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Difficult Times

color life as an artist Mar 22, 2020

My art career was going well … finally.  I was represented by several galleries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I was one of the top three vendors in the previous two Mansion in May designer showcases, a month long fundraising event for Morristown Memorial Hospital.  My work was being exhibited constantly, often as one-woman exhibitions of more than seventy paintings, many of them large abstract watercolors or oil paintings selling between $2,000 and $5,000. I had paid off most of my debts. I had finally proven the naysayers wrong.  I had not been born with what anyone would call artistic talent.  Math and science?  Yes.  Art? No.  My greatest gift was, and still is, my curiosity.

The year was 2008.  Though we were experiencing a recession, I was still doing well.  The larger paintings were not selling as well but well enough for me to get by until the economy improved.  The economy did not improve.  On September 29, 2008, the stock market crashed, the largest point drop in history until 2018. Life changed.  My husband lost his business.  People stopped spending money of paintings in my price range.  Galleries closed. 

For a while I continued to exhibit in the few galleries that survived.  Sales were minimal at best.  Usually, the paintings on the walls helped to sell the smaller priced items by making the gallery look bright and colorful.  I was not the only artist who had important choices to make.

I decided my time was better spent learning new skills than matting, framing and delivering paintings to galleries only to take more time a month or two later to pick up the unsold paintings.  My weakest skills were color and calligraphy.  I decided to tackle color.

My strengths were line and value.  Color was a mystery to me.  I knew when my color worked well, but I couldn’t achieve successful results intentionally.  By that I mean that it was all guesswork.  I didn’t know how pigment worked.  I didn’t know how to predict the color I would get by mixing two or more pigments together.  I had read well over a hundred books on color and it still didn’t make sense to me.  I washed a great deal of watercolor down the drain and scraped pounds of oil paint into the rubbish.  I threw away all the disastrous paintings.  I felt a bit fraudulent as a professional artist exhibiting in galleries, an artist who didn’t understand color after painting for more than thirty years.

No one had mentioned my color until 2005 when one of my solo exhibitions was reviewed in the paper by an art critic.  He called me out on the dreariness of my color.  I knew he was right. Having already attempted to learn more about color, I was at a loss, until the rug was pulled out from under me by The Great Recession of 2008.

My decision was to take a break from exhibiting and to retreat into my studio and learn about color in a way I could understand.  That way was through science … the science behind light waves and how our eyes actually see color.  Months of study, seventy five color charts and twenty three color wheels later I finally understood that which was a mystery to me before.  What was most surprising was how simple it really is.  What blocked my understanding was the color theory I had been taught back in 1971 in commercial art school.  It is the same color theory that is still taught in many schools today.  My brain accepted that program so completely that it wasn’t open to how color can easily be understood and manipulated. 

The door to the wonderful world of color was blown wide open for me and I happily entered into that world of endless delights.  But … now that I understood how to control color, how to mix it with intention … I didn’t know what to do with my new understanding.  I didn’t really know WHAT I wanted to do with it.  That’s when I decided to take on a new challenge and delve into the realm of color schemes.  I invented a game to play, The Color Scheme Game.  I learn much more easily when I learn by playing games.

Back in 2008, if anyone had told me that in 2012 I would be teaching COLOR.  I would never have believed it.  To now be teaching COLOR around the world is totally beyond what I ever could have imagined.

We are all facing another difficult and challenging time.  The Coronavirus is pulling the rug out from under millions of people, changing lives forever.  The big question is … “What will you do with this time that leaves you in a place of uncertainty?  What can you do to enhance your life right now?  What skills can you learn that will contribute to your life and/or the lives of others?”

When you find the answer to that question, know that the technology is available for you to learn whatever skills you need and want.  Find tutorials online that will inspire you to make the best use of these uncertain times.  By growing rather than shrinking, we help others to nurture their lives and passions.  Like a virus, enthusiasm is contagious and spreads!


Feeling at a loss for what to do to help during these times, I have spent the last two days making and filming color wheel mandalas for a new class that I hope will help to fill your time with fun, meditative distraction from the current worries.  I’m editing it now and hope to have it published within a day or two.

In the meantime … what is it that you could learn that will help you and help those around you to become more masterful in what you do?

Thank you for taking the time to read this long, long, post.  Be well.  Be safe.  Look at the beautiful stars in the night sky.  Take a deep breath and be thankful for your passions, for your loved ones and for our connection with nature, the stars and with one another.

Chris Carter


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