Primary Colors

There are a lot of times we look around and all we see is noise. Chatter, he said, she said. Especially in this time of high data and content, all at our finger tips. How do we sort it? I don’t mean account data or data that can be put on a spreadsheet. I mean human data. People, behavior, myself, markets, the whole mess of it!

This is where I think some creative concepts might give us guidance. In art, we don’t have a spreadsheet. We don’t have any answers often we don’t even have questions. We must start with a blank canvas each time.

Totally blank.

This is quite daunting. To stare into the canvas and be expected to produce something. Something “fresh” or “new” or “expressive” or perhaps “accurate”. It’s almost impossible to comprehend really. But, humans do it. We do it all the time. Great artist produce great works not only with accuracy but with beauty.


I believe it is a combination of hard skills and soft skills put together in such a way as neither of them are really recognized. It’s math and emotion. It’s problem solving and intuition. Its a complex mix of so many things that I think, for must people, they can do nothing more than stand back and say “wow”.

But how do we move ourselves closer to this level of creation?

I’ve spent 20 years asking myself this question. I did not have training at an early age or any talent or gift at it when I started. I just honestly loved drawing. I had to be able to do it. Nothing less, nothing more.

This meant that I had to go through the painful process of being fully conscious while growing my creative and artistic skills. This made progress often slow but it also allowed me to see it as it happened. This gave me a lot of insight into the human mind and how it might wrestle with a skill far greater than it’s current ability.

Wander with me for a moment and let’s try to unpack some concepts that I think may open up our ability to overcome some of the worlds most complex and unpredictable datasets. Markets.

Yellow | Red | Blue.

When painting, we understand the three primary colors.

What is interesting about this isn’t the colors themselves but the vast array of combinations they create. When we paint, we often look at a painting and see that it is a bit flat, maybe it’s a bit dull or perhaps a touch off in some hard to understand way. Over time, with experience in the medium, the artist will develop a sense of what is wrong and understand how to adjust for it.

An example, a painting with all warm colors can often come off flat and dull despite a range in contrast. Once you add a bit of blue, the work will pop to life.

Why does this matter?

A painting is two things. It’s a large dataset of color and it’s a second large dataset of information. There is the paint and there is the painting.

What is wild to me is that, at some point, humans looked at enough things and were able to boil them down into those three colors. Think about that. That is wild. We were able to shrink the dataset down so much that we found three things (yellow, red, blue) that drive all color as seen from the human eye.

That is amazing.

What happened when we did this?

We were able to take control of it. Once we understood it, in this simple root form we were then able to become not just seers of the world around us but creators of it, in painting form. Once we were able to control the paint, we gained control over the painting.

This should tell us a few things.

  1. We are very good at handling very large datasets. The human mind can reduce something to it’s core with some accuracy.
  2. Once we find the root of a thing, we gain control over it and are able to exploit it.
  3. The exploiting of this information gives us creative power to bring new things into the world (limited by our human plain of existence).

Maybe this single idea is enough to give us a basic road map to human creativity.

If we stopped here, and mastered color on canvas, we could produce some really beautiful works. Let’s say we continue in threes and add to color, brushes and canvas.

Now we not only can learn to master colors as they combine but also the application of it through the mechanics of a brush. Paint can be laid heavy in thick globs or brushed thin and light. There are many many more simple variables to play with in this one bit of data but, if we add canvas, we now have space to combine the previous two nodes into countless combinations over a space.

Here is where things get weird.

Let’s get into some math.

If we have the numbers 1,2,3 and we have three slots to put them in, we have 27 different combinations we could use. We’re all probably aware of how this works.

It works the same with color, brush and canvas. Instead of numbers, we are using nodes.

Color = Yellow, Red, Blue.

Brush = Width, Hair Type, Density.

Canvas = Roughness, Tension, Thickness.

What this means is that with just a few variables, we can make something that looks very complex. Not only that but we can make almost infinite things that look complex. If we spent 100 years painting with just these three variables, we may never get the same painting twice. We will surly get a few that could look a lot of alike but no duplicates.

We can dial these values all day long!

This is the kind of data branch the human mind does understand. We get easily lost in big datasets with random details but, if we categories each into a branch, we begin to wrap out heads around it. Not only that but we begin to understand it. From there, we can control it. We can create with it.

The tricky part is that the base data we choose to build off must be true.

Garbage in = Garbage out.

If we are asking the wrong questions, we will never get the right answers. If we believe purple to be a primary color, we will never produce the work we want to produce. This is the great tragedy of markets and social media. You watch people constantly asking the wrong questions and produce right answers to those wrong questions. It’s brutal to watch.

It’s critical that we spend time finding the core variables that matter. It’s worth it.

If we find the right data to care about, we can then not care about any other data AND we can exploit the data we do find. This opens us to creation. We are capable of looking into the massive and terrifying array of endless noise and extract value.

We can find the variables that matter and begin to play in the places where most people panic.

Next, I want to explore the concepts of what we overlay on top of the color. What meaning do we apply to our work and how can understanding those variables help us both create better creative expression and more powerful experiences.