Tag Archives: color theory

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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Color Temperature

Fabric Fever: When Color Temperature is Cause for Concern

In these winter days, especially now, 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.  Last year, I started teaching a monthly Zoom class on Color & Composition through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum and our color focus last month was about temperature.  Here is a bit of what we discussed…

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 is Temperature 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.

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?

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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