Category Archives: Color Theory

3 possible ways to create a color scheme with 5 colors

How to Create a Color Scheme That Works

A balanced color scheme is a key component of a successful art quilt, or any other artistic endeavor. I have a method to create a solid scheme, identify a missing color, or fix a scheme that doesn’t work. I discussed this topic in my most recent Color & Composition class and share a summary of that information here.  If you are intrigued,  information about future Color & Composition class sessions can be found at the bottom of this article.

Create a Color Scheme with Reflective Symmmetry

The color wheel is an essential tool in this process.  Most come with features that prompt various color schemes using triangle, rectangle, or square shapes.

close up of 2 color wheels showing color scheme guides

Color scheme guides on color wheels

A common feature of each of these shapes is that they have reflective symmetry; also referred to as bi-lateral symmetry.  This means that you could draw a line through the shape so that one side is the exact reflection of the other.  You could fold that image on the line and have both halves match exactly.

Triangle, rectangle, and square shapes with line of symmetry.

Shapes with Reflective Symmetry

Create a More Colorful Scheme

It is possible to stretch beyond the standard color schemes, and still maintain harmony and balance. The key is to use colors that create a shape with reflective symmetry.  For example, when using 5 colors, think of a simple house shape.  Make your dominant color the peak of the roof.  The next 2 colors will be the corners where the roof turns into walls, and the final 2 colors will be the base of your walls.

3 possible ways to create a color scheme with 5 colors

Variations of a 5-color scheme

The colors may not be evenly spaced, but, if the guiding shape has reflective symmetry, you will create a scheme that has harmony and balance.

Complete, or Fix, a Faulty Color Scheme

Maybe you have a set of colors that are must-haves in your quilt project, but you want to be sure that the overall scheme is solid.  In my example below, I’m starting with an ugly fabric that has sentimental meaning.  To begin, I place markers on the color wheel to indicate the colors in this fabric. In this case my colors are violet, red-orange, yellow-orange, and these do not create a shape with reflective symmetry.

color wheel shows unbalanced scheme of yellow-orange, red-orange and violet

ugly fabric color scheme is asymmetrical

Ugly fabric with undulating purple stripes alternated with curved stripes of gold and red flowered vines.

Ugly fabric

 

 

Add a fourth color to create a color scheme that has balance and harmony.  Here are 2 possible options.  First, adding blue to the scheme will balance it.

 

 

create a balanced color scheme by adding blue to create a trapezoid.

Add blue to create a trapezoid.

 

fabric swatches show color scheme that adds blue to the ugly fabric

Fabric Swatches show blue in the mix.

Replace blue with green to create another balanced color scheme.

create a balance color scheme by adding green to the mix

Option 2: add green to the scheme

fabric swatches show green with ugly fabric

Add green to the mix.

Make the scheme more complex by adding both blue and green.  This will also create a pentagon shape on the color wheel; and a shape with reflective symmetry.

balanced color scheme with blue, green, violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

Balanced Scheme with 5 colors.

create 5-color scheme by adding blue and green to the ugly fabric

5-color scheme that is balanced

Learn More in My Color & Composition Class

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

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How Subjective Timbre Relates to Color Theory

In my most recent Color & Composition class, our study of color theory took us to the topic of Subjective Timbre.  This is a topic not often covered in discussions of color theory.  Read on for a summary of that part of the discussion.  If you are intrigued,  information about future Color & Composition class sessions can be found at the bottom of this article.

Subjective refers to anything based on the individual (i.e. feelings, opinions, reactions)

Timbre refers to the character of a sound or, in this case, color.

Therefore, subjective timbre refers to our personal responses to, and interpretations of various colors.

Before you read further, take a moment and look around you for a favorite colorful object, or article of clothing.  If possible, have it handy for future reference.

Itten Color Theory and Seasonal Palettes

 Johannes Itten, in his color theory, color system, divided colors into 4 palettes based on the seasons.  He did color studies and presented them to people and found that, universally, everyone could correctly name the season being represented. Try it yourself.  Below are four of seasonal paintings by Itten. Can you guess the season that each represent?  You can find the answer key at the bottom of this blog. Also, make note of the color study that you find most appealing.

1.Itten color theory: Winter color palette

2.Itten color theory: Summer color palette

3.Itten color theory: Autumn color palette

4.Itten color theory: Spring color palette

 

4 Ways Subjective Timbre Affects Your Relationship with Color

Itten observed that people had varying reactions to the color palettes.  This prompted a series of experiments with his students.  In the end, he came to several conclusions related to Subjective Timbre.

1.  Everyone has an affinity for one of these palettes over the others.

Which seasonal palette do you prefer?  Now, take a look at your favorite object.  Does it reflect this same color palette?

One of my favorite objects is this carpet that I purchased while living and teaching in Turkey.

My preference for an autumn color palette is reflected in my favorite rug.

Lea’s favorite rug from Turkey

2. Based on personal coloring (skin tone, hair color, eye color) a person will look better when standing next to one of these color palettes.  Here are photos of me standing in front of 2 pieces of art that I created.  One of these pieces reflects my personal color palette. Can you guess which seasonal palette I prefer?

 

Artists look better standing in front of works done in their preferred seasonal palette.

Lea in front of Crossing Over. Autumn palette.

Artists don't look good standing in front of a palette that doesn't match their personal coloring.

Lea in front of Puppy Love. Spring palette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Itten’s work on subjective timbre  became the basis for personal color analysis applied to makeup and wardrobe selection (ie: Color Me Beautiful), and interior design.Think about your favorite outfits, or articles of clothing.  What seasonal palette is reflected in your favorite wardrobe choices?.

3. A person’s preferred color palette, the one they are naturally drawn to, is the same palette that is consistent with their skin tone, hair, and eyes or their personal coloring.  

Are you noticing a pattern here?  Are the colors of your favorite clothes consistent with your preferred color palette?

4.  Finally, as artists, we do our best work when we are using our preferred palette.

Apply Subjective Timbre to Your Color Choices

Understanding subjective timbre and your personal color preferences can be helpful in your own creative journey. Think about your best artistic works.  Are they done in your preferred palette?  Also, consider pieces that you have created, and hated.  Is it possible that the color palette is a factor?

I found that this is true for me.  My preferred palette is autumn.  Visit my Portrait and Genre galleries to see how this plays out in my work.  You may notice that I occasionally stray from my preferred scheme.  Depending on your preferences, you may find this pleasing, or not.

When seeking advice from others related to color, be aware that they are likely to respond based on their own subjective timbre. Likewise, when creating a piece of art for someone else, be considerate of their subjective timbre.  

The point of this article isn’t to say that you always need to work in your preferred color palette, but rather, understanding subjective timbre can help you be more successful when working outside of your natural comfort zone.

Blame it on Subjective Timbre

Have you ever . . .

…attempted a guild challenge to use a specific fabric or color scheme with unfavorable results?

…attempted a new work of art based on the identified “color of the year” and struggled to make a composition work?

…seen work by an acclaimed artist and thought, “I know it should be working for me, but it just isn’t.”

…received an article of clothing as a gift from a dear friend, or relative that you deem hideous.? They saw it, loved it, believe it is beautiful, but you won’t be caught dead wearing it.

Understanding your personal relationship with color helps to make sense of all of these situations.

Learn More in My Color & Composition Class

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

 

ANSWERS to Seasonal Paintings

  1. Winter, 2. Summer, 3. Autumn, 4. Spring.

My color palette: Autumn

 

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diptych of 2 native American men on horseback crossing a river. On left panel the man turns to look at the viewer. On the the right panel, the man is riding away from the viewer.

Create Depth with Atmospheric Perspective

Art quilters can create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective when they apply four key color concepts in pictorial quilts.  Creating depth with atmospheric perspective was one of the topics I discussed in my monthly Color & Composition class.  Read on for a summary of that part of the discussion.  If you are intrigued,  information about future Color & Composition class sessions is at the bottom.

The Illusion of Depth in Art

There are two types of perspective that can be employed in your art quilts to create the illusion of depth in a pictorial work such as landscape or seascape. The first is linear perspective; the use of 1 or 2 vanishing point with lines in the composition converging on those points.  This is the most commonly recognized and used method for creating that illusion of depth.  Raphael’s painting, School of Athens, is a great example.  Notice that the architectural lines lead to a single vanishing point in the center of the composition.

Inspiration for Women's Work

School of Athens by Raphael, 1509-1511.

A second method is to create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective.  This method relies on manipulation of color to create the illusion of depth.  Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, by Jan van Eyck provides an example of this.  Compare the elements in the foreground with those that appear to be far in the distance.

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in this painting of 2 priests in brown cloaks kneeling on the ground among rock outcroppings with city visible in the distance.

Jan van Eyck, Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, 1430

Keys to Create Depth with Atmospheric Perspective

With the great masters as our inspiration, let’s shift our focus to art quilting and the selection of fabrics for landscape quilts.  There are 4 key considerations.

Texture

Represent the textures of items that are close to the viewer such as plants, rocks, clothing, furniture.  Less textural detail should be visible in elements that appear in the mid-ground,  and eliminate textural detail in the background. Quilters also have the option of adding texture with stitching and surface embellishments.

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in these three sets of fabrics show heavy medium and light texture in three colors: gray, red-violet, green

Fabric selection based on texture and depth.

Value & Value Range 

Moving from foreground to background, the value range should narrow.  Render elements in the foreground  with a broad value range from very light to very dark. Reduce the value range to make elements appear further away by eliminating the lightest and darkest values.  Also, shift the value range to the lighter end of the value scale because darker values are lost to a greater degree than lighter values. 

2 grayscales, fingers show use of values used in atmospheric perspective. Light to dark used in foreground. light to medium dark used in background.

Value range for atmospheric perspective

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in this art quilt of park bend on outcropping overlooking receding ridges of tree covered hills in a snowstorm.

Winterscape

Clarity

Elements become less defined as they move to the distance.This is related to texture.  Texture would be how you represent the surface of a object, Clarity focuses on the shapes of objects The edges of your shapes will soften and become more blob-like as those objects move to the distance.  Below is a simple seascape composition that I created as a class sample.  In the detail view of the palm trees, notice how the outline of the palm fronds is simplified in the tree on the right.  Id I were to add a third tree further in the distance, the palm fronds would have gentle curving edges in contrast to the jagged edges of the foreground and mid-ground trees.

beach scene in fabric with two palm trees on the left and an island at the horizon on the right.

Beach scene

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in the tops of two palm trees showing greater clarity in the foreground tree

beach scene detail of palm tree tops

Temperature

Warm colors advance and cool colors recede.  When selecting fabrics for a composition, make note of the colors that will appear in the foreground, mid-ground, and background. For colors that repeat at various distances, selected warmer versions to appear closer, and cooler versions to appear in the distance.   For example, the color red in the foreground could be a warmer red-orange, while red in the distance could be a cooler red-violet.  Look below at Crossing Over.  The water in the foreground is a mix of blue and blue-green, but is rendered in blue-violet in the background.  The foliage on the distant back is green near the water’s edge and blue-green on the more distant hills.

diptych of 2 native American men on horseback crossing a river. On left panel the man turns to look at the viewer. On the the right panel, the man is riding away from the viewer.

Crossing Over, diptych by Lea McComas

Water detail in Crossing Over shows atmospheric perspective as foreground in in blue-green to blue, and back ground is done in blue-violet.

Water detail in Crossing Over

Figure & background detail of Crossing Over shows foliage in front in green colors with background foliage in blue green. Warm reds and blues in clothing of figure pop forward in the composition.

Figure & background detail of Crossing Over

Create Depth in the Sky

When it comes to the sky, we often forget to create depth using atmospheric perspective. Treat the sky as an element of the composition.  The top of the composition is the foreground, and sky near the horizon line is the background.  Sky should be a warmer, more saturated color at the top of the composition and move to a cooler, less saturated color at the horizon.  A common mistake is to use a solid blue fabric, or a printed sky with cloud fabric.  The problem is that these fabrics present a static representation of the sky that make it appear flat. They fight the illusion of depth, rather than support it.  I suggest a hand-dyed or ombre fabric to support depth using atmospheric perspective.

fabric sample of blue sky with clouds.

Sky with clouds

flat light blue square

Flat sky color

blue square with vibrant color at the top and pale color at the bottom

blue sky ombre

Join our next Color & Composition Session

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

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Bamboo by Lea McComas, features echo images of bamboo in analogous color scheme of yellow-green, green-blue-green.

Analogous Color Schemes Create Harmony

Analogous Color Schemes were one of topics discussed in my last

online Color & Composition class.  I hope the information presented here will inspire you to explore this color scheme. If you find this helpful, and want to join me for the next session, you will information at the bottom.  

Analogous color schemes include a run of colors next to each other on the color wheel.  These schemes can include 3, 5 or 7 colors. They work best when built around primary colors.  Like a monochromatic scheme, analogous schemes are great for conveying strong emotion. They also have

Analogous Scheme with mother Yellow.

Analogous Scheme with mother Yellow.

greater potential for energy and interest.  

 Analogous is a word that references a collection that has something similar, or a direct connection that applies to each element. The strong relationship among the colors in this scheme creates a sense of harmony.  There is a kind of kinship.

Analogous run with 7 colors

Analogous run with 7 colors

Analogous Colors Schemes are like Families.

One way to build analogous color schemes is to begin with a primary

Analogous scheme with red mother

Analogous scheme with red mother

color.  Think of this as the mother, and then expand to include the color, or child,  on each side.  Expand the scheme further to 5 colors by including the father of each child.   In this analogy, it is easy to understand that managing the harmonious effect of this scheme becomes more challenging, as the family gathering expands.

Analogous scheme with 2 primary parents

Analogous scheme with 2 primary parents

Another way to build analogous color schemes is to choose two primary colors.  Think of these as parents.  Then, include all of the children, or colors, in between.  Reduce the color scheme to 3 colors by eliminating the parents and using  just the siblings,. 

In either case, the scheme can be expanded further to include 7 colors. However, expanding this much requires incorporating a set of direct complements. Direct complements bring a lot of energy. That drama can disrupt the family harmony. Think of these as the mother-in-laws.

Analogous run with 7 colors

Analogous run with 7 colors

No Sleepy Schemes

With the colors being so close on the color wheel, analogous color schemes have the potential to be a bit boring, or sleepy.  Increase variety within the scheme to combat this.  One way to do this is through an expanded scheme.  The advantage of a 5-color scheme over a 3-color scheme is the ability to increase the color contrast.   Look at the examples below.

fabric swatches for 3-color scheme

fabric swatches for 3-color scheme

fabric swatches for 5-color scheme

fabric swatches for 5-color scheme

Another strategy is to emphasize one color within the scheme over the others.    Any color within the scheme can be the star of the show.  However, luminous colors, such as yellow, will naturally want to be the center of attention. Manage the scheme by using purer hues, and more intense versions of the color to be emphasized. Likewise, use more tints, tones, shades, and less intense version of the other colors.

3 Analogous Experiments

I spent a day experimenting with various analogous color schemes. Working with 5 colors, I chose a hue, tint, and shade of each color, and then mixed in  a collection of neutral gray fabrics.  In each experiment I created 48 half square triangle blocks and then arranged various compositions on the design wall.

Experiment 1: Mother Red

This analogous run stretched from violet to orange.  Here was my final composition. The grayscale image shows how value is also at play.

Analogous scheme built around red.

Analogous scheme built around red.

Grayscale view of Red analogous scheme.

Grayscale view of Red analogous scheme.

Experiment 2: Parents Blue and Yellow

Here is my analogous run with two primary parents and their children. The grayscale image is also included.

Analogous scheme with blue & yellow parents.

Analogous scheme with blue & yellow parents.

Grayscale view of Yellow-Blue scheme.

Grayscale view of Yellow-Blue scheme.

Breaking the Rules

What happens when the analogous color scheme is built around tertiary colors, instead of primaries? 

In my third experiment, I built a scheme with blue-violet as the central color, stretching from red-violet to blue green.  Using the family analogy, this is like loosing the parent red at one end of the run, and bring in the mother-in-law at the other end of the run. My results were less than ideal, but not a total disaster. Blue-green definitely feels like an outlier in this scheme.  It is the only color with a touch of yellow.  See my results below.

Scheme based on tertiary colors

Scheme based on tertiary colors

Grayscale view of tertiary scheme.

Grayscale view of tertiary scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the next Color and Composition class we’ll delve deeper into the analogous color scheme and take a look at an Accented Analogous Scheme.  We meet on the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

 

 

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Color Temperature

Color Temperature: Fabric Fever is Cause for Concern

Can color temperature indicate the health of your quilt? These days, having a fever is cause for concern. Staying home and

Does you fabric have a temperature?

away from others gives me more time with my fabric, where temperature has also been on my mind. It was a topic in my monthly Color & Composition class.  Read on for a summary of our discussion and learn how you can join us next month.

Color Temperature:  What is Warm? What is Cool?

The exact dividing line between warm & cool colors has been an open topic for centuries.

various versions of color temperature

What is your preference?

Your preference likely depends on your medium: a digital graphic artist lives in a different color world than a fiber art quilter.  Here is what I work with…

my take on color temperature

Here are my play groups for warm and cool colors.

I also think of red and green as temperature neutral.  They can function with either play group, but will be the coolest kids in the warm group, and the hottest kids in the cool group.

color temperature - warm

What’s cool in the warm group?

color temperature - cool

What is warm in this cool group?

How Color Temperature is a Tool?

It’s a fact that warm colors advance and cool colors recede!  In a composition, we can create a sense of depth using temperature.  Warm colors will seem closer to us and cool colors will fall to the background.  Or do they?  Do we know this because someone told us, or because we have experienced it?  I say, “You don’t really own that knowledge until you test it out.”  

So, I created a series of simple compositions of a box on a background.  These are only  8 x10 inches, easy to make, and keep on hand for future reference.

Color Temperature: Warm vs Cool – Round 1

First, here is a box in a warm color sitting on a cool color background. 

Does the box visually pop off the surface?

Now, here is the reverse: a cool color box on a warm color background.

What about this box?

If the concept holds true, the first version should appear to have more depth, and the background should fight for dominance in the second.  What do you think?

Color Temperature:  Warm vs Cool – Round 2

In my next experiment, I pitted warm and cool colors against each other in the same composition.  Using a temperature neutral color green for the back ground, I put a large and small box together in the composition.  Size will indicate to the viewer that the larger box is closer, but, how does color temperature amplify, or mute that message?  

 

Warm vs Cool in Pictorial Quilts

These examples are very dramatic, but the concept can be used in more subtle ways.  Color temperature is relative.  Even within the “Warm” or “Cool” color play groups, each color will appear warmer, or cooler depending on what color plays next to it.  For example, orange is cooler than yellow, but warmer than red.  Also, blue is cooler than green, but warmer than violet. 

I use this concept in all of my work.  Look through my genre and portrait galleries to see how warm tones advance from the cooler backgrounds.  When more than one person is included in a composition, I employ subtle temperature changes in flesh tones to make one figure more prominent, or appear closer than another. 

Which figure has the warmer complexion?

How does temperature amplify depth in this piece?

Experience is the Best Teacher

Now, if you really want to own knowledge of this concept, you need to conduct your own experiences.  It can be a simple as cutting out some circles of various sizes and colors, and then experiment with placing those circles on different backgrounds.  You don’t even need to fix them permanently.  Try one version, take a photo, rearrange, and take another photo.

If you try this, share a photo of your experiment with me:  Lea@leamccomas.com

Learn More About Color Concepts

Every month, I teach an online Color & Composition class through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.  We meet via Zoom on the 4th Saturday of every month from 1:00-3:00 (Mountain Time zone).  Each meeting is a chance to explore a color concept, a color scheme, and a composition concept.  Come every month, or participate when you can.  The cost is $20/ session. Click this link to join us.

Here is what we’ll be exploring at our next meeting on January 23:

Color Concept: Creating Depth

Color Scheme: Analogous

Composition Concept: Variety & Unity

Sign up for the next Color & Composition class with Lea McComas

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