Monday, June 22, 2009

colour and color

I do hate it when the jurors in a quilt show give a prize for “best use of colour” to some quilt that has a million different colours on it: “Most use of color” might be a more apt designation!  Using more different hues than anyone else does not constitute good color practice!  Think about it in terms of interior design – only one thing worse than beige beige beige is red yellow green blue brown and pink in one room!!

In the same way that a composition is strengthened by harmony within shapes/lines and textures, so is color harmony something to be sought.  I know because I’ve been struggling with it this weekend on the piece I’m working on now!!dog

Not this one…this is a “dog” (apologies to all real canines!) that I made about 15 years ago now – I definitely should have got the “most use of colour prize” for this one!  as well as “most use of different shapes”!!!  I have pink and red and orange and yellow and purple and turquoise and ultramarine and brown and black and white!  This is an example of what not to do!  I do have some awful dingy beige beige pieces that were before I started painting, dyeing and printing my own fabric.

I wouldn’t have struggled quite so much this last w/e if I had taken my own advice and worked out the colour scheme I was going to use aforehand.  I think it’s a great idea if you can discipline yourself (sadly something I’m not very good about!) to cut a small swatch off every fabric you own (that’s a different color) and work out a scheme from the swatches.  I usually do this with the whole chunk of fabric which means the studio looks like a tornado came through flinging fabric into the air.  But the process a WYSIWYG one – you can’t decide colour schemes from words, you have to do it from the actual color.

As most of us know there are really a limited number of generic colour schemes: monochromatic (one color), analogous (several adjacent colours on the colour wheel) and complementary (colours opposite to one another on the wheel). (split complementary is the same only you add the colors adjacent to the opposites).  Yes you CAN take 4 colours that form a square or rectangle on the wheel but it’s difficult to make a harmonious scheme doing that.

flora and ferra k

                           I love monochromatic – there’s nothing better for really giving a crisp result than one colour and white:  and I’ve used it a lot in my buildings series.

A monochromatic scheme is also great for setting a mood – I had a lady in class one time do a lovely icy glacier piece all in blues…I don’t have a picture sadly.  But here’s one I’ve done several all in greens giving a soft woodland mood.


And grey has been another favorite – grasping the softness of a misty morning:


    I spent a whole year on grey!! 

An analogous scheme gives a soft rich mood – 3 or four adjacent colours on the wheel can be  so luscious.  Think redorange/ red /red violet – how sumptuous!  Or turquoise/blue/blue violet – cool and marine.  Or yellow/yellow-orange/orange – so tangy and fresh!  Yes you can almost taste those colour schemes!  it’s good with an analogous scheme to add a touch of a complementary colour as a minor note, a 7th note!  This can really pull your eye to the focal point.  In the largely green piece above you can see how I’ve a tiny touch of pink in the windows..


Complementary schemes: blue/orange, purple/yellow and red/green – and all the ones in between – yield a more complex harmony.   It’s important to make one of the colours dominant, however, in order that there’s no Battle of the Colours!  The choice would relate to the theme.   I have used the purple/yellow scheme many times, especially in the night scenes I’ve done.

But while I’m advocating restraint re hue in color, I certainly think it vital that value and intensity are varied as much as you can!  Yes, limit yourself to blue and orange….but many blues: warm and cool, many values: light and dark.  This makes the piece so much more exciting and it’s one reason why the old traditional quilts where the maker used different blue fabric remnants to piece the pattern are so much better than the modern equivalents where one might buy one yard of a blue fabric, one yard of an orange one, and one of a white one.

well…getting lengthy!!  More on colour next time.  And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth


Terry Grant said...

The "best use of color" award is akin to the artist's statement that says, "I love color!" and you know you are going to see every single color in it's most intense and pure form in the work. I love your color use--so complex and thoughtful. Your work really does create a mood or feeling through the color used. Thanks for today's food for thought. You always give me something to think about.

Sandra Wyman said...

Know what you mean about the use of colour award: there was a time when you could predict this would go to a rainbow quilt (which is what happened at FOQ in the UK last year. Though sometimes you do get judges who know a bit about colour and something more subtle gets the prize (I won one year with something based on the colours of bluebell woods - mainly varieties of blues and green with little flashes of apricots and dull pinks to keep it alive and I know of some judges who would award your beautifully subtle greys the prize!) Once again another thought-provoking post!

Nina Marie said...

Okay, I'll admit it,you have brought me around to using a limited palette. Time and time again,the strongest pieces I've seen are those that use color theory properly (and with a restrained hand). That said, I wonder why is it that there are some quilt artists' work that I love and they use color with abandon. Is it my lack of taste (grin)? Or is there a way to use color in this fashion and still have it work?

Anonymous said...

If I had to choose between a beige, beige, beige colour scheme and every colour in the stash I would choose beige every time! There is much more chance of getting the light, medium and dark contrasts to work with a limited choice of colour.

In addition, beige, beige, beige might be boring, but at least a boring quilt can be used as a table runner under a table centre or folded over the end of a bed for extra warmth when required without shouting down everything else in the room. (And keeping you awake into the bargain!)

There is also a tendency in design categories to award the prize to the one who fits most design elements into the work.

Judy B