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Archive for December 5th, 2008

ColorJoy is sometimes Color Itself

Friday, December 5th, 2008

twiggydressgarden.jpgI can not spend a week contemplating the concept of ColorJoy “Art as an everyday attitude” without examining color itself at least one day.

I have an acquaintance for the last year or so, who is totally colorblind. He asked once “is color really that good?” I had to say that for me it is. I make a living in part because of my love for and skill with color.

For him it is a non-entity, but sometimes he has to stop people and ask them to explain things differently. Fascinating, but hard for someone like me to fathom!

I am going to attempt explaining how/why some colors look well together. There are books the size of large dictionaries written about the subject, but I will try to keep the words simple and the paragraphs brief. We can only hope that I can make it more understandable.

Hue, Value and Chroma/Saturation/Intensity

munsellcolorwheel.pngWe usually define a color by its hue. We say “blue” or “green.” If we explain further, we say “dark blue” or “light green.” That additional word defines what is called the value of the color.

Hue is where a color sits in the rainbow or on a color wheel around the edge. Hue is red, orange, yellow, green, and so on.

Value is light to dark. Artists measure it in percent of white. White itself is 100% light, and this is called a value of 10. Black is 0.

Most crayons, at least red and green, are about halfway between white and black. They might be called red 5 and green 5. Dark blue might be blue 2 and light yellow might be yellow 9. If you look on the back of a tube of Liquitex acrylic paint from the last 20 years or even more, you will find hue and value defined in this way.

Chroma, also called saturation or intensity, is the missing piece. Martha Stewart has made a living putting gray in all her colors. The purple goes with the orange, because all the colors are mostly mid-values, say 5 to 7, and there is a bit of gray in all of them. Many Debbie Bliss yarns are also on the subtle/gray side, usually mid-to-light values, and go well with one another.

My world changed when I took an art class as an adult, and the professor talked aboucitygirls2sm.jpgt chroma. I finally had a way to define the colors I had always loved. That day was magic, when I finally had words for my preferences.

I love very saturated colors, those with no gray at all. Once someone wanted to insult me and they said I loved “retina damage colors.” We were not talking about actual physical damage, but the underlying message was that I was not sophisticated.

I was not insulted. I have found out that sophisticated is not my place in life, anyway. I’m about boldness with manners, and joy and fun and energy. Or those are attributes I aspire to and sometimes attain in bits and pieces as I go through my life.

But I love high-chroma colors. Martha Stewart likes lower-chroma. I have my style. She has hers. I realize her business is thriving more than mine ever will (she has a full-time staff, I have not a single employee), but I still need to be myself. (Photo of my knitting girls in Indian clothing shows high chroma pink, yellow and orange, with a mid-chroma green.)


Back when Color Me Beautiful (color analysis for makeup and garments) was very big, we learnravenfrogfootiestwofeet400.jpged about colors as seasons. They divided into two seasons (or color groups which flattered certain people) which were relatively higher chroma and two groups which were relatively lower chroma.

But those two groups were then broken into two other categories: Warm or cool. Warm means there is some yellow in it, and cool means thpair163-20.jpge absence of yellow and often presence of blue undertones.

For the record, Summer is cool/low chroma/soft and feminine.
Winter is cool/higher chroma (above left footies green/blue/purple), bold or classic.
Spring is warm/higher chroma/fresh, clean and sunny.
Autumn is warm/lower chroma (right socks yellow/green/teal), confident yet subtle.

There was a lot of disagreement about whether this concept was helpful or not. I think it depended a lot on who did the analysis and who was being analyzed. As for me, it gave me permission to wear the clothing colors I already knew felt wonderful to me. I was categorized as a winter, though I knew that some of the winter colors did look better on me than others.

I was a bit afraid to wear my favorites before this time, they were brighter than what others around me were wearing. But when I realized that I looked wonderful in the colors I already loved, and I figured out it was about cool/saturated, my life truly changed. Those who followed their season instruction book without understanding it (or were not evaluated well), maybe did not benefit as much as I did.

What does not work?

When I see people trying to put together groups of colors and one does not work, usually the problem is a chroma issue. One color has way more or less gray than the others. However, the second possible issue is if one is warm and the rest are all cool, or the reverse.

What does work?

There are standard color ideas that may help you understand how to combine colors. Here are short explanations.

Monochromatic Color Scheme

A monochromatic scheme includes many versisusanluksdetail.jpgons of the same color, often with white and black included in the range. Imagine someone who looks wonderful in faded jeans. This person may wear the faded jeans, and a medium blue t-shirt, with a blue chambray workshirt over it.

Or if you think of Japanese ikat fabrics, often they use variations between white to light blue, medium blue, and dark-almost-black blue, all from indigo dyes. Many artful batik-type clothes are also blue/blue/blue.

(Photo is a detail of one of Susan D. Luks’ short jackets in a Monochromatic Red scheme including grays and black.)

Analogous Color Scheme

analogousclothing20.jpgAnalogous (uh-NAAHL-uh-gus, where naahl has the vowel sound of “pal”)  is when you pick colors next to one another on the rainbow or color wheel. Many of my friends favor the cool colors. They may choose hot green, emerald, turquoise, blue and maybe purple (or a smaller portion of that range). They leave out the yellow, red and orange. This would be called an analogous color scheme.

Does anyone remember the color schemes of the mid-1970’s? Do you remember there would be a room shown in red/pink/orange and maybe yellow… then the same idea shown in blue/green/purple? This was a limited analogous set of choices, one warm and one cool.

I know I dress funny, or very different than the rest of my world. However, here’s a photo of me last Sunday. I was wearing one item in each color from hot green to hot purple, through the blues and turquoises in between. This is a large analogous color scheme.

Analogous Variety

Thisartistyarns375x375.jpg would be a few colors all sitting together on one side of the color wheel (analogous), plus one color from somewher across the wheel, out of sequence. My favorite clothing color scheme is greenish-turquoise, purple and fuschia/hot pink, which can be described as analogous variety. Never mind I picked them from my gut instinct first, then later analyzed what they might be called.

What we call pink is typically a light/high-value magenta (purple-red in art terms), rather than light red. So I like purple and purple-red, plus a blue-green, which lives across the wheel from the others.

(Photo here is a batch of yarn I dyed several years ago. The turquoise/blue/purple are analogous, with warm pink grapefruit as the color providing variety.)

A Bigger Picture

Each of these schemes can be low-chroma or high-chroma. I could take cobalt blue, hot green and purple and make it look very LynnH. Martha Stewart or Debbie bliss might use periwinkle blue, soft sage and lilac. Both are the same analogous hues, but one is high chroma and one low.

For that matter, my scheme might have a relatively dark purple and a relatively light green. The values would be all over map, the colors all together on the wheel, and the saturation would all be high.

If you want to put colors together and you are not experienced at it, stick to something simple. Either pick monochrome/one color (turquoise, turquoise, turquoise if you are me), or pick simple analogous colors (blue/purple or green/yellow, for two examples). Or just pick two colors you really like together and pick several versions of each. I once did a large swatch which was several yarns in turquoise (green-blues, in this case all medium to high saturation, cool) and several yarns in hot green (light value, high saturation, warm). It was beautiful, with maybe a dozen different yarns in the same weight all used together.

If you use enough of any two colors, it will look good. Combining fibers and textures makes it more interesting if you are knitting, the yarns do not need to match though an approximate similar gauge helps a lot.

(Photo above left is my 126th pair of socks, from my Turkish-Style Toe-Up sock pattern. Color scheme is light pink, medium pink, purple.  So we have purple-red and purple, a two-hue analogous scheme.)

What I Left Out Todaybiggiezigstitchpatterns16.jpg

For the record, both polymer clay and knitting with two colors on one row (stranded buttons200x200.jpgcolorwork) both require some contrast. Contrast can be dark/light or warm/cool. I will leave that subject for more chat on another day, though you can imagine how important this idea is to the sorts of artwork I do best.

The inclusion of translucence/opacity and matte/shiny surface texture issues also impact our interpretations of color. These issues are particularly important with glass work, less so with painting, polymer and knitting. All color work is interpreted along with this visual information which is not truly part of the color itself.

But that must be left for another day. I have written a book of sorts tonight, even though it’s a short one.

Does this get you thinking about your own favorite color schemes? Do you have a favorite sweater, perhaps, that you can make sense of in these terms? How do you think you might use this information? Gardening? Knitting? Quilting? Home decoration?