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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today I love... color

While autumn will always be my favorite time of year, it is hard to find a better time to celebrate color than spring - especially in those parts of the country that do get the change of seasons. Here we are, dragging ourselves through the last few weeks of winter, when the snow has gotten boring (if you get snow) and all the drab grays and browns just get on your nerves (if you don't get snow) - when something fresh and brightly-colored pops out from under the soil or on a branch of a tree, and then another one and another one. Before we know it clean saturated colors are everywhere, dazzling and nearly overwhelming the eye that grew out of practice during winter months.

Why on Earth, I ask you, do you continue to swath yourself in winter colors? It is not that I advocate running to the nearest mall and spending your entire mortgage payment on a designer limited-edition tangerine bag or a pair of turquoise Jimmy Choos... However, this is a good time to dig into your closet, separate winter clothes and have them cleaned and put away, and bring forward something more season appropriate - both in terms of fit and fabric as well as in terms of palette. Hold up pieces of different color to your face in front of a mirror (preferably in good light) and ask yourself objectively - what brings out the best in your eyes, complexion and hair and what makes you look drab and tired? If it is the latter - give it away, no matter how much you spent on it.

If putting colors together is a challenge for you, set aside some time to study color. I am not talking about enrolling in an artists program at a local college, although if you have the time and money to do so - by all means! Look up your own town on the internet and find out what gardens, parks, museums and historic buildings are available nearby. If you live someplace really small, you might need to drive to a neighboring larger city to find a greater variety of such places.

Make time each week to visit at least one and just feast your eyes. How do the gardeners put together various flowers for the best effect? How do they achieve a more natural look or a more "manicured" formal one? In historic estates, which rooms appeal to you most and why? Is it the layout, the color scheme, the style of the furniture the decorations? Why do you feel like you could look at this particular painting for hours, but not that one? While you cannot take that splendid room decorated with dark blue, silver-embroidered velvet home with you, you could find an inexpensive deep blue and silver pin to liven up your classic business suit. Wearing the elaborate gowns of the beautiful ladies in the Renaissance paintings is probably also not an option, unless you are professional reenactor, however, the combination of colors and textures can still serve as inspiration for a contemporary outfit.
Get up early or stay out late to watch sunrises and sunsets. Sure, it would take a great artist to create a fabric comparable to the evening sky in its beauty, richness and variety of color. However, you can take a photo of it and then examine it to see, what hues of the same color group look well next to one another. While bright red and dark blue are good contrasting colors, wearing them together in large blocks is a bit like wrapping yourself in American flag. A delicate turquoise, however, with a touch of slightly juicy pink (like a scarf or a brooch) - that is a whole other matter.

Many large cities have entire districts, inhabited by professional artists (think Tribeca in New York City). Find out of there is something like that nearby and go exploring there. Not only will you see some interesting unexpected pieces of art, but you might get an opportunity to observe the artists at work. They are used to people watching and won't mind if you observe them as they mix colors and create their pieces.

Try drawing or painting something of your own - even if you have never done it before, even if it's just colorful swirls, stripes or polka dots on paper. Anything goes! One of my favorite drawing exercises is, after drawing the central figure - the main character of the piece so to speak - creating a background just by drawing swirls of various colors. I don't do it often - mostly in science fiction or fantasy illustration - but it's always fun: just laying different color crayons or pencils side by side and starting to experiment with them to see what looks good together.

If you are an active outdoor type and frequently visit the famous national parks, climbing and hiking destinations, take time to watch and understand, why a particular location appeals to you more than others. What sort of natural beauty do you prefer? The delicate and short-lived profusion of blossoming cherry trees? Or the ragged and daunting captivation of the Grand Tetons?

Finally, if no destinations (or means to visit them) are available, seek inspiration closer to home - well, actually, at home. When does your house look best? What sort of light makes it come alive and why? When you make dinner, can you arrange the meat, the side and the veggies to make a really pretty-looking plate? Re-assess the colors and textures you have in your home: do they really speak of your personality or did you just pick them because they looked good in the catalog or at the store, but you really can't relate to them? Light a candle and watch the wax change colors as it melts, flows away from the flame and solidifies again. Look at the light through a glass of red wine or through a flower vase of cobalt blue glass. Sure, your family might think you are losing it - but who cares? It's your experiment - you can do as you please!

Examine your grandmother's antique earrings - what is it that makes them so sophisticated, what speaks "lady" about them? While you are at it, sort through all of your jewelry and find new ways to wear your favorite pieces. Consider combining your pearls with a more casual outfit by wrapping them around your wrist like a bracelet, or wearing a fun modern pendant with a conservative little black dress. So what if you have never worn them that way before? There is the first time for everything and besides, it is not as if the gods of sartorial wisdom are going to come down and smite you.

Most of all - have fun with color! We are visual beings - who the heck are we kidding - so find out what you can do for this oh so prominent sense. Whether you draw your inspiration from an early tulip in your very own front yard or from one of the huge wall-size multi-figure paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts or at the Louvre - doesn't matter. The color is there and yours for the taking, so go out and bring it back into your life.

Images courtesy of Maria K.

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