Painter melds science and art at Sunbury Shores

(Robert Fisher photo) Painter Maggie Rose uses one of her students’ paintings to illustrate a point to the rest of the class during her colour theory workshop at Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre in Saint Andrews.

SAINT ANDREWS – Toronto-based painter Maggie Rose held a week-long workshop in colour theory at Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre recently.

“Colour is such a chameleon,” said Rose, adding many artists find it difficult to work with. She said many are fine with value (lightness or darkness) but struggle with colour and, in particular, mixing colour.

She said there are four main attributes of colour: hue, value, temperature and chroma. She said chroma (the purity of a colour) and temperature (the perception of warmth or coolness of a colour) are the two people often struggle with most.

Temperature, in particular, can set a very good painting apart from an average one.

“When you start looking at the real master painters and how much they’re using something as simple as cool and warm to really take their painting” to a higher level, it can be transcendent in terms of an artist’s development.

The difficulty, she says, can be because the painter is dealing with a more limited palette than nature. The whitest white paint, titanium white, and the blackest black paint are nowhere near as bright or dark as what is available in nature.

“So, we’re constantly transposing.”

The differences, Rose explained, between a mediocre painting and a good or very good one are subtle. She said it’s often many small things rather than one or two big things that separate the top artists. Something as simple as an apple can make a difference.

“I don’t believe it’s the same granny green apple in the shadow as it is in the light, so those are the kind of things we really go after and that really make a huge difference.”

A lot of what Rose covers in her colour theory course is based on science and it introduces a lot of artists to the scientific aspects of art.

“Understanding how light works and the fact that light travels in a straight line is a gift to the artist,” she said, adding knowing that light bounces off surfaces and can take on the colour of the surface it bounces off of is important for the painter to know how light works.

Knowing that something further from a light source or turned away from a light source will be darker means “suddenly I’ve turned to plane, I’ve started to make something more 3D.”

Rose says there’s a lot of science in art and the two work together well. Geometry in composition is an example she cited, as is the ability to see colour and tone and be able to understand how to mix colours properly.

“We’ve come so far that colour and modern art and what people are doing with that, it’s to be respected. It’s as much of a science as an art, a literature, a narrative as any of the sciences.”

The students react

Maureen Bilerman from Fredericton is taking the course for the second time.

“There are some people who take it three and four times,” she said, because there’s so much information to try and take in.

“There is a lot of knowledge in it that she brings it in such an incredible way,” said Gisela Lindlau of Saint Andrews. “It’s not just a theory, it’s the denseness of the information that she gives you.”

“I wish I’d known it 40 years ago,” said Alexis Christmas, who came from Fredericton for the workshop.

Bilerman sees a difference in herself today from when she took the course three years ago.

“What I learned three years ago I applied, and it was interesting to come back this time and not feel like a beginner,” she said. “But I needed to come back to remember things I had forgotten.”

Christmas brings her own scientific background with a university degree in sciences and a career as a high school chemistry teacher, having always wanted to be a painter.

“So her instruction was very useful.”

Lindlau says some of the most important instruction came from listening to what she was telling other students one-on-one during the workshop.

“You listen to what she says to someone else in a private discussion and, ‘yeah, okay, that applies to me to,’ so that’s great.”

Christmas says her biggest takeaway is patience.

“I’ve got to more carefully set out my palette and mix my colours instead of slapping paint around,” noted Christmas.

Being more open and free is what Bilerman will take back to her own studio.

“The message I get coming here is just to play more and not to be so precious and so uptight. The garbage can is your best friend.”

The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation sponsored Rose’s workshop.

Robert Fisher

Fisher is a writer/author, photographer and filmmaker. Itinerant observer of life. His dog, Lincoln, is a travel companion and has been coast-to-coast with him four times.