If all colors were mixed together the result should be black, but it doesn't work that way, all colors mixed together make brown. When all colors in light are put together the result is white. Again, in light, when all colors are removed the result is black, you are in the dark. Pigment is the opposite of light because pigment is solid.
Basic brown in pigment (there is no brown light) is Umber. There is Raw Umber and Burnt Umber. Raw Umber is a cool brown, the peau de soie of all browns. Burnt Umber is Raw Umber actually burnt and it is a warm brown, and is like chocolate and looks eatable. These browns are used in underpainting: the first pigment applied to a canvas to draw or realize the image or the plot of a painting. Raw Umber is used as an underpainting by Dutch painters such as Vermeer, De Hooch, and Frans Hals. These paintings are cool and details are certain. Rembrandt used Burnt Umber and his paintings are warm and emotional with details generalized and exploding with highlights. The Belgian artist Rubens is also a good example of Burnt Umber underpainting. Think of Delacroix with his warm use of Burnt Umber. Think of Caravaggio as well.
I have used some sort of brown to begin even thinking of a painting. Drawing with brown ink gives off a particular glow when it dries on paper. Rembrandt's drawings in brown ink are the essence of his look. One sees the brown, then the details.
When Rembrandt's drawings are reproduced in black and white they have a used essence that doesn't look back. Vincent van Gogh draws with brown ink and the pen strokes become readable and their collection produces forms that are clear and masterful.
As a child I colored all black lines brown in my crayon book before I began filling in other colors. Crayon color books should be printed in brown. There was a shoe factory in my home town and it was called the Brown Shoe Factory. I thought this factory made only brown shoes. At that time, no one wore any black shoes except when dressed for formal occasions. Black shoes were only worn by members of an orchestra, sailors, and clergy. I didn't know the Brown Shoe Factory was named after Mr. and Mrs. Brown of St. Louis.
Raw Umber does not look eatable. It has a chalky after image and has its own personality, its own restrictions. It doesn't pour well, it likes to restrain its flow when thinned and used with a brush, and insists on its own terms when painted over, even painted over with Raw Umber itself. Its end results have a final look, insisting that it did what it did, and the artist has little to do with it. Warm Burnt Umber obeys better. It is softer. I prefer the holding back of Raw Umber, there is always a communication.
The squid possesses a powerful brown liquid which it exudes into water in order to to hide from predators. Amazingly enough, that liquid has been harnessed into a drawing ink. It has a dark leering tone that is unmistakable when one becomes familiar with it. Authentic squid ink is called sepia, the Italian word for squid. The actual liquid is difficult to come by because it is more simple to make this tone from dyes. No matter how much this liquid is purified, the original still smells of fish.
Sepia photographs are enchanting. These photographs are closer to dreams than the hard reality of black-and-white photographs. Sepia days and sepia nights. As a child I preferred to see in sepia. I enjoyed the dusty images, slightly blurred with the light too bright burning up the details. Sepia photographs pressed into off-white pages of an album. It was part of a ritual to bring out these photographs for a family gathering to look at. The adults put their hand to their mouth, look down, and hint a denial, that I should not believe what I saw. They were photographs and somehow depicted that which wasn't real. Sepia films were shown on Saturday afternoons. Sometimes a double feature. There were low-budget travel films and always cowboy adventures. I was left off at the movie theater while the adults did Saturday shopping. On Sunday they showed black-and-white films which seemed more real. On those Sundays I went to these films with my Dad and often got lost in these black-and-white plots.
Suddenly color films were presented on Sunday where reality became more pronounced and the word technicolor came forward. The color was too bright, the values wrong, and again I lost the plot of everything moving too fast. I longed for slower simple plotted sepia, not realizing I was being exposed to black and white as well as the full color of reality and growing up. No more sepia dreams.
I rented an apartment on Avenue B in New York. The top floor of a six-storey tenement building. It had a kitchen where one entered, then a second room with two windows, one with a fire escape. Then a small room on the other side of the kitchen where I could fit a single bed. Each room had interior windows that looked into the kitchen. That small room, with the bed, therefore had the kitchen light showing through the interior window. There were no light sources in this room.
There is a certain time in late August when streams become tinted a brownish-yellow, a diluted rich brown that allows the flow and energy of the water to become visible. In this water, everything takes on a new color. Colorless fish turn a mellow orange, twigs take on a haze of purple, and the fallen leaves turn to raw umber. All this color gives the eye an allowance to see the depth of the water and the water's actions. It's like listening to Brahms's chamber music. Brahms is brown with sounds made up of every color
"Of all things, brown!" Is what they all said after I had painted my room brown. Even at an earlier age when wax crayons were the joy of my life, I colored with brown by outlining all the black and white illustrations with brown. Finally there were no brown crayons in my color set. "Just use black, it's the same thing!" But black is not brown.
Umber, the peau de soie of brown, is an uncommon word pulled out from the heavy baggage of unused words. Amber is a word one would say openly and with ease. Anyone would say amber, perhaps because its a sort of jewel and a person's name. It is difficult using the word Umber in general conversation.
Using the word Umber I can go into all kinds of discussions. There is a Raw Umber and there is a Burnt Umber which are particular colors, one being warm and tinted with red, which is Burnt Umber, and Raw Umber is tinted with blue and or green.
Brown was always settling and had a quality like no other color. In my home town there was the Brown Shoe Factory which I thought only made brown shoes. At that time no man wore black shoes. Black was for members of an orchestra, sailors, and ministers. Leather is brown, and welcomes brown dye. Earth is brown. Brown can have a tint that goes warm and a tint that goes cool.
Brahms is brown filled with all colors.
Black is not brown, they are the darkest colors.
Brown is down. When all colors are mixed together the results should be black, but it isn't black, it's brown. As a child I colored all the black lines of my crayon color book brown before I began filling in the other colors. There was a shoe factory in my home town and it was called the Brown Shoe Factory. I thought that this factory made only brown shoes. No one wore black shoes except when dressed for an occasion. Black shoes were only worn by members of an orchestra, sailors, and clergy. I didn't know the Brown Shoe Factory was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Brown of St. Louis.
In pigment, basic brown is raw Umber. This color is made from earth originally from Umbria in Italy. This color can be heated and burnt into bricks and that color turns out to be burnt Umber, a red chocolate wet color. But it's Raw Umber I find necessary when painting.
There were movies printed in sepia in my childhood (and) they were shown on Saturdays when I went to a double feature. They were usually cowboy films. It was Sunday when the black-and-white films were presented and they seemed to be more truthful. My Dad went with me on Sundays and suddenly technicolor appeared on Sundays. A full color film. Reality went away again. Technicolor was forced and over registered and I lost my atmosphere of sepia and sepia dreams.
In New York, I rented an apartment on Avenue B. It was on the top floor of a six-storey tenement building and had a kitchen, where one entered, a second room the same size as the kitchen, with two windows looking out on a fire escape, then a small room on the other side of the kitchen which was a bedroom. This bedroom had a window in the wall through which one looked into the kitchen and, when lying down, the ceiling light. The kitchen was painted the typical off-white found in public housing, and the room with the windows and fire escape was painted a rosy pink with some drawings and smeared graffiti on two walls. The drawings were typical pencil drawings of a male profile always facing left, the type of drawing which shows up in bus stations. I've seen them in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Washington D.C. It's a strong cartoon-like image with no experience behind it, like tattoo designs. The graffiti was large and mostly read, "Mr.King," "I am the King," and "King of the World." There was something unconvincing about all this and (it was) a great relief to paint over it with white paint. It bothered me greatly that the rosy pink paint was not applied all the way to the ceiling, but only as far up as a person could reach. The ceiling was white gray, which continued down the walls, then covered haphazardly with the roller application of rosy pink. As a painter, I found it a delight to paint over it.
The small bedroom had a shelf and a horizontal well-placed pipe under it which held clothes hangers. As I lay on the bed looking through the window at the kitchen light I could see another window. It was small and so high on the wall I had to stand on the cot bed to see through it. This window had hinges on the left side and opened like a door. When all the lights were out in the apartment, I could see a slight glow of light washing the back wall of this little room. It was easy and comfortable lying on this cot, looking at the ceiling with the timid wash of light peeping into the room.
There I began thinking of how I enjoyed the room and the timid window light high on the wall. If the room were a darker color the light would be brighter. I painted the room Raw Umber. I painted everything, the window frame, the shelf, the pipe on which I hung clothes, and realized a great reward when I lay in bed in this darkened room with a glow of light near the ceiling. Here I decided to stay in New York and continue my life as an artist.
I moved to West 74th Street, to a seven-room apartment which had two bathrooms. The rooms varied in size, and I settled for the largest room to be my studio. There was a bedroom and as I settled the move I painted the bedroom Raw Umber, ceiling, doors, and even the door knob. I was again in a raw umber sepia cloud.
Raw Umber makes shadows. Raw Umber is cool and slightly dusty. It was originally made from ground earth from Umbria in Italy and remains abundant there. In small towns in Umbria, in hardware stores, there are wood bins containing this brown dust. It is a finely ground dust waiting to be mixed with water to become paint. I have lowered my hand into this dust and squeezed it and like wheat flour it squeaks. It is easy for the hand to descend to the bottom, there is no resistance, just a world of fine dust, the true raw umber. In other bins there is sienna, both burnt and raw. As a child there were times when a part of a covered shed would be boarded off to make a storage space to hold rye grain. It was a large area holding a truckload, and the rye grain was stored until the time when it was hauled to be ground and mixed with fodder then fed to the cows in winter. I could slip into this storage which was at least four feet deep and plunge down under all these rye grains, pretend swimming, hide, and be in an ocean of grain. This is what I thought of upon discovering those bins of pure raw umber, just a thought, just a moment of swimming and lolling in a vast storage of raw umber dust.