Monday, November 16, 2009

Some thoughts on Colour

I’ve always believed I’d make a more coherent piece if I planned my colour scheme out before laying scissors to fabric…but there is so much more to colour!  The more I look at and read about colour, the more I realise there is to learn – it’s a fascinating topic. It’s one of the first things that people respond to- in many situations, so how could we use it more effectively?  Charles Hawthorne, a much beloved art teacher, continually impressed on his students that they should “see color simply” and stay with simple color forms trying to create beautiful relationships between major areas of colour.  I think often we can get too bitty with colour – scattering it around here and I wrote the other day..let’s not be afraid of big chunks of it!!  It helps to establish the big masses of colour from the beginning and there are several wonderfully successful (in terms of the work, not their bank accounts I may add! – different things, alas, lead to success in that area) art quilters who do this


e.g. Dominie Nash
Stills from a life # 33

and Terry Jarrard-Dimond.tjd






and even I sometimes manage to do this!

hamilton bay small piece


Hamilton Bay: study

Looking out the back


In the right hand piece (Looking out the Back) I wanted to establish the pattern of orange shapes against the grey blue background.
As an aside: It might be interesting to revisit this piece in a more abstract way and focus on the colours and shapes alone, leaving out the representational details in the light of Hawthorne’s remarks trying to focus on the relationships between the major areas of colour.

I think that most work is more unified is there is a dominant colour…though it’s boring if one holds the value constant and only uses one piece of fabric…d’you remember those awful days when you only bought 3 fabrics to make a whole quilt from?  thank goodness today’s quilters are not so restricted!

Colour can do so much work in a piece: it can create different moods – a calm serene blue (cobalt), or a fresh invigorating blue (cerulean)….red for anger, or warmth, yellow for cheerfulness, green for hope and so on.  You can also use colour instead of perspective (always so obvious in art quilts and not easily incorporated into a piece) to indicate depth by making the background colours cooler and greyer.  Or deliberately flattening the depth to make a scene more abstract by having more intense colours in the background.

I wondered if color could also be used to indicate the weight and volume of a shape?  This is done in paint by varying the opacity and/or thickness of the medium.   As fiber artists we can choose a heavy damask, or a whispery light organza.



In Midwinter I used silk organza to suggest not only shadow, but also the ephemeral nature of the buildings against the harsh climate.
How about using color to indicate the effect of light?  The Impressionists felt that juxtapositions of color intensity and temperature are more effective than obvious value changes.  so instead of the shaded area being  darker, try using a cooler or less  saturated colour.


steelyardfrieze 300

Don’t be afraid of color! 

Yes, a tree can be blue and a sky pink!

Steelyard Frieze

If you want to convey atmosphere and a sense of space, then a luminous blending of one color into another will do this: a very low contrast and gradual shifting of hue and temperature.

In order to pull a piece together, painters will often glaze over the entire work with a soft transparent tone…can we do this?  Oh yes! we can overdye a whole piece (it works! I’ve done it more than once – in desperation rather than with deliberate planning (!) but the outcome is the same)….or we can overlay large areas with the silk organza.

Finally…shake it up!  don’t keep using the same colour palette…there’s a lot of them out there just waiting to be used!  If you have been, thanks for reading!  and now to dip into colour…………..Elizabeth


Jackie said...

I love color and am learning so much about it by working deliberately in whole new realms. I am learning that the unfamiliar can be fun! Thank you for your writing.

Nina Marie said...

Ever since I started limiting my palette choices, my pieces have given me less trouble. I feel that was the best thing you ever taught me! That said, I laughed when you wrote - don't be afraid of color. I hardly ever meet quilters who are afraid of color. Most of us just want to play and play with it. But yes - we can get stuck in our own little color palette world and forget to invite some other ones in to play!