Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colour: the big attraction

Like it or not, color continues to be the big seducer. So many people respond "the color" when asked why they like something, or when they reflect on what attracts them.  I wonder why?  Why is it important for us to see in color?  I couldn't find any obvious answers on the net...yes there are plenty of studies on which colors make us Buy or Consume the most!  As you might imagine more psychological studies have been aimed at advertising than anything else.  There are also some "color therapies"!!  Red will make you feel sexy, green calm, yellow energetic, grey depressed etc...presumably Damien Hirst figured that polka dots in many colors would attract a lot of mixed feelings!    But it's hard to see how color helps in survival...well, yes, perhaps at the traffic lights!!  

However, whether we know why or not, it is important to know that the colors we use in our work should be thoughtfully chosen.  It really doesn't work to just slavishly follow "local color" if you're working from a particular photograph - whether representational or abstract.  Sometimes the local color (i.e. actual color that the landscape or whatever really is) is gorgeous, but often it's a little dull and predictable.  Few of those city scape quilts that I made actually reflected the real color of the cities - which were mainly grey.  Not that I don't love grey! (see below!)

  Using a lot of different colors at once  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 also something to be sought.  
Here's an example of what not to do (actually it looks a LOT worse in real life!)
 Had I entered it into a show, I think I would have got the “most use of colour prize” !!  I have pink and red and orange and yellow and purple and turquoise and ultramarine and brown and black and white!  A great example of what not to do!  I do have some awful dingy beige  pieces in there too....I think somebody told me it was always important to add beige!!  

  It’s a great idea if you can discipline yourself (sadly something I’m not very good at!) 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.  You do need to see the color on the fabrics in real life though to make a good decision.  I'm not good at imaging a color scheme...I like to get the fabrics all spread out and see if they are both harmonious AND interesting.  Now that's a delicate balance:  too much harmony is Dead Boring and too little is jumbled, confused and unattractive.  But if you have the fabrics all spread can see which way the balance is leaning.  

The first solution to consider for a color scheme that looks boring is actually not adding more color, but rather increasing the value range.  That, plus the addition of a little spice of a saturated color, might well be enough.
If the opposite is the problem: an eye shattering explosion of color, then the answer is to begin by removing the screamers!!  Then decide which color you have most of, which secondary color is its complement...and then remove all the other colors.
e.g. if there is a lot of blue, then you could keep all the blues, and  the complementary yellows, peaches, ambers and oranges, but remove the reds and the greens and the purples (which might look very good together in a second pile for another quilt!).

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 so I'd advocate against it, unless you're devising an advertisement for sugary cereal!

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  - especially black and white.

A monochromatic scheme is also great for setting a mood .  Here’s a quilt all in greens giving a soft woodland mood.
And another:   

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.

Colour:  an excellent servant, a poor master!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

and do let me know WHY we need color!!


Deborah C. Stearns said...

Interesting post! You asked why it is important for us to see in color. I assume you are asking why some species, including humans, have color vision. The evolutionary theories of color vision usually refer to some adaptive benefit of color vision. For example, the ability to distinguish red from green helps us more readily identify ripe fruit. Additionally, color is helpful for certain social cues, such as being able to tell when someone is blushing or his or her skin is flushed (which is a cue for sexual receptivity in some primates). In short, visual capabilities are presumably evolved in ways that help the species find food and mates as well as avoid predators.

I don't know if that was the question you were asking, but I hope that helps! :-)

WesternWilson said...

I liked your "don't do this" piece...I thought it had life and interest, and is built on colours and contrasts that work well. I don't think a composition is simply colours that Rayna Gillman's grandmother said, all colours work if you use enough of them. It has more to do with overall design and the synergies of light, dark, balance, contrast, meaning...and a certain je ne sais quois!

myrtovl said...

Thank you for your interesting post, I'm working on an improvisational patchwork and I will follow your instructions as a good exercise to master Colour combinations.