Munsell Color System; Color Matching from Munsell Color Company > Art & Color > Reaching for Color Knowledge in the Leaves of a Tree

Reaching for Color Knowledge in the Leaves of a Tree

As I’m siting at my desk with a pencil in my hand, and a search light in my head turned on – I find myself on a quest to find a visual image for my inspiration. It flickers and fades, but I’m like an archeologist, I won’t give up, I’ll be excavating my soul with a sharp pencil and I’ll dig it out. I will bring it to life, give it a shape, and make it visible. I will show others what’s keeps lurking in my head since I was a little girl. I’ll find the way…

I was born in the city of Leningrad, USSR, to my parents who were a graphic designer and an industrial designer. Growing up in my father’s design studio, and helping my mom in many different art jobs she had took over the years, I studied art through after school art classes.

Visual arts in its many different forms were my life. I was brewing in it, and naturally made a choice to be an artist. I loved all things art. All but one. There was a dark spot, a blemish on that planet called Visual Arts. A dissatisfaction. Imbalance. It was forming as I was mixing colors on my palette, but I had no name for it yet. All I knew is that it’s not true, it’s not working…

The pencil is tapping on the piece of paper. I think I see the shadow… a glimpse of the idea that keeps moving. The goal is clear: to capture the correlation between two generations, and between two different fields: the knowledge and the practice. Yes, I can feel a hem of it’s clothes in my hand… I’ll pin it to my paper with the sharp led of my pencil. Done. Captured!

Papier-mache pencil, crayon and stick in progress on an art studio table

Papier-mâché decor for Masha Hemmergling’s art classroom – stage 1 in progress (pencil, oil pastel, crayon)

Stage 2 view of crayon, oil pastel and pencil in colored papier-mache in progress

Papier-mâché decor for Masha Hemmergling’s art classroom – stage 2 (pencil, oil pastel, crayon)

A colored papier-mache pencil, oil pastel and crayon on the table

Papier-mâché decor for Masha Hemmergling’s art classroom – final stage (pencil, oil pastel, crayon)

The A-Ha Moments

My art college was the place I loved the most: surrounded by likeminded young people I was making art all day long, learning new techniques and the step-by-step process of different styles was like opening a door to the unknown adventure.

The magical brush stroke techniques, creative ways of loading the paintbrush with paint, and even the process of mixing colors to make new hues – I loved every part of it! We mixed colors more out of necessity than a desire to experiment: poor art students needed to be creative, right? To buy primary colors plus black and white will save money… but wait, you still have to get purple and green because they’ll never come out right when you’re trying to make them yourself.

Necessity turned into an unexpected discovery – I had unknowingly stepped into the world of chroma. By mixing reds and blacks together I was getting beautiful browns, that were different from browns I would get from mixing reds and greens. Oh, this color world needs more excavating!

The thin pencil line pulls out a shape from an empty sheet, preparing the paper fibers to accept the colorful makeover. This self pity party will end before it started. It will morph into the revolution. I have to stop this disconnection between science and art making, between discoveries in color field and teaching art at schools.

Now it’s Perestroika, everything changes, even the name of the city and a country where I grew up. Now we live in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. We can have freedom of speech. We are questioning everything, and I’m, being an artist, questioning the fact that mixing primary colors doesn’t yield promised secondary colors, no matter what media I’ve used.

Masha Hemmerling working on a painting of a bouquet of chrysanthemums in its very early stages

Chrysanthemums in the Red Vase, acrylic paint on canvas (in progress) by Masha Hemmerling

Masha Hemmerling working on a painting of a bouquet of chrysanthemums in mid stage

Chrysanthemums in the Red Vase, acrylic paint on canvas (in progress) by Masha Hemmerling


Masha Hemmerling working on a painting of a bouquet of chrysanthemums nearing its completion

Masha Hemmerling in the studio painting, Chrysanthemums in the Red Vase, acrylic paint on canvas

Masha Hemmerling working on a painting of a bouquet of chrysanthemums completed

Chrysanthemums in the Red Vase, acrylic paint on canvas by Masha Hemmerling

A Color Tree for Learning

“Why do they make us memorize a theory that does not work?”, I am asking myself during the Science of Materials test. What would I do different if I were them? What if teachers themselves don’t know the answer yet?

Even though practice did not support theory, it was engraved into my mind: red+blue=purple, blue+yellow=green, red+yellow=orange. That’s what the book said. That must be true… I must be doing something wrong.

Wait, what was that?… The pencil scribbles on the paper an image of a tree… Now, 30 years later, I know the truth. But back then… the color theory, the color spectrum, the mixing formula… a little girl…

The color in pigments and light are so mysterious and so invigorating, it mesmerizes my young mind. It disappears with the light, and it comes back to life with the sunrise, or when we turned the switch on… How magnificent that our eyes can see this miracle of color. Light, pigment, eyes and mind – there must be a connection. It’s arts and science, it’s theory and practice working together like one body. The Maker of it all is brilliant!

That little girl is eager to reach for more leaves. They are very precious to her – she does not want them to touch the ground and fade. She is seeking knowledge, but she is so small! She has to wait till the tree will start shading its leaves.

But wait, there is someone else in there… in the shadow of a tree, out of the spotlight. Let me see, I need to concentrate… please give me a minute!

The Color Tree by Masha Hemmerling shows Albert Munsell holding the original color tree and a little girl grabbing a leaf off a colorful tree in various hues

The Color Tree by Masha Hemmerling

How did it happened so fast? In a blink of an eye I became a teaching artist! Nothing should keep me now from braking off of useless theory. I see unhappy faces of my students, the expectations were high, but the magic trick went wrong. The color wheel feels wrong, the process of making secondary colors is not working. I have to go on the quest for my student’s sake.

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger. I finished the gentleman, who is sitting under the tree in a shadow. He is holding on to something precious so tightly – its the work of his life. It’s the hope of his life and a gift to the future generations.

I am looking up his features on the website that was named after him. Reading about him inspired this art piece. I feel I owe him for all that hard work, discoveries, research and desire to bridge the science and art, bright minds and young brains.

… Now I have the privilege of not only teaching art, but writing my own art curriculum for children in private christian schools. I’m working hard, inventing something new by connecting faith and building blocks of art.

I teach my art students using my curriculum, I see many fulfilled lives, happy creative souls. I see the eagerness to learn and I have a lot to give them. I want to pass the knowledge. I have all tools now to do that. Almost all of them.

Heart shaped cacti on paper in watercolor and acrylic by Masha Hemmerling

Watercolor and acrylic paint, heart shaped cacti on paper.

A pencil’s sketch of a handsome gentleman with a grey hair and glasses appears on the right side of the tree. The tree itself is his invention. The value is in the tree’s trunk, the hue is in its crown, the chroma is in its branches, it is his tree. It’s tall and strong. The feelings of that gentleman who is a painter, art teacher and inventor himself resonates with me so much!

… One self publishing company showed interest in my curriculum and I am revising it now, after two years of teaching it – it definitely needs to be polished again. Some touch ups on few lessons about elements of art here and there are needed. But the rubric on color needs a total transformation, a full revamp. It is the time to tell the truth, it is the time to unearth the mechanism that is working better than an old color theory. I roll my sleeves and get to work. I search the books, the internet, and articles on color…

It’s time to paint the tree, a girl and a gentleman himself. It’s time to give it a life of its own. His color tree is my inspiration, I’m looking at his pixelized tree, and carefully trying to match the colors. I’m using watercolors for the crown.

My hand is scanning an already created image in my head and working on bringing it to life. I hold my breath as thirsty fibers swallow up the watercolor left by the brush. My heart is full, I’m in the process. I have one day left until the deadline.

When I did a makeover on elements of art for my teacher’s manual, I had no problem of assigning dimensions to them, but then I hit the roadblock. So, if Dot – 0D, line – 1D, shape – 2D, form, texture – 3D, space – 4D, then what about color and value?

A traditional Russian folk art flower design acrylic paint on wood

Traditional Russian Folk Art Khokhloma, acrylic paint on wood by Masha Hemmerling

I have no idea about what dimension to give to these two elements. I can’t finish my manuscripts without it, I’m finding myself back to my research. I need more information!

… Now I will be working on the branches. I will be painting them with chroma, because I need to bring them from the tree crown all the way down to the tree trunk. They will bridge the metamorphosis of colors from the leaves all the way down to the white-grey-black value of the tree trunk.

I am mixing different hues of watercolor with white and gray pigments of acrylic paint. I’m thinking that blending two different media will yield the desired result – the blending of ideas and additional dimensions.

The date of the manuscript submission is coming closer. And I waited long enough, then out of nowhere… boom! The needed guidance, the answer, came from one of my favorite company’s podcast.

The Art of Ed was announcing that they will be having Maggie Maggio talking about A Better Approach to Color Theory! I’ll wait till then. I will finally learn everything I need to know about color, and I’ll pass on the knowledge to my students. Time, please hurry up!

A bouquet of pink roses in a vase, watercolor on canvas by Masha Hemmerling

Bouquet of Roses, watercolor on canvas by Masha Hemmerling

That little girl under the tree will be painted with acrylic paint. The color of her clothes is matching the colors of the tree crown on her side. Oh, boy, how eager she is to reach for knowledge! She will catch that fallen leaf… she will take care of it.

… Oh, wow, two full podcasts on Color! I can’t believe that its here, and my every question is being answered! So, color does have dimensions! All three of them! The CMY is the answer to the successful mixing of the secondary colors! And why don’t we teach our students about color in pigment and color in light, they do use printers and devises with screens, right?

I am now painting the gentleman’s clothes. I am matching colors to the hues above him. His eyes are looking into the future. I’m painting his globe – the 3D model of his research. How genius is that? How simple and how true! It resonates with every fiber of my soul.

There is so much to learn, but there is so little time. I drink information from the Munsell’s website source and from the Kolormondo. I’m glad I waited. I’m happy I was patient. All information that I learned about is simple and stunning. I quickly add important points and references to my manuscript for teachers. The color and a value as elements of art got a head-to-toe makeover and they look stunning!

I’ll put finishing touches onto the strong roots of the Color tree. I’ll surround them with grass. Then, when I’ll be done with this painting, they’ll spread dip and wide on their own. It’s time to submit my painting. It’s time to write the statement.

The girl is jumping under the tree, and the gentleman is smiling as he is hugging his globe. “Mr. Munsell, I know how you feel” – I’m telling the gentleman… “I know how you feel too” – I’m telling the little girl…

A special sound alerted me of a new email arriving to my box. I open it up, and read few times over because the news is overwhelming… It left me speechless, and my family is confused for why am I jumping?

In my imagination I am patting girl on her back and shaking Mr. Munsell’s hand. I want to tell him so much, but he grabs his globe and goes back under the tree. I know what he is saying. It’s now my turn to go and teach the facts about color. He passed this color tree as a baton to all of as – the visual arts educators. The time to act on it is now.

As I am sitting at my desk with my finished manuscript opened on the screen of my laptop, I press the button “send”. The journey just began.

I can’t wait till September, when I would be able to share with my students all about Albert Munsell, companies who are using his color system (which might surprise them!), and the best discovery of all – three dimensions of color: hue, value and chroma. I’ll teach them about CMY as modern primary colors, and the new Color Mixing formulas. I can’t wait till my manuscript will turn into a manual for Christian art teachers, where they will learn more about Albert Munsell’s color system that can be used in schools. I also can’t wait to see the smiles on my student’s faces as they would be mixing true secondary colors using Cyan and Magenta, Cyan and Yellow, Magenta and Yellow…

Hello, Purple, Green and Orange, I’ve been looking of you my whole life! I’m so glad I found you! … and by the way, you look bright and clear!

About the Author

Artist Masha Hemmerling posing in her studioMasha (Maria) Hemmerling is an artist of 35 years, art teacher of 7 years and art curriculum developer of 5 years. She majored from Russian Collage of Traditional Culture with her diploma in Fine Arts, and minor in Traditional Russian Folk art.

While still in Russia Masha worked as an Art teacher at the Technical and Vocational School for Disabled, taught kids about Bible through arts and crafts at the Sunday school, was an art tutor, freelance artist, worked as an artist for different companies and non-profit organizations. Many of her artwork is in private collections all around the world: Scandinavia, Europe, Russia, and America.

After moving to United States Masha (Maria) Hemmerling accomplished the following:

Local art exhibits:

  • Personal art exhibit at La Vien an Rose – 2004.
  • Orange District Fine Arts Festival awards winner for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Artist calls:

  • Winner of Orange District Fine Arts Festival call for book cover design for 2006, 2007.
  • Masha’s original art work was selected for display during the Munsell Centennial Color Symposium of 2018, and was printed in the special Munsell Centennial edition of the journal Color Research and Application.

Art Teacher Experience:

  • Volunteered at her children’s school as an art teacher of Meet the Masters program for 2012-2017.
  • She taught in one private Christian elementary school all three of her author’s programs (including Elements of Art) from 2015-2017. About 100 of Masha’s elementary students have participated in ACSI Art Festivals and won multiple awards 2015-2017.
  • Masha started her Inspirational Online Art Studio “PaperPaint&Palette” in the summer of 2017. She is using her website and different social media as a platform for her art tutorials, digital courses and live broadcasts that are based on the Cristian principals.
  • Recently she started a project, “The Mission of a Painted Block”, where she is organizing local churches, school-age students, homeschooling parents and members of philanthropic organizations to donate wooden building blocks. Then she brings volunteers to paint them with uplifting design and inspirational words from the Bible. Those wooden blocks are being donated to the Containers of Hope, and sent to different countries around the world, where they are being gifted to the local people.
  • Currently Masha is working as an K-8th grade art teacher in another private Christian School in Southern California. She also developing an art curriculum for the local K-12th grade Christian homeschooling organization.

To connect to Masha, and to see her video tutorials and art projects, please go to:

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