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.
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.
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?
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
- Winter, 2. Summer, 3. Autumn, 4. Spring.
My color palette: Autumn