Stage 4 – ‘Every Emotion is of Equal Value’

As I come to the end of working on ‘Every Emotion is of Equal Value’ I am realising that some emotions can be both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.

Here are two where I think this applies:

One of the 20 emotions which I decided could go either way was sadness. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned, where would we be without sadness? Yes, on the face of it, it seems like a negative emotion. But what about the ‘tears of joy’ aspect? How often do you cry at a favourite film … and that is when you know what is coming!

SADNESS, detail of ‘Every Emotion is of Equal Value’, oil on canvas

But what colour is sadness? Tears are colourless – they are like human rain. So I started with grey, a colour we so often associate with colourlessness. I then introduced white because crying can often clear our view. I knew another colour was needed to bring in that wider element of sadness. I decided on turquoise because it is the colour of the sea and there is something baptismal about crying. We wash away so much when we cry. There is great tenderness in sadness. There is also release. We need sadness, it leads to hope.

The other emotion in the painting that I realised could go either way is shock.

SHOCK, detail of ‘Every Emotion is of Equal Value’, oil on canvas

There is the shock of bad news or the shock of a surprise party thrown in your honour (which could also go either way admittedly but let’s say, for the sake of argument, this time it is a good shock!). It took me a few weeks to decide what on earth shock was going to look like. Then complementary colours burst into my mind’s eye. Because complementary colours, when placed in close proximity, provide a shock for the eyes.

Complementary colours face each other across the colour wheel.

The Primary complementary colour pairs are: Red and Green, Blue and Orange and Yellow and Violet. When two complementary colours are painted next to each other they create a visual vibration, they effervesce, they sing out. The Fauves were masters at using this technique and their paintings pulsate with energy as the complementary colours jostle for visual attention.

I decided that the ‘shock’ of complementary colours would be brilliant for this particular emotion and went with the Blue and Orange combination, knowing that together they would provide the perfect electrifying pairing.

And so my painterly journey through the emotions continues …

Just to show you the brilliance of the Fauves and their use of complementary colours:

André Derain (1880-1954), 1905, oil on canvas, 1’6’’ x 1’1’’ – 46 x 34cm, Tate


  1. This is an intriguing project. How do you choose which of so many different emotions? Some colours are traditional, some very unexpecred but ‘of course!’ What has your process been?


  2. It has been a long process! To begin with I had to decide on the 10 ‘positive’ and 10 ‘negative’ emotions, which was far from easy. I then worked out the order they would go on the canvas – I wanted rows and columns to be a mixture of the positive and the negative. But, as always happens with me, once I start painting different ideas emerge and so it continued to change til the end.


  3. I decided to use gold and silver leaf in the paintings of the ‘positive’ qualities. I have recently discovered what a delight it is to paint over leaf. And then, towards the end, I thought, well it shouldn’t just be the positive qualities that have leaf in them. When one sits with and works through a ‘negative’ emotion, there is always light there to. So as a final act I added a small piece of leaf to all the negative qualities. I thought that was inspired and totally in keeping with the intention behind the painting!


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