Recently I was writing some lessons for Quilt University (Inspired to Design, not yet open for registration but I’ll let you know when it begins) and in one of the lessons I wrote about the importance of colour and value in designing quilts. While I eventually decided to go with the old traditional Newton colour wheel, I began to think about whether it does really reflect what we know about colour. For example, we’re told that adding two complementary (i.e. on opposite sides of the wheel) colours makes a neutral grey. When I add red to green, I get brown!! I always thought this was my personal failure!! (back to that convent school upbringing again!). However, it’s more likely that it’s because the traditional colour wheel doesn’t actually place complements directly opposite each other.
We all know the Newton colour wheel: 12 steps with 3 primaries (red, yellow, blue), 3 secondaries (purple, green, orange) and steps between each of those which have double barreled names with the adjacent primary colour being first and the secondary colour on the other side being second e.g. yellow-green, red-orange etc.
It always struck me too, that there seemed to be a lot more steps on the warm side than the cool. From yellow green through to purple there are eight steps but as I look at the world I don’t see 2/3 warm colours. So why is it that way? Apparently, mainly for historical reasons relating to the availability of certain pigments! (Remember Kuhn’s Nature of Scientific Revolutions? we only believe science when sociologically we’re ready to believe it – witness the current widespread disbelief of climate change). There were more colours in the warm ranges available to painters…so there were more warm steps on the wheel.
Early in the 20th century Albert Munsell came up with a slightly different arrangement of colours around the wheel, now known as the Munsell system. In this system, there are usually 10 different hues around the wheel. There are a number of different versions of this on the internet and everyone’s monitors show slightly different colours anyway…so I’ll describe Munsell’s wheel in words rather than a picture:
yellow, chartreuse, green, turquoise, blue,violet, purple, fuchsia, red, orange.
Munsell’s system, which has much more evenly distributed chromatic steps around the wheel, has been adopted by many different scientific agencies because they found it more accurately reflected actuality. There are lots of internet sites that address this but I suggest beginning with Wikipedia, and then reading James Gurney’s excellently understandable series on colour wheels.
I’m going to try it out with watercolour this afternoon and with dye when I start up the dye studio again this spring – out with the old! in with the new colour wheel.
Accept new ideas! and please…comment!
If you have been, thanks for reading…Elizabeth