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In the studio with Michael Hall

In It’s an Orange Aardvark!, a carpenter ant drills a series of holes through a wall in his stump in order to see what’s outside. With each hole, a different color of light enters the dark stump; and with each new color, another ant—who’s convinced himself that a hungry aardvark lurks outside—makes more and more ridiculous suggestions to make the new facts fit his original assumption.

I tried a number of different ways to illustrate the light flooding into the stump before settling on a series of painted, overlapping concentric circles.

Early on, I was enamored with the idea of using simple radiating lines of colored chalk. Chalk is a medium children understand, and they could easily use it to draw their own bursts of light. But the radiating lines were somewhat frenetic, and adding little ants to these chalk drawings made them too busy.

But there was another, more pressing, issue: Reflected colors—like the ones produced by light bouncing off chalk, paint, or printer’s ink—combine quite differently from projected colors—like colors from light entering a dark place. Reflected colors combine to form darker colors, while projected colors get lighter when they’re combined. (What’s worse, projected green plus projected red makes projected yellow. That’s never seemed right to me.)

One solution was to avoid mixing the colors altogether. For example, I painted paper and cut it into chunky asterisk shapes. The hefty spokes created the suggestion of a circle. It was more appealing than the chalk, but I felt it was too stark and lifeless.

Then, I broke the radiating lines into rectangles. This made it possible to mix each color variation separately, which gave me much more control. The resulting image felt very energetic to me—like light. Your eye is directed both away from and toward the center.

But it wasn’t quite right, so one day I tried grouping the rectangles in concentric circles. That became more contained and satisfying to me.

The next step was to forgo the rectangles and portray the colors as a series of intersecting circles. Now the colors were more soothing and meditative, and the shapes were interesting and sometimes surprising. I outlined each shape. This flattened the image and emphasized the shapes. It seemed right to me.

In the end, though, I removed the outlines. The resulting circles of color provided a more suitable and simple background for the ants and their story.

Of course, that was still just another beginning . . . and I confronted the task of painting a hundred pieces of paper (reflective color) to portray a hundred combinations of projected color!

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