Science and Art Collide
Science and Art Collide
By Stephanie Sailer
At first you wouldn’t see it when you cross paths with this art student:
The landscape with the grass that looks bluer than green, and the sky that should be a crisp clear blue but instead takes on the violet of an Easter egg.
If you question her color selections, she’ll quickly insist that she’s not done yet.
Muttering unintelligibly, she’ll grab from her closed box another tube of paint, squirting the bright green upon her palette, getting ready to go another round.
Nicole Malerei is part of the 1 percent of woman in the world who is colorblind.
That percentage shrinks even more when factoring in that she is an art student who takes classes at Chemeketa.
“So I’m a limited edition,” Malerei says while tossing her paintbrush upon the table, the angry clack of the brush speaking louder than she manages.
“I still begin, bang my head on the wall, and finish just like any other art student.”
Tracking down this curiosity is not easy.
Getting her to talk about it?
Malerei guards her privacy as if she’s a spy.
“I know people are curious, but it really isn’t rocket science on how I got here,” she says. “I simply checked art when applying to Chemeketa.”
Kay Bunnenberg-Boehmer, one of the college’s art instructors, says that teaching a colorblind student can be virtually impossible.
“There is more than a language barrier,” she says.
Resigned to the serious questions, Malerei’s lips only loosen slightly when she’s armed with a caramel ice coffee.
Despite the misconceptions about colorblind people, she refuses to be deterred in pursuing her art.
Malerei says that she loves colors, even if she doesn’t see most of them in the way that most everyone else does.
“It’s kind of strange, but people tend to think that because I’m colorblind, I can only work in black and white. But I have trouble with that, too,” she says.
The best example she can think of is trying to draw a tree.
“It’s near impossible to do,” she says. “There’s a zillion bits of green in a tree; but looking at it, I usually only see one shade. Normally, anything changes color depending on how the light hits it, from dark to light. I don’t see the change.”
So how does she do it, exactly; how does she meet this nearly impossible challenge?
“I said near impossible,” she says, sweeping her paint brush out as she stabs at the air. “Nothing is impossible; just improbable.”
Quickly wiping her brush upon a rag, she tosses it into a cup of storm-clouded water. Malerei grabs a sketch book from under her art box, flipping to a drawing of a candlestick with detail that you can practically touch.
She explains that the main direction of light is coming from the right side of the candlestick. Wherever there is main light will be the lightest points off the candlestick.
Possessing that knowledge is all she needs to create her art.
“But it’s not just about that one light. It’s about the back lighting, too,” she says.
Malerei’s hand caresses her sketch book as she continues to explain that without directional light, your darkest points are defined by a strong curve, edge, or angle. You continue by depicting the second lightest points on the smoother curves of the object and the lightest on what is unobstructed by anything else.
“After you know where the shades are going, it’s just a matter of controlling the pencil pressure and reading the grade: 2b, 4b, and so on,” she says.
Malerei says quickly that the grades give you a way to measure the hardness of the graphite in your pencils.
“Determining color works the same way with a few more steps,” she says. “There is studying, graphing, lighting, and researching what colors should be.
“My representational paintings are never what I see. It’s mostly guess work, from researching what people are supposed to see,” she says.
“I use that research with the basic principles of color mixing, which I get from my color mixing books. Two that I like the most are Color Mixing Bible and 1500 Colors something. It has a really long title.”
Malerei laughs, waving off the book title as of little importance.
By no means an easy destination, she says only one thing to those who tell her that she can’t be an art student.
“Ha. You wait and see.”