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Asking the right questions

How to listen: Take a tip from Joseph Albers
Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.”

Among the many “what’s the first step” items in the process of a new client-relationship, asking the right questions is at the top of my list.

Of course this also goes for any project, even with people we think we know, since each project carries its own set of circumstances. That’s why I love the above statement by Josef Albers.

Warming up with Red Clay from EcoHues Full Spectrum Paint

While creatively problem-solving, opportunities to learn—and to teach—abound in every project

  • Help clients discover their own personal design styles
  • Introduce new concepts and ideas
  • Interact with clients in an authentic way
EcoHues Full Spectrum Paint - Atlantis and Blue Grotto

“Atlantis,” an EcoHues Full Spectrum color, is on the back wall of dining area and continues into the foyer that is visible from the dining room.


Soft full spectrum colors, kitchen view into family room

Rich soft colors enhance—and subtly define—three connected spaces, with 3 different close colors.

One example, from a client’s note to me
“…you helped take the confusion out of color selection process and opened up our eyes to color choices we never would have thought of using.  We appreciated how easy it was to work with you, and how carefully you listened to our wants and needs.”

It just takes practice!
As artists and designers, it’s so easy to become excited about a project and about our own approach and inspirations. The practice is in listening, and advising while not imposing our personal preferences. It’s really all about the goal for every client.

I’d love to listen. What is your story?


Color on the brain

We’re always looking at color, and talking about color. Somtimes, we’re even applying color. And, in between, we’re seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and thinking about color.

We don’t even have to be “color-obsessed…,” we just have to be what we are. Human.

We forget from time to time that “color” does not even exist on its own, except where there is light and we are able to recognize it. Then, we assign an identity to what we call the color that we’ve seen. Often we make the understandable mistake of thinking that, while color does matter (and it matters a lot) in so many ways, it is not Really “matter.”  It’s only Perception.

But what a subject! Endless, and so complex. When the ‘buzz words’ about color— from trends to color psychology— are tossed around so glibly, this will give pause to think a bit more about the depth of this vast subject.

With that in mind, I’m delighted to share this video with you. I hope you will share your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

Color Creates Light: Studies with Hans Hoffman

Color Creates Light: Studies with Hans Hofmann brings together the man, the schools, the painting, the ideas, and the teaching. Jed Perl of The New Republic calls this book "enormously important... nothing less than the missing chapter in the history of the period," for Hofmann's decade of painting in Paris prior to World War I, combined with his observations of the masters of all cultures, enabled him to explain Cubism to the avant-garde and catalyzed the later Abstract Expressionism.

In the ateliers of German emigrant Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) in Munich, New York and Provincetown, talented students later to become some of the most significant artists and educators of the time rubbed shoulders with critics, collectors, and curators, who in turn transmitted and transmuted Hofmann s ideas across Europe, America, Canada, and beyond. From how Hofmann taught to what he taught, artists talk shop about the inner workings of the visual language, required reading for those engaged in creative composition, whether visual, verbal, musical, architectural, cinematic, or choreographic.

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“In nature, light creates the color; in the picture, color creates light.”
–Hans Hoffman

Hans Hoffman

More than ‘color inspiration,’ looking to fine art is a dynamic way to experience color. Hans Hoffman exemplifies the word “colorist.” This book offers an in-depth exploration of his theories of color as well as gain as sense of the man—his life, teaching, and art work—in a biography. Also included are many illustrations of work by other artists, some of whom were his students.

Color,Light,Texture, and Action! with the Quintessential Master of Glass

A recent visit to the MFA in Boston became an extraordinary experience for me—as the work of Dale Chihuly has been for thousands of others, worldwide.

I’ve never seen so many people at an exhibit who were trying to capture their own personal experience with cameras of all types, from cell phones to professional style equipment.  Even though I tried to resist the shutterbug impulse, it did not take long for me to join the crowd. I wanted to share a few my own impressions, and provide you with a link to a fascinating video of this master’s creative process and studio activity.

chiluly primary colors

Color and shape get "Primal," in primary colors

Chiluly- green organic texture

Just one piece of the endlessly fascinating experience in color, form and texture

The work of Dale Chihuly is internationally renowned, but we’re fortunate here in Boston to have a tremendous installation of his work, offering a first-hand experience of being in the midst of his world of color, light, texture…and so much more.

Closeup of green glass - Chihuly


Chiuly- mounts glass reeds in to birch logs

Like dreaming in violet - glass reeds mounted into actual birch logs!

Trying to imagine his creative process needs a lot of help. So, to spare the words…enjoy this experience of being in the Chihuly studio!

Patterns and Colors in Diverse Places and Spaces

There’s nothing like being in a different location for a while to stimulate a fresh view of colors and patterns.

From the wonderful LACMA museum in Los Angeles to the tiny Japanese variety store, with a home decorating furniture store in the middle of it all, I’m inspired to share a few images for your enjoyment.

I always enjoy connecting patterns and textures. One example:

Los Angeles - LACMA courtyard

Lines, shadows, and textures combine to make interesting patterns


Columns and Trees

Interesting to look at this for repetition of line and texture, in verticals both organic and built.


Then, for something really different, a quick visit to ZGallerie to see what’s up in L.A. decor! (or some of it, anyway)

Bling-y neutrals

You're not in New England anymore, Toto!


Detecting a theme

Do I detect a theme? Never mind, I love the darks with...Kiwi? Lime? Other name for this green?


Summer Turquoise

Summer turquoise is still happening

Check out the colors above with the colors of the items in the Japanese variety store, below!
See anything similar?

Bins of tiny objects

Colors and visual texture remind me of an impressionist painting.



Pens and pencils

These really made me smile. A color palette resource!


Soft colors for lunchboxes

The pattern of pastel colored lunchboxes combines with black-and-white graphic lettering

More pens and pencils

Love the patterns and colors! Can you guess which ones I bought to use?

The Question
What are the paint colors that these images inspire you to use? Single or as combinations, it’s all fair game and I am interested in YOUR favorites!

Featured Artist Profile: Bill Gauthier offers–a Lot!

Sharing the work of fine artists and artisans (is there really a difference?) is exciting to me. There’s a certain kind of energy created, that I feel when I can share information about creative people whose work does not always fit into a readily defined category. So, from time to time I’ll feature individuals here, whose work I find particularly compelling.

Bill Gauthier is an artist who specializes in the fine art of using pure gold and silver leaf in his own unique style, adding the final touch of depth and luminosity to public spaces, private collections, his own art work, and the work of other fine artists. His artistic talent, technical skill, and clarity of purpose simply radiates from all his work.

I first met Bill in 1997. I’d heard about a process and materials called “Venetian Plaster,” and my fascination with learning this technique led me to his course at Sepp Leaf, in New York.  The class was small, intense, and full of information and hands-on experience with the medium.

Even after so many years, Bill’s approach to his work continues to be meaningful to me personally. His creative artistry, meticulous attention to detail and process to achieve the best possible results— along with his refined sense of color mixing and color use— are just part of the impressions and experiences that have become a large part of my own approach to surface and color.

A conversation with Bill Gauthier

BJ: Bill, you’ve been working with “Leaf” for 32 years, and you still find it fascinating and mysterious. I’d love to call you a “master gilder,” but I know you have a comment about that! What is a ‘master gilder? ”

Bill Gauthier - subway picture
I don’t really believe that term. The gilding gods are always keeping us humble. In this work there are always surprises I don’t care how long one has been doing this, there’s always something to know, there’s too much to know if you want a large range. The longer you do something, the more opportunities you have to make mistakes. That’s experience.

BJ: Speaking of experience, you have many years in the business of being an artisan/artist. Can you describe for us your general approach to your work?

BILL: I’m a relentless perfectionist, I will not back down. I have so many “years in” I might as well stay faithful to that commitment so with every mistake comes a mini triumph, I have no other way to look at it. This work is my life.

I come from the point of view of an artist craftsman rather than a successful business man. Being in this particular business means a lot of different things to different people, I’ve always supported myself doing this work, from the age of 18. I feel successful in this business because of that, regardless of the good years or bad.

Gilded Maine Monument

The “Maine Monument,” 1995

BJ: The Maine Monument is so dramatic, and it’s just one example of your large-scale work in public places. I know that you also do architectural elements, commercial installations including interiors, ceilings, and walls, and that you collaborate with other artist and artisans.

What’s your background, and how did you get into working with gold leaf as a specialty?

BILL:  After graduating from the High School of Art and Design in NYC, I needed a summer job. I started work at the New York Restoration Studio in 1979, and that’s where I started to work with real gold leaf. I stayed with that company for 13 years. I stayed in that job through my college years working part time. I went to Parson’s school of design and majored in fine art painting, I didn’t learn about traditional materials when I was in art school, I did all of that work on the side.

BJ: So, most of your large scale work was after college?

BILL: Yes. After college I worked for the art restoration business full time, they started getting large scale gilding projects. We gilded outdoor statues that would take 25-35 boxes of gold to gild. I was gilding 8 foot sculptures when I was 22 years old.

BJ: I met you in 1997. When did you start working at Sepp leaf?

BILL: After staying at the art restoration business for 13 years I went to work at Sepp leaf Products. I was hired to start the educational wing of Sepp. I also worked the technical help line, and anyone who had a problem between 1991 and 1997 most likely spoke with me. I met a ton of people and taught all over the country, and I had traveled to Europe two times before I crossed the Hudson river west, so working with Sepp really allowed me to see this country. I learned a lot from decorative artists throughout the country, including gilders.

BJ: What can you tell us about your special gilding techniques that you’ve developed?

BILL: In 1999, I began a business partnership with art conservator Deborah Bigelow. Our company was called “American Burnish.” During this period until 2005, we had many exciting collaborative commissions.
One example is this project, in which I worked with the artist Walter De Maria. We completed a large gilded sculpture [shown below] that resides at the Chichu Museum in Naoshima Japan, titled “time , timeless, no time.”

time timless top image

View from the top

The project is red gold, gilded on mahogany, It took four gilders 18 months to complete.

timetimeless bottom image

View from the bottom

Detail - timetimlessNoTime

Detail: TimeTimelessNoTime

I developed what I call the “Hybrid Gilding Technology” and used it for “time,timeless,notime,” our first large-scale collaboration with Walter De Maria an artist using gold leaf. This piece—in which we used 39,000 third-sheets of 23-2/4 K gold—is currently in the Chichu museum in Japan.

walter demaria, 1 sun 34 moons

1 Sun, 34 Moons: Walter deMaria

BJ: Bill, will share some of your thoughts about being in the business of decorative arts?

BILL: The Decorative Arts business is difficult because its creative, but mainly it’s about providing a product and a service at the same time.  Not many businesses have both. It’s not “point and click.”

The product is the creation, and the service is doing the work. It’s a complicated role to be in, with a great deal of responsibility. Good communication is so important. The margins are always tight.

Regarding process, you always have to do samples. You need a specific chain-of-approval process, so the client and the artist both know what is planned and what to expect.

Chruch gilidng

Overall view of work for a church.

gilded star detail

gilded details

Details on wood ends

Structural items

Closeup: structural items in church project

BJ: I first met you as a student in your Venetian plaster class at Sepp Leaf.  But, do you have a favorite material or process?

BILL: Gilding is my favorite form of decorative artistry, but I’ll still occasionally work on a crew doing Venetian Stucco , however I’m not actively soliciting that work, at this time. For doing Venetian Stucco, I prefer Kolcaustico. It’s best with lighter colors like light grays, whites, light blue.  I still work with the manufacturer as a development consultant, to make improvements in the material.

For Gilding materials I prefer to use 23-2/4 K gold. It’s not too red, not too yellow. I Never use  “Dutch metal.”  The main ‘down-side’ for a gilding business is that  it’s labor-intensive, can be tedious, and has NO “re-do.”  It has to be done right the first –and only—time.

Matching a copy to original

Making samples to perfect the process

BJ: Such great information. Now I just want to show more of your work! I know that collaboration with other artists is important in your work. What’s your process in working with other artists?

BILL: The concept: art making is collaborative. My gilding makes helps complete the artist’s vision.
Every artist that I work for is usually open to the possibilities of what I bring to the project; we start from a place of agreement, which is a good start.

When the project starts I just listen, then I make samples, it’s just a matter of translating words into surfaces. I like to collaborate because I know when to get out of the way, the artists I work with always know what they want, even if I second guess them, I’m always wrong.

I only take a hard stand on the technical issues, for instance the best technique for the fullest expression, that kind of conservation. Some artists know about the process others don’t and working with both is fine.

japanese dyed silver through sieve

Working with Japanese dyed silver, through a sieve. Bill used this technique among others for the "Skull" project, a series of gilded skull sculptures for artist Max Gimblett.

Working on "skull 1"

Skull 1, in progress: art by Max Gimblett

All Leaf No Paint

Skull: all leaf, NO paint! Skull by Max Gimblett

gold skull

Another Skull: art by Max Gimblett

In specialized gilding, it takes the right technique to use gold leaf to help bring the artwork into focus. For example, talking with the artist about his vision for the work is the start to understanding what I’ll do to help achieve that. There is so much to know about working with gold leaf, that most artists would not know the right choices to make or how to go about using the materials.

making a sample

Always make samples! This test: Copy at left, Original at right.

Bill is working in his own business with the New York City based painter Maxwell Gimblett. Max uses a variety of Japanese colored silver leaf, as well as precious metals such as gold, silver and palladium.

BJ: What would be your advice to aspiring decorative artists?

BILL: It’s more than a short tips list, it’s complex. To be successful we have to ask ourselves where our strengths lie and where we are lacking. The biggest question I ask myself and to others what kind of person are you?
A few more points are:

  • How do you move? Are you high energy or low energy. It’s really basic, but it’s so essential when you bid on projects. Do you generally move slowly?
  • Can you maintain focus during the day on one task?
  • If you work with others are you a good manager? Do they slow you down or can they speed you up.
  • Do you get overwhelmed when something goes wrong or when you feel flustered?
  • Can you work under noisy and dirty conditions?
  • Can you work without eating for 4-5 hours?
  • Are you a morning person or an evening person?

All of these conditions should feature in your personal pricing structure, and how you bill for your time. These are not value judgments. I’ve seen people blast through projects, very efficiently, only to have to re-do them, and I’ve seen people working on the same project for 3 months and were threatened with a lawsuit. One last thought:  if you’re a perfectionist and you don’t bill for some aspect of that, you will lose money.

Bill Gauthier

"On location" in Paris

To discuss a project with Bill, you can reach him by email:

Carlo Scarpa

Lavishly illustrated volume.
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Check out the ColorViews Blog post for more about this subject.

Do you love Architecture and Color? Meet Carlo Scarpa

If so, check out this book about Carlo Scarpa.

I was first introduced to the work of Carlo Scarpa by the renowned Boston-area architect Paul Lukez. In a conversation with Paul about color in architecture, he immediately went to his bookshelf and brought forth his copy of this book.

Carlo Scarpa - book cover image

Even now, looking through my own paperback copy, I get the same thrill seeing the forms, textures, and colors that Scarpa used in the variety of his work. It’s really an extraordinary example of color + form working together to create a higher-level space.

GavinaShowroomBologna 1963-bookpage 116

Image of Gavina Showroom, Bologna, Italy: 1963 (from page 116 in the book)

A Taschen publication, even the paperback is high quality. The interesting essay by Sergio Los, illustrated by the beautiful photographs of Klays Frahm, will bring you back time and time again to enjoy the spaces. For me: “wish I could see this in person!”

Do you have a favorite book (more than 1 is ok!) on design, architecture, color, and related topics, that you would like to recommend? Let me know!

Who were you when you were a kid?

“Tiny House Living” makes me remember.
Not that I lived in such a tiny house…well, actually it was sort of tiny, just not quite as tiny as the mini-dwellings created by Vermonter  Derek Diedricksen. I recently saw the PBS program where he appeared as a guest of Emily Rooney on Boston’s Channel 2.

Here’s just one example of a tiny getaway in Vermont. Find out more about Derek’s approach to gleaning supplies and turning them into small buildings.

Tiny house hickshaw

It's a bird, it's a's a HickShaw! Tiny house on wheels.

How Green can it be?
Derek is the consummate Found Object Artisan. A perfect example of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Not polished, exotic, or elusive, his tiny buildings are Fun, Functional, and easy to Fabricate.  The ultimate in coziness.

HIck Shaw interior

One view of the HickShaw interior, with Derek's book on the mat.

Derek’s description of his favorite childhood pastimes that led him to expressing that passion in a uniquely creative business,  just got me thinking about what I liked to do when I was young. Well, our inspirations can come from unlikely sources.

Looking back, I see the connections. Drawing with chalk on a wall-sized slate blackboard, creating “art clubs” in which my friends would come over and we would do art projects together, helping my parents pick colors for our bedrooms—I could keep going. Having plenty of art supplies of all types around, and available to use, made this easy. Later, keeping my artist father company in his studio and “helping” him with his work. It’s no surprise that I’m most comfortable surrounded by an assortment of art materials in varying stages of being used, and that I have the desire to share this with others.

It’s a simple reminder to us, to keep our minds and eyes open and pursue our inner directions!  Where does it take us? The road is bound to be interesting.

How about you?
Can you connect the dots from childhood pleasures and interests to adult activities and careers?

Please share them!

Got Color? No More Neutrals…Get Gaudi!

A long winter..”neutrals” got you down? Fret no longer, Get energized with Gaudi.

Antonio Gaudi

No, it's not a dragon—it's a building. From: Complete works: Gaudi / by Aurora Cuito, Cristina Montes. This image from the book is by Pere Planells

Exquisite photography and detailed descriptions of sites provide a compelling entree into the Gaudi world. As an architectural color consultant I particularly enjoy Gaudi’s bold, personal style of color in architecture. I’m happy to have the English edition so I can actually read the text!

Next stop…Barcelona!

Antonio Gaudi: Complete Works (Paperback)

By (author): Aurora Cuito

Book by Cuito, Aurora
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