the surrounding exposed hillsides. Discovery of the tiny cochineal, a parasite that lives on cactuses, dramatically changed the hues available to artists. Sadly, when mixed to create paints called “lakes” these reds had a tendency to brown over time.

Quinacridone relief from Gamblin won’t turn brown as it ages.

Mercifully science intervened with the addition of cadmium in the 19th & 20th centuries. Reds became more stable — less fugitive. Matisse was one of the first to use cadmium in his work. But this compound came with its own problems, namely toxicity. Artists are urged to use a barrier cream to prevent their skin from absorbing the cadmium. Concern about water and food supply contamination has led Sweden to ask that cadmium be banned within the European Union. This issue is under consideration, with comments accepted until February, 2015.

Thankfully, I’m not as concerned about toxicity and fading in my studio. My red was created with Gamblin’s Quinacridone Red Relief Ink. Quinacridone is an organic compound that is often used in outdoor paints and automotive finishes. I can’t imagine driving a car this intense, but I’m grateful for the punch this color is giving my print.
Stay tuned for the next few layers (probably only two) to see the completion of this print!

Merry, merry wishes for some warm, punctuating color in your life this season.



4 Replies to “In Praise of Red”

  1. If you are reading an early version of this post…I said this was a sycamore leaf. Clearly my typing has been affected by too much holiday grog. It is a sassafras leaf — completely different.

  2. This is great, Elizabeth! I think the leaf looks amazing right now, and what a wonderful way to expand your comfort zone. I think a little red is good for the soul!

  3. This burst of color arrived in a text before a hard day of grey travel, at best, home to Indiana from South Dakota,and was most appreciated! Arriving home, and getting this history lesson on the history of red (beyond the vegan cochineal controversy at Starbucks) was an added bonus. I cannot wait to see the finished product…. MKP

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