Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More on Color: common mistakes in art quilts

I’ve been thinking more about color as I’m making notes for a chapter some day…..
Everybody loves color and quiltmakers can’t wait to get to it!  In my workshops I try to persuade folk to judge a design by its value pattern, but alas the seduction of the color addiction has folk slavering and shaking – “oh color more color I’m so deprived, when can I get my next fix?!!” 
And color is such a visual feast!   I’m just as bad as everyone else for wanting to gobble it up, for making sure I’ve got the biggest dollops on my plate!! 
The children always ask “but when will we get there?” and the quiltmakers say “when can we use color?” with the same plaintive tone!!

Here is a quilt I made that has a lot of color:

a new day 72

The design for this quilt, however, didn’t have any color in it – it was a black, white and grey value sketch.  So let’s look at this piece desaturated i.e. without any color:

a new day desat  One thing that is evident is that I have quite a range of darks and lights…several of the darks run together to form interesting shapes (though I probably could have used to have done more of that and it would have been stronger).    There are just a few lights – this is because my main theme was the first light of a new day just beginning to catch the buildings…and that fits the theme.  The sky also is a mix of darks and lights just as you see at dawn (I’ve been walking a lot at dawn this summer!  100 days over 90 will do that to you!) which again is very relevant to my theme.

Now how would this quilt have looked had I not had this strong value pattern underpinning it:

a new day reduce contrast Well…it looks like I dropped it in dirty dishwater!! dragged it through the mud…even so it’s rather hard to reduce the contrast in a piece that has a lot of contrast enough to make it clear that all mid tones are a bit dull!!  But I think you get the idea.

So…avoid the mud puddle!!

but what if I was one of those color junkies that uses all saturated color? 

well …..look:

a new day too intense Now, do not tell me you like this!!!  I’ve had to get a pair of sunglasses on to even view the screen!!  too much saturated color definitely spoils the broth, ruins the child and leads to sensory overload!  And I’ve seen plenty of quilts like this!

Very interestingly, reducing the intensity of the color actually isn’t so bad, at least not to my neutral loving Armani clothes desiring self:

a new day lower intensityThere’s something both restful and mysterious about all those beautiful neutrals….but of course I know it wouldn’t sell and probably would never catch the juror’s eye in those tachistoscopic presentations they have to choose work from.   But this image does show, I think, that a good design doesn’t need color to work – it does need value contrast however.   If I subject this to the mud bath, I get:

a new day lower intensity lower contrast It looks something like what I had to drive through on foggy days before they began to work on clean air.  Of course, this is what the politicians and big business want us to go back to; this is how China is doing so well economically.  However that’s another issue!!  sorry to bring it up, the picture just reminded me.

Another thing to watch out for in designing with color is the balance of color temperature.  It’s best to have a distinctly warm feel, or a distinctly cool one.  My original idea (the first picture above) was that the overall temperature of the piece would be warm, a warm fresh new day.  But what if I was uncertain and had an equal mix of warm and cool colors?

a new day equal temps Doesn’t that look so weird and unsettling?  it’s looks as if  I’m uncertain about my message.  And the equal balance just doesn’t look “pulled together”.   Part of this too is because once you have an equal number of cool and warm colors, you’ve also probably got more colors than you need – too many colors is far worse than too few.  

Color is a complex dish!!  You need to make decisions regarding value, hue, intensity and temperature to get it just  right.  And now for a cup of tea – I need to get the temperature, the freshness of the water, the steeping time just right!  and it’s got to be in my favorite mug too!!  Think on!

If you have been, thanks for reading!! 
And do comment on your reactions to these variations on a color theme……  Elizabeth


Kathleen Loomis said...

nice presentation!!

Anonymous said...

Colour gets the credit, but contrast does the work!

Great demonstration.

Judy B

Funky's Mama said...

Thanks for a great post! What I found most interesting is that many of the examples didn't seem "good" or "bad", but gave distinctly different effects.

Linda Steele said...

Thanks Elizabeth,

You have done such a great post by including the different photos, I know as Quilters we can sometimes forget the basics in our rush to complete.

Nina Marie said...

you know I'm a color addict - always lookin' for my next fix. That said - the best thing you ever had me do was limit my palette for my quilts - so a big thank you! But do like my colors bright and pure - or if not jewel tone. We just were having a discussion in school yesterday how so many of us tend to pick a book by the picture on the front and for me its the color that catches my eye!

KathyE said...

Thanks for the reminder. I really enjoyed reading your explanations and viewing the pictures.

Moonsilk Stitches said...

It was wonderful to be able to look at your original and all of the variations together. Great comparisons. I rather like the desaturated one, too. Thanks a bunch.

Carol Rajala Johnson said...

Very nicely communicated, as always. As a weaver, I've learned quite a bit from your blog posts. I tend to prefer calmer palettes, but when it comes to textiles, particularly art-to-wear, the wild colors are what the clients usually want. Thanks for the lessons on how to use more vibrant colors tastefully!

Jackie said...

Your examples are always very clear, thank you. I am finding that now I buy few mid-values and need to seek them out, they have a place too. The power of values is fascinating!