My first painting teacher wasn't much help. I showed her some of the paintings I had done before joining her class, of which I was very proud. She looked at them, shook her head, and said, "You're adding white to your colors to get lighter, and black to get darker."
Yes, that definitely was true, but what was wrong with that? I was too deflated that she hadn't liked my work, and too intimidated by a sense of how little I knew about painting, to ask what I should be doing instead.
The solution came when I fell in love with two painters.
It hit me like a bolt of lightning. During my wanderings in the library, I discovered the paintings of Edouard Vuillard and David Park, and I was smitten. The actual ability to use color to create space took me years and years of practice, but the understanding of how to go about doing it was something I comprehended as soon as I looked at their work.
The answer: your brain doesn't decipher the color, your imagination reveals it to you.
Above: "Torso" by David Park, 1959, 36-3/8" x 27-3/4", San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Above: "After the Meal" by Édouard Vuillard, 1900, oil on board, 28 x 36 cm, Museé d'Orsay, Paris.