Vincent’s Thoughts on Colour

Hello friends,

I can’t believe it is February already!  This morning I was doing some more reading in a couple of books I have about Vincent van Gogh.  I found his letter #252 from The Hague, dated Monday, July 31, 1882, to his brother Theo very interesting.  In a great part of it he is relating his findings about color theory!  He enclosed this drawing he did which was called “Pollard Willow” and evidently was done in watercolors.


And here are Vincent’s thoughts on color theory!  I hope you enjoy them!

“As regards black in nature, we are of course in complete agreement, as I understand it.  Absolutely black doesn’t in fact occur.  Like white, however, it’s present in almost every colour and forms the endless variety of greys – distinct in tone and strength.  So that in nature one in fact sees nothing but these tones or strength.

The 3 fundamental colours are red, yellow, blue, the 3 composite colours are orange, green, purple.  From these are obtained the endless variations of grey by adding black and some white – red-grey, yellow-grey, blue-grey, green-grey, orange-grey, violet-grey.

It’s impossible to say how many different green-greys there are for example – the variation is infinite.

But the whole chemistry of colours is no more complicated than those simple few fundamentals.  And a good understanding of them is worth more than 70 different shades of paint – given that more than 70 tones and strengths can be made with the 3 primary colours and white and black.  The colourist is he who on seeing a colour in nature is able to analyze coolly and say, for example, that green-grey is yellow with black and almost no blue, etc.  In short, knowing how to make up the greys of nature on the palette.”

“I also have nothing against making watercolours – but they’re founded on drawing first, and then from the drawing springs not only the watercolour but all kinds of other shoots that will develop in due course in me as in anyone else working with love.”

Then referring back to the Pollard Willow drawing above, he says:

“Where the black is darkest in this little sketch is where the greatest strengths are in the watercolour – dark green, brown, and dark grey.”

I thought this was a great reminder that color mixing can be fun!  I enjoy it.  I don’t always consciously think about how what I mix will turn out, but I am forever learning.  Sometimes I get impatient looking through my box of watercolors for the color or shade I want at the moment.  Perhaps it is time to go back to the basics of color mixing and re-learn some things afresh!  Especially mixing for blacks!  I am finding I don’t really care for using blacks straight out of the tube anymore.

Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug!  🙂


About whitefeatherfloating

When I began this blog I was simply going to share my writing. However, after being part of the blogging world for quite some time now, I decided to begin sharing my artwork. Patsy's Creative Corner will always have my artwork. Thanks for visiting! :)

Posted on February 1, 2017, in Art Talk and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It’s a great thing that you’re “forever learning” Patsy! Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

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