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Challenge #14 Dare Pink

All the great colorists dare to use pink.

Snap judgement or reality?

This challenge in any case to encourage you to dare pink. This act of bravery may not turn you into a great colorist, but it will be a start.

We are not only talking about the pale pink of our western skins, our cheeks or our buttocks, even as seen by Rubens, but of all roses from the softest to the flashiest.

Why is pink seen as a color apart?

It is often considered “too feminine”, with romantic or innocent connotations; salesmen abuse it in the girls’ department, and yet it is fine for more than one man, without castrating them.

Scientifically speaking, pink is special because it does not exist in the spectrum of the sunlight. So, before we do our usual exploration according to the GORC method (Get inspired, Observe, Reproduce, Create), a little diversion to understand the particularity of pink. Those who are not interested in the science or technique of painting will go directly to the next section.

And if you’ve never dipped your brush in pink or worn any pink clothing, now’s your chance to try something inspired by the following.

Vinciane Lacroix, Result of the challenge “Dare Pink”, photography (CC-BY-SA 2.5)

Pink, a color apart

Pink Light

On the color wheel the pink has a special place: it is not found in the rainbow; it is said to be extra-spectral, as opposed to the other so-called spectral colors.

On the left: the color wheel with identification of spectral and extra-spectral hues; on the right a color composition: apart from black, which is not associated with any hue, the hue of each of these colors is extra-spectral.

As you have read in this article, the ideal white light consists of a set of waves of equal energy. When the brain-eye perceives it, it does not detect any color nuances: it describes it as white (or grey, depending on the intensity of the light). When it is broken down by a prism, all the hues are visible… All of them? No! No shade of pink is present.

Light pink is a mixed color, born from the union of the two ends of the solar spectrum, as you can see below. If you have two prisms, you can superimpose the beginning of one spectrum with the end of the other and discover the resulting pink. With a single prism, one will superimpose the photo of the spectrum with its copy, in a suitable software program.

Pink is the superposition of both ends of the solar spectrum. Top: on the left the device, on the right detail of the dispersion spectrum. Middle, the spectrum superimposed on itself in different cases. Below, the result of the superimposition: on the left, a pale pink; in the middle, a more intense pink; on the right, a darker pink. (V. Lacroix CC-BY-SA 2.5)

Pink Material

As for the pink of the surfaces, it is produced by a material that reflects more rays at the beginning and end of the spectrum (<500 nm and >600 nm). Consequently, it absorbs more of them between 500 and 600 nm.
Below are three spectra of different shades of pink from pigments: quinacridone PV19, magenta quinacridone PR122 and a magenta ink. The graphs show the proportion reflected for each wavelength in the visible range. Note the preponderance of rays at the beginning and end of the spectrum compared to the medium wavelengths.

Pigment spectra PV19R, PR122 (from ) and magenta ink (from Wikipedia). These graphs show the proportion of “white” light reflected as a function of wavelength.

When the radiation reflected by the pigment hits the retina, the brain interprets it as pink. On the graphics above, the red, green and blue curves superimposed on the pigment spectra represent the sensitivity of the light sensors on the retina.

The pink pigments PV19 and PR122 are among the top 40 pigments recommended by Bruce Mac Evoy for watercolor. In addition, the “primary pink” (#397) in Talens gouaches is a blend of these two pigments.

Pink, a Primary Red

Along with white, lemon yellow, cyan blue and black, pink is one of the basic colors for the beginner in graphic design. This color is more often called “magenta”, sometimes red or primary pink. This combination of four colors makes it possible to achieve a maximum number of colors by mixing according to a principle similar to the four-color printing process. Below is the Talens’ version in extra-fine gouache. Read the excellent little book of Royal Talens to know more about their mixing.

The Talens minimal gouache set to create by mixing all the colors of the color wheel. Note the pink #397, consisting of a mixture of the pigments PV19 and PV122.

Be aware that this does not mean that you will be able to create all the colors with this set, but you will be able to create all the hues of the color wheel, spectral and extra-spectral hues included. Which colors are then out of your reach? Essentially very intense colors (i.e. very bright or very deep). Some colors such as ocher and earths are not easy to produce, so after experimenting with this basic set, buy yourself to a few extra tubes.

Artistic life would be very sad if we limited ourselves to these five basic colors. Moreover, to create a work of art, it is not essential that all the colors are present. On the contrary, we have seen in this challenge that a limited palette is preferable to obtain a beautiful harmony, and they should not be especially those ones. But let’s come back to pink.

Get Inspired and Observe

Pierre-Paul Rubens

Rubenists versus Poussinists

Do you know the quarrel between the rubenists and the poussinists? In their ideal of painting, the former advocated the supremacy of color, the latter the supremacy of drawing. You can guess the painters who were models for each other: Rubens (1577-1640) and Poussin (1594-1665). The rubenists favoured the power of sensation, while the Poussinists gave pride of place to form.

Note that a similar argument took place in Italy in the fifteenth century; known as disegno (design or drawing) versus colore or colorito (color), the rivalry was also a regional one, with disegno associated with central Italy, especially Florence, and colore with Venice.

The dissension between Rubenists and Poussinists arose in France in 1671. It has been likened to the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns and was discussed for a long time. Today we no longer refer to these antagonistic clans, but the primacy of drawing over color (or the reverse) can still be debated.

Rubens was therefore at one time considered to be the absolute master of color. And so, if the thesis that the great colorists dare to use pink is true, Rubens must be one of them.

Rubens and pink

Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is an extremely productive painter – 1403 paintings according to the M. Jaffé catalogue, some of them monumental; he is assisted by a workshop with many talented painters. The style of his plump models certainly does not correspond to our ideal of beauty. Baroque excess aside, he is known for his mastery of color, especially for composing the painting. As such, in view of the paintings available on internet, I would give red the upper hand: Rubens often uses it to focus attention. As for pink, it is most often reserved for the multiple accents on the flesh, which ends up counting! However, I found more than one painting where Rubens took pink out of his usual playground. Below are a few paintings to illustrate my point.

The Adoration of the Magi

The first painting is a study for the Adoration of the Magi. Notice how the bright red of the mantle captures the attention and how it contrasts with the softness of the pink on the faces of the children, Jesus and Mary, the only pink and light points in the painting. A diagonal of light from the upper left corner leads to Jesus, the subject of adoration. Another Magus, dressed in yellow and blue – a notable association in Rubens’ work – raises the background of his presence, but he remains more discreet than the Magus dressed in red.

Pierre-Paul Rubens Study for the Adoration of the Magi (1618-1619)
Peter-Paul Rubens adoration of the Magi (1618-1619)

Comparing the study and the final painting, it can be seen that the red has melted into the mass. It no longer steals the attention from Marie. The emphasis of light is now mainly on her, highlighting her slightly pinkish white skin. The diagonal is indeed less marked; more evenly distributed patches of light guide the eyes through the composition. The presence of the Magus in the background is further attenuated, but the richness of his golden-yellow garment bursts into the eyes and balances the whole.

Two portraits

Peter-Paul Rubens did not limit himself to one genre: religious scenes, landscapes, portraits, etc. And, in the portrait, he does not confine himself to a single type of composition. In both of these, notice how the color induces the reading of the painting. Here the pink – one, dark, which we shall call purple, and the other, reddish, which we shall more readily call Indian pink – are used in the background. This Indian pink seemed to me to be very popular as a background color for Rubens’ portraits. There is an oblique lighting from the upper left side.

Peter-Paul Rubens, on the left “Hélène Forment” (1630-1631); on the right “Portrait of a woman” (1637)
Religious scenes

To conclude the section devoted to Rubens, two more very different paintings. In the first one, Mary Magdalene dressed in pink is hardly noticeable. The tonalities of her dress are both in the continuity of the soldier’s cloak on the right and close to the figure’s mantle on the left. Another soldier’s spear reinforces the diagonal reading from the bottom of the cross. The flag in the background takes up the color of the dress, in a darker tone. The play of glances of the characters, supported by the colored shapes, make us move around the painting. The red of the Apostle John’s garment, through a play of contrasts, highlights Mary, the only distinctly blue element in the scene. However, this blue tint is taken up again, attenuated in the background, in the grey steel-blue sky.

Peter-Paul Rubens, “Christ on the Cross” (1628)
Peter-Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Younger, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” (1628)

The last painting is a collaboration between Rubens and Jan Brueghel the youngster. Here Christ is in a pink tunic. The young woman to the right of Jesus is dressed in yellow and blue, just like the Magi in the first study. Note how the shape of the skirt supports the direction towards Jesus, in continuity with the gestures of the characters. Finally, the aerial perspective in shades of green invites the gaze to leave the house of Martha and Mary to wander through the landscape in the background.

Is the hypothesis validated?

Rubens is certainly a great colorist. But does he dare to use pink? Yes, but apart from his preference to use it to accentuate women’s sensitivity and softness, he doesn’t make it his favorite color. In fact, no color seems to be banned from his palette.


This article showed you already the importance of travel in the life of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). In my opinion, he is a great colorist. Does he dare to use pink? You be the judge. If it is conceivable to paint a still life on a pink sheet or a little girl dressed in pink, it also takes a lot of daring to paint a floor in pink.

Paul Gauguin, “Still Life with Japanese Print” (1889)
Paul Gauguin, “Two Sisters” (1902)
Paul Gauguin, “Riders on the beach” (1902)

Bonnard and Vuillard

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) were two great friends. Talented colorists, several paintings and pastels show how comfortable they were with pink. They often associate it with green, its complementary color (remember Challenge #4).

Pierre Bonnard, “Table in the Garden
Edouard Vuillard, “Sacha Guitry in his dressing room” (1911-1912)

Klee and Kandinsky

Although they were together in the same class at the studio of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1900, Paul Klee (1879-1940) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) did not come together until later. I have selected six works which emphasize pink.

Below, a watercolor by Paul Klee and then two paintings by Wassily Kandinsky at a time when they felt no affinity for each other.

Paul Klee, “View of Saint Germain” (1914)
Wassily Kandinsky, “View from Griesbrau’s window in Murnau” (1908)
Wassily Kandinsky, “Kohlgruber Street in Murnau” (1908)

The following paintings show a common pictorial and stylistic interest.

Paul Klee, “Tale à la Hoffmann” (1921)
Paul Klee, “Fruits on Red – Violinist’s Handkerchief” (1930)
Wassily Kandinsky, “Yellow Border” (1930)

These artists are unquestionably masters of color, and do not hesitate to use all shades of pink.


I hesitated to invite Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) into my pantheon of great colorists. Certainly, he had his blue period and his pink period. Both of them testify to his ability to play with color. But I associate Picasso above all with cubism, a movement he initiated with Georges Braque. Their preoccupation is much more with form than with color. Moreover, color seems to be almost denied. Cubist works are most often made of earth and asphalt, grey and black. Eliane Escoubas writes: “It is to reject appearance, the spectacular of appearance, that the cubists first reject the fundamental colors and paint in brown, black and white, with gradations of grey, that is to say, “non-colors” […]”.

Nevertheless, Picasso could not be reduced to his Cubist period. His undeniable talent as a draughtsman, painter and colorist exploded at the beginning of his career. The paintings of the pink period are of great beauty. He painted this one when he was only 25 years old.

Pablo Picasso, “Boy with pipe” (1905)

Contemporary painters

Maxilian is a very prolific colorist painter. No color seems to frighten him. Nor does pink. Besides, he can put it on his canvas as well as wear it. His field of predilection is non-objective painting. Visit his Instagram account (@paintings_of_maxilian) to discover other paintings.

Maxilian, oil painting (2018 © Maxilian) Courtesy of the artist.
Maxilian, oil painting (2020 © Maxilian) Courtesy of the artist.

Sometimes pink is only used as a tonic. Above, it responds to its complementary green color.

Pink in sculpture

The artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) created playful and colorful sculptures. In her “nanas”, pink literally bursts out.

Niki de Saint Phalle, “Nana”.

At the cinema

Wes Anderson has an imagination that he accompanies to the cinema with very specific color palettes. The film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a masterpiece of chromatic exploration… and pink is very present, to say the least.

Poster from the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson

On Instagram

Go to designer Iris Apfel’s instagram account. She will throw colors into your eyes. Of course, her world is a bit baroque. For her, “less is bore”; she can’t imagine life without color. And certainly not without pink.

At the same time, if you like Wes Anderson, the instagram account Wesandersonplanet will let you discover unlikely places associated with small, highly informative items.

Finally, via her Instagram account, the irreverent Genieve Figgis will take you into her colorful world; this immersion will forever refute the association of pink and softness.

Seen on Instagram: on the left, Iris Apfel; on the right wesandersonplanet.
On Instagram: Genevieve Figgis (Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech)
On Instagram: Genieve Figgis (Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech)

You can also discover the work of Genieve Figgis on her website:

And the other artists

Of course it is impossible for me to enumerate all the colorist painters. Fauvists are colorists by nature. Expressionists by instinct. Van Gogh by madness. And for many of the contemporary artists I mentioned in the previous challenges you will undoubtedly find pink in their works. I am thinking in particular of Pedro Covo, Nicolas de Staël, Brecht Evens, David Hockney, Alex Kanevsky, Judith Simonian, Tom Thomson, etc. Also present in my mind are all those I have yet to introduce you to in these articles.

Alex Kanevsky, left: “ALS” (2007), right: “Monet in his garden” (2013) (© Alex Kanevsky) Courtesy of the artist.


This reproduction of a 1914 painting by August Macke intrigued me for his choice of palette. I copied it quickly in gouache, without getting too attached to the details.

Vinciane Lacroix, Copy a painting by August Macke


For this challenge, I will limit myself to photography. The one presented in the introduction was taken at night. The pink of the flowers appears mysterious to me and combines beautifully with green, its complementary color.
In the next one, the bright pink of the background is combined with the blue of the dress, presented in a display case.

Vinciane Lacroix, “Fashion”, photography (CC-BY-SA 2.5)

The last one is a sunrise over the North Sea. Apart from this pink spot and its slightly darker reflection on the wet sand, the whole picture is relatively neutral.

Vinciane Lacroix, “Sunrise at the North Sea” (CC-BY-SA 2.5)

Go ahead!

Ready to explore all shades of pink?

In your artistic creations or your clothing? If it’s for decoration, you might dare to associate it with yellow in your interior, like Natacha; look how they match in Klee’s “Tale à la Hoffman”. But there are many other possible combinations, as you saw in the various examples above.

Anyway, it’s time to take pink out of the Barbie department and invite it into the big league, like all these talented colorists.

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