I Become A Color Whisperer

After years of avoiding color theory practice (the practice means you have to make a color wheel) I finally broke down and signed up for Jane Davies’ downloadable class, “Unlocking The Secrets of Color.

I have to say that color theory seems much more relevant for mixing paint colors than for quilting. When I want to make a quilt I go through my fabrics and decide which of the already dyed/printed colors I want to work with. When it comes to painting there’s usually no such already determined color starting point. You could work only with colors directly out of the tubes but that would get old fast. The tricky part is to figure out what colors you want for your painting before you actually see the color. Needless to say, there’s lots of trial and error.

The class begins with paint mixing to create a 12 part color wheel from blue/red/yellow. Then you move on painting grids using only colors on your color wheel. I won’t subject you to photos of my efforts, but will note that getting an evenly graduated color wheel is harder than you’d think.

Other lessons involve one color collages; and painting value scales with black, then white, to create graduated analogous colors. The class moves on to paintings/collages of one color and analogous colors, and finally a series of abstract landscapes (cool/warm) and color moods.

The right side is my one color collaged painting; the left is my analogous colors one. There’s a photo of an Eleanor McCain quilt underneath the paint.
Abstract landscapes in warm tones.
Abstract landscapes in cool tones.
Mixed tones. You can see some of the original painting on the top one. I reused my failures.
It sure is a lot faster to paint a landscape than make one in fabric. The top painting is an experiment in combining cool tones with cool/warm ones.

The landscapes assignment was designed to help you learn how much warm tone you can/should put in a predominantly cool toned piece, and vice versa. It’s a personal decision, but even a touch of a contrast adds interest, I think.

My take away from this class is that I need to whisper more and shout less in my color choices. I like the ring-a-ding-ding of bold colors and color contrasts, but for my artistic development I need to cultivate the quieter side. It goes along with trying colors you don’t much like. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.


Filed under Techniques

6 responses to “I Become A Color Whisperer

  1. I love your paintings! Looks like you learned a lot! I also like bold colours and that is working out well for the children’s book I am creating.

  2. This paintings are so interesting (some quite striking), your description of the process makes them more so. I have found myself looking more at the color wheel lately but not examining it (or my work) to the extent of learning much! This post is a good reminder of how it can change the way we look at or see things, and how we approach our work. Thanks for sharing.

    • My lesson learned is that teachers can talk color theory until the cows come home, but it hadn’t really penetrated my visceral understanding until I started mixing paint. Right now I’m working with cadmium red, white, and black to see how many different colors I can create.

  3. I spent a lot of time years ago self-studying color theory. It started with a class with Jean Ray Lury. The class was amazing but nothing really clicked for me until I discovered the Munsell color system. Munsell developed his system based on how we perceive color rather than how we mix colors. That was my light bulb moment. But, that said, all color study is valuable. It’s a difficult subject and I needed lots of reinforcement of the concepts for it to really sink in!

    • I’d think color theory would be essential for your dyeing work. The color wheels we mixed in class turned out differently depending on what red/yellow/blue was used. Some combos made great greens and lousy purples. Others were the opposite. You can learn about the Munsell color system at http://www.munsell.com.

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