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The Colors of Northwest Indian Art

The main traditional colors of Northwest Indian art are black and red. Black is the primary color used in the formline which is the outline for the body of the subject. The formline is discussed further in the article about the shapes of Northwest Indian art. Although Native artists use commercial paint these days, black color was derived from charcoal, graphite or lignite coal in the old days.

The secondary elements of the subject are usually painted red. Red colors were derived from red ochre and hematite minerals before the days of paint.

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Many pieces of Northwest Indian art use only these two colors to achieve that characteristic Northwest Native look. A fine example is the raven and bear carving below left by Albert Joseph of the Squamish First Nation.

northwest indian art raven bear --------- northwest indian art bald eagle
---Northwest Indian Art -------- Northwest Indian Art
------------ Raven & Bear Carving -------- Bald Eagle Carving ------------

Of course, many Northwest Native artists also use additional colors to add final touches to their artwork. A tertiary color often used as a filler is blue-green where the shades can range from pure blue all the way to pure green. This was an influence from the Northwest Native artists from the northern regions of the Pacific Northwest.


Other colors that are used as tertiary colors include yellow and white. Contemporary Northwest Native artists also occasionally experiment with other colors since they are widely available today as commercial paints. The bald eagle carving on the above right by Cody Mathias of the Squamish First Nation illustrates the use of multiple colors. There are also wood carvings that do not have any colors at all giving them the stained wood look.

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In the past, black was painted first, then red and any tertiary colors came last. In many instances, black and red colors were painted on wood before any carving was started since these two colors were usually put on the plane surface of the piece. Any tertiary colors like blue-green, yellow or white were added in after carving. This method was thought to be more practical for the artist. However, most Northwest Native artists today carve first and paint later. Clear shoe polish or oil is then applied to carvings to give an extra shine to the surfaces.

Northwest Indian artists are producing some stunning artwork these days. Imagine such a piece displayed in your home. See Northwest Indian art carvings or Northwest Indian art prints at very affordable online prices at Free Spirit Gallery.

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The Shapes Used in Northwest Indian Art

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