Pictured above: Heraldic Zoom by Rachel Mulligan
WRITTEN & NARRATED BY MOMTAZ BEGUM-HOSSAIN
The joy of colour goes far beyond visual pleasure. Momtaz Begum-Hossain meets two artists whose relationship with colour inspires their creative vision.
Listen to Momtaz narrate her article:
You can’t escape colour. Its vivid hues and muted tones are everywhere, influencing the aesthetic of our environment and helping us make sense of the world around us. Yet there is more to colour than being a visual language, experienced only by the eyes. Colour is a complete sensory experience; we don’t just see it, we feel it too.
This is why the colours used in art and craft are so significant. The decisions artists make about their palette not only affect how they see their work but also how it’s experienced by the viewer. For Surrey-based stained glass artist Rachel Mulligan and Australian mosaicist Kaye Gilhooly, who lives in Hobart, Tasmania, colour plays a significant role in their creative practices.
A love of luminosity
We often think of “adding colour” when something is missing, and this proved to be the case for Rachel; it was colour that drew her to the craft. “I was making a sundial in a pottery class and I wanted the light to come through the dial and make reflections but that wasn’t possible with clay,” she explains. “I had an idea to use glass and it worked. In a matter of weeks, I got hooked, left pottery behind and, 30 years on, I continue to specialise in glass.”
The magic and wonder of the colourful reflections created by light in that initial project continue to excite Rachel today. Although she mainly works on large-scale commissions while teaching stained glass workshops, her home décor features some of her handmade glass art and is a reminder of why she loves the art form.
“When you live with stained glass you see it at different times and seasons and it always looks slightly different like it’s alive rather than static,” she enthuses. “My front door has stained glass panels made of remnants I had in my studio. It catches the afternoon and evening sun making the walls become ablaze with colours. Then, on a grey day when the reflections are absent, you can admire the glass itself and focus on the details like the hand-painted designs.”
Kaye also enjoys surrounding herself with her creations. Her home features her mosaic work on the inside and out. The focal point is a memory path that winds across the exterior floors, leading to her door. Made from a lifetime of saved and found items, it captures treasures from her travels abroad, broken jewellery donations from friends, and all manner of weird and wonderful artefacts connected by colour.
“I’ve always been inspired by visionary environments, places where people have spent 20 years of their life, mosaicing everything in their home,” explains Kaye. “I’ve visited a few around the world and that’s been at the back of my mind that I want to do the same. I eventually created a memory path. The idea was to have highlights of colour in between all the sandstones but sometimes the materials dominated because of their texture or pattern. Colours would flow throughout the curving lines but then there would be ‘rest areas’ of one colour. As the mortar dries quickly, I had to work fast so there’s also randomness about it, as well an overall flow of colour and design.”
Savouring the spectrum
Choosing colours is often led by a client’s palette preference, but when both artists have the freedom to use the shades they want, their work takes on a whole new level of satisfaction, as Kaye explains: “Colour is everything to me; it’s been such a big part of my life. I didn’t set out to be colourful, I just was. I never wanted to create normal boring beige mosaics; there’s so much of that in the industry. For me, it was fun to incorporate colour.”
Kaye Gilhooly and her gardens
For Rachel, the search for colour inspired her decision to only use mouth-blown glass. “It has the widest choice of colour options,” she reveals. “I use a company in Germany called Lamberts that makes all their glass sheets from scratch. There are companies in the UK but they source materials rather than make everything in-house, which is why they can’t create as many colours. What’s interesting about mouth-blown glass is that you get different shades in one sheet; it can be slightly darker at one end and lighter at the other. I also like the element of irregularity that adds texture to a piece, such as bubbles and streaks that appear during the blowing process.”
The therapeutic benefits of colour
Colour can impact our mood and emotions, which is one of the reasons people display art in a specific place. It’s aesthetically pleasing and also changes how a space feels. Both Rachel and Kaye keep this in mind, to ensure their art has the desired impact.
For Rachel, there are two distinct stages in her work led by colour: first, choosing the base glass and, second, the paint she applies on top. Surprisingly, the latter is typically black, but it’s the introduction of darker areas that allows Rachel to create striking panels that tell stories. “The placement of paint impacts on how light filters through the glass,” she says. “I could use plain panels but it’s the painting that gives the work depth and energy, particularly as I’m interested in figurative work and storytelling. It could be the fur on an animal, the folds in a dress or words; when I add black paint, the glass comes alive.”
Rachel Mulligan’s art (click the photos to view the titles of each piece)
Kaye takes a flexible approach to colour. “I don’t do drawings but I have ideas that sometimes take years before I feel ready to make them,” she adds. “I might visualise them in a particular colour, like blue, but when I go to make it blue no longer fits my mood, so I choose a different hue. That’s part of the beauty of working with colour. Nothing is fixed; you can always experiment, add more, or take it away. The key is not to feel restricted but to let colours guide you. The result is usually something far better than your imagination and it’s these moments that bring me the greatest joy from my art.”
A palette of possibilities
Using colour as the starting point for a new piece of work will influence how it looks and feels. To prompt the viewer to feel a certain way when they see your artwork, apply these principles of colour therapy into your design:
Red: A high-energy colour, it makes us feel alert, awake, and energised.
Orange: An uplifting and sociable colour, ideal for communal spaces.
Yellow: A mood-boosting colour that inspires positivity.
Green: A colour that promotes tranquility, it has instantly de-stressing properties.
Blue: The colour of communication, blue promotes clarity and unblocks obstacles.
Purple: Inspires spirituality, using and seeing it can make you feel more grounded.
All photos of Rachel Mulligan and her art by Mark Melling.