The Eleven Colors

by Eric Hanson

In February of 2016, I went to visit my friend Leigh at her house to paint. I had been in a bit of a slump, and we had made a habit of painting together on Tuesday evenings, just to keep each other motivated. This particular night was February 9: Fat Tuesday.

That evening, I grabbed two brushes and a few paints from my stash and headed over to Leigh's. There I painted a 12"×9" painting of the Meadows Building; a Mid-Century Modern structure off of Central Expressway and Lovers Lane in Northeast Dallas. Per my usual practice, when I was done painting it, I posted it to Facebook.

Afterwards, while discussing my current slump with Leigh, she relayed an idea to me that she had heard earlier in the day.  The next day was Ash Wednesday: The beginning of Lent, but she suggested that, instead of giving up something, why not commit to doing one painting a day for forty days? I didn't have anything else going on, so I decided I would do that: One 129" painting every day until the end of Lent.

The next day, I grabbed my backpack, hopped onto my bike, and rode to Main Street Garden Park located in the middle of Downtown Dallas. On the south side of the park is another Mid-Century Modern structure: The Statler Hilton Hotel, built in 1956. This building had been abandoned for 15 years, but even in its dilapidated state, it was impressive. It was in the process of being restored in early 2016 when I decided to paint it. Again, when I was done with my painting, I posted a picture of it to Facebook.

I did one painting a day for a couple of weeks and, before long, my Facebook audience was gaining interest — asking about sales, commissioning original pieces, and requesting prints. Pretty soon, I was busy enough that I didn't have time to do a painting every day.

After I had done about two weeks' worth of daily paintings, I realized that I had been using the same eleven paints for each one:

  1. White
  2. Light Grey
  3. Medium Grey
  4. Dark Grey
  5. Yellow
  6. Ochre
  7. Light Green
  8. Dark Green
  9. Red
  10. Terra Cotta
  11. Light Blue

I decided that, from that point on, I would stick to this same palette for all of my Dallas paintings.

The very next day, I received a commission to paint a Southwest Airlines plane, which I gladly accepted. As I began work on it, I realized: Southwest Airlines doesn't use light blue in their livery, it's more of a medium blue...and I can't mix any of my eleven colors to make a good, solid medium blue.

I wasn't exactly sure what to do, but I was determined not to give up on my palette choice so I improvised: I painted the plane dark green with light blue accents. When I was done, I realized that it worked! Apparently, in a universe where there is no black, purples or darker blues, substitutes can be made without any detriment. In fact, sticking to the palette in difficult circumstances serves to emphasize the style.

So ever since then, I've stuck with my eleven colors without any hesitation. I have now adopted it as part of my brand, and it — along with other stylistic choices I've made — has really helped create a sense of identity.

Eventually I will start another line of paintings and choose a new palette — perhaps one that is even more restrictive...but for now, this one will be my palette of choice.