Why Are Barns Red?

"Old Barn in Spring", pastel, 11 x17

“Old Barn in Spring”, pastel, 11 x17

It is February already! It is the month of Valentine’s Day when we hope someone thinks of us with tokens of love, the color red and flowers. January found me busy with this painting, “Old Barn in Spring.” The focal point of the painting is the red barn. The color of the red barn made me wonder why barns are painted red. They have been called “architectural poppies” that contrast with green grass. According to Catherine Bauer of Colorado and others that have researched the topic, early settlers in America painted huge barns that symbolized great hopes and plans for life in the New World. Farmers began painting barns after the 1700’s with skimmed milk, lime, and red oxide. Linseed oil and often blood was also added to the mixture. Some farmers thought that red painted barns kept them warmer inside in winter.

Red is the color of Valentine hearts. It is also symbolic of a zest for life. In design it is used to attract attention. In this painting I think the solidity and timeless quality of the weathered barn contrasts with the fleeting nature of the delicate pink of the fruit tree in the foreground.

Technical elements of the painting: I first blocked in the scene from a reference photo with pastel and set the under painting with a wash of water. The original scene did not have the pathway and foreground fencing which I added as a compositional element to invite the viewer into the painting. There were several vanishing points due to the various hills which made for a few challenges.

I hope the month of February brings you more symbols of the color red!