What colour is so awe-inspiring, so out-of-this-world that it elevates viewers to new heights of wonderment? The quest for the sublime colour is as old as pigment and likely older still. Imagine the first humans to witness a majestic sunrise. They'd have had a transcendental experience, in that sublime colours open a window into a realm of grandeur beyond mere human experience. Imagine the first artists experimenting with dyes like alchemists in search of the Philosopher's Stone, driven to discover the secret of sublime colour and to possess the power to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.
Sublime colours are commonly described as being:
Ultraviolet and deep indigo are often called sublime, and black more so. Colour expert Benjamin Jan Kouwer notes that Western culture once hailed yellow as a sublime colour with a favorable symbolic meaning (Colors and Their Character, 1949). Colour mixers usually discover sublime beauty by accident, but art teacher Gabriel Boray suggests that artists can hone their sense of the sublime through careful practice.
Boray developed a system for sublime colour mixing. Through his system, colourists learn to feel when a colour is "singing." Boray instructs the colourist to begin with two complementary colours of the same temperature (such as a warm yellow and a warm ultramarine). "Mix 5 variations between them, from yellow-green to blue-green, paying careful attention to separating them enough to be recognized as a unique variation." By adding a tiny amount of blue into the yellow, then a bit more, and more again, each variation will be distinct. "After you have 5 clear color variations between those two, create one in between each (there may be many more than one), until you have 10 variations. Now look at those colors. Are they clean and unique? They should be singing. If they aren't singing, you are to immediately find the correct light to see the variations properly, or rush outside, close your eyes, and take 10 deep breaths while telling yourself you are a master of color! If the colors exist—and an infinite amount of colors exist—then you can identify them."
Boray assures that "When you open your eyes you will see nature as you may never have before. Return to your exercise, choose two more colors and continue. Combine as many pairs of colors, creating 5, then 10, or more variations. Gradually you will begin to feel the changes in your blood. Go outside again and look at something in nature. Make a ring with your thumb and forefinger and look as if through a magnifying glass. See the infinite variations. The same colors you see are available to you for painting. There is no barrier between your mind and your brush."
Some sublime colour inspiration from the COLOURlovers library:
Some sublime palettes from the COLOURlovers library:
Cover by Raf Artista.
About the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow