SAIIER 2019:The Watercolour Palette of Auroville

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SAIIER 2018-19
SAIIER 2018-19 icon.jpg

The Watercolour Palette of Auroville

by Ivana

This research project explored the quality of art and how paintings could be made using only low-cost watercolours of a limited palette: lemon yellow, carmine red, Prussian blue and burnt sienna. The project was carried solely by me and concluded with a presentation of photos of my paintings.

Ivana four cups.jpg

Description of project:

During my research work, I studied and focused on the highest quality of art, consulted well-known artists, and initiated discussions on the quality of art at Mitra Youth Hostel every Tuesday. These discussions were announced as a regular activity in May and June 2018, and a few of the talks were recorded by Auroville Radio.

I painted different subjects related to Auroville and the bioregion using watercolours on paper of varying formats. Over two hundred paintings were created in watercolours using my limited palette of four colours. I made four categories: abstracts, portraits, still life and landscapes.

At the end of my research project I gave a Power Point presentation of my work at the SAIIER conference hall. The presentation focused on explaining the aim of the project and its results and demonstrating my paintings.


1. Discussions about Quality Art in Auroville at Mitra

I painted a few posters that were displayed in Auroville and announced the events in News & Notes. The people who attending the meetings were encouraged to talk about the meaning of the word ‘Art’ and we brainstormed on all the possible interpretations of that word. People who were there or people who listened to the talk at AV Radio could be enriched by the knowledge of all those who came.

Watercolour Palette of Auroville 1 - Meeting on the quality of art.jpg

2. Paintings done by a limited watercolour palette

My topics were inspired by my life in Auroville. I chose subjects such as Matrimandir and the gardens, portraits of Sri Aurobindo and Mother. I also painted still life – mostly with everyday objects such as tea cups, tiffins, etc. I took photos of the paintings and published them on social media (Facebook and Instagram) during the year. The costs were low, as a watercolourist needs only a good brush and paper. I used four colours that combined harmoniously. Other media like acrylics or oil are more expensive. And even if an object is accidentally covered with paint it is easily washable – so highly recommended for children. The benefits will continue in the future as people will be exposed to the paintings.

3. Presentation

My presentation was aimed for the general public and happened at the SAIIER conference hall on Saturday, 30th March. I introduced myself as a painter who had a registered activity, ‘Roof Studio’ under Auroville Art Service, and presented the main theme of the project. The first pictures shown at the presentation were from our meetings at Mitra where we looked at different aspects of the quality of art. Topics included the nature of art, its composition, harmony, skills an artist needs to have, simplicity and complexity, etc.
Then I showed a few photos of paintings of famous painters such as Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard and Edvard Munch that are connected by mastery of expression of their strong inner life as it is the main result of my research. For example Vincent van Gogh’s sensitivity for the poor was represented by his painting “Head of Young Peasant”. One could discuss about its right proportions or composition but the painting brings tears into eyes of those who look at it. He showed his empathy for the poor.
Watercolour Palette of Auroville 2 - Vincent van Gogh The head of a young peasant.jpg
Another example was Pierre Bonnard’s painting of a lady. He used the same model for 46 years – his wife. We could see his love through our eyes. His wife was suffering from a psychological disorder but it is clear from his work that he loved and respected her fully.
Watercolour Palette of Auroville 3 - Pierre Bonnard The bathroom.jpg

I went on to introducing my four colours and their specificities with four of my abstract paintings. I showed my lemon yellow as the cool yellow colour to be used with burnt sienna to make a warm colour. The Prussian blue is suitable to mix for dark violet as a substitute for black. The carmine works well with violet and purple. Also I presented a painting which is done by different greens, reflecting the variation in our Auroville greenery.

Watercolour Palette of Auroville 4 - greens.jpg

The colours were also demonstrated with my paintings of still life, landscapes, portraits and abstracts. I brought awareness to my inner life through the paintings of tumblers that represent the social life to me, landscapes with Matrimandir to feel peacefulness, and portraits to enjoy the smile of Mother.

Watercolour Palette of Auroville 7 - Matrimandir.jpg

At the end of the presentation there was a discussion and I replied to questions concerning what I will do with the paintings and my future activities. The attendance was not huge but I thanked the people who came to the presentation because they had a genuine interest in the project and I felt that it brought a positive change to their lives.

  4. Websites

I created a website ( to display my paintings. A gallery page was also created on the Auroville Wiki ("Paintings by Ivana"). I published my paintings at my Facebook and Instagram profiles, “Ivana Frousova”. In this way everybody with access to internet can benefit and contact me in the future.



I feel that the most meaningful part of this project was the discussion about the word ‘art’. We found that the word seems to have lost its original meaning as it went through the centuries and developed as a craft, and ultimately ended up in everyday use as a means of doing things (e.g. an art of business).

The challenge of the project was also an opportunity: to become a painter who paints through her own heart.  


My research was not so much about the quality of art but rather about the quality of the painters who can masterfully express themselves, and how the limited watercolour palette can be helpful in that respect. I discovered that using this limited palette is a feasible and inexpensive way to paint.

I plan to continue with another project: an exhibition of my paintings at the European Pavilion in May/June 2019, including a public demonstration of painting with four colours. Observing this inexpensive way of expressing your self could be useful particularly for children.

I have several projects in mind for the coming year: painting as self-reflection on The Synthesis of Yoga; portraits of children with special needs; and portraits of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

See also