Friday, April 21, 2017

More exercises

Again, my examples are just those: examples. I show them to help if you would have any difficulties but there are so many possible good solutions, even better ones. I hope that you’ll try out yourself.

One colour appears as two

1. Altering the value in grayscale:
and in colours:
2. Altering the hue:
3. Altering the saturation:
And here is the second exercise. I used 7 colours trying them appear as if each of them would be different.With some of them it didn't work. Can you tell which ones and why?
I hope I could interest you to try out some of these exercises. They do help you to handle colour in your work.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

7. Colour Interactions

To continue how afterimages modify our perception, let’s have a look at the following plate.

Around the violet rectangle we feel a thin red-violet border. The reddish afterimage of the green is blended optically with the violet to create this red-violet illusion. If we place the same violet rectangle against a gray background, the achromatic gray influences only the value and not the hue of the violet rectangle, which loses its former reddish halo, appearing darker, more saturated, more blue-violet.
Lets make the same experiment with two coloured backgrounds:
The violet rectangle against the red-orange background appears lighter and a little bluer (bluish afterimage) than it does against the pale green background (reddish afterimage).
You see a small note under the plates: Josef Albers: Interaction of color
This wonderful and very unorthodox book on colour theory is aviable as an app for iPads. (The basic theory is free, but if you want to play and experiment, there is a charge of 10$ for the app.)
Also from this book is the reversal of the examples above. In chapter VII, 2 different colors looks alike, Albers creates plates where two colours placed in different backgrounds looks identical. On closer examination they turn into two different ones, like the ones below.
These examples above can sensitize your colour perception by doing this two exercises several times over.

One colour appears as two
Concentrate on trying to alter the value of the same colour by using different backgrounds. First work with grays – it’s easier – than use different hues.
Try to alter the hue of a single colour - keep the values closed to each other.
This one is a very important exercise: try to create glowing and dull sensation with the same colour. Using saturation right can cheer up your quilting, especially if you use commercial fabrics. They tend to be dull but in a right surroundings they can be perceived as glowing ones.

If you’re ready to go further:
Try to create the impression of altered hue, value and saturation within one exercise.

The most difficult will be Albers’ exercise VII: try to make two different colour appear as one.

This exercise could be regarded as a combination of the part-exercises above:
Use at least 6-8 colours, each of them twice (no more). Try to create a design to demonstrate color interaction: arrange your colours so that the same colours appear different.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Colour – 6. Afterimages

In the next few posts I’d like to talk about colour interactions. This is an absolutely fascinating part of the colour theory.
First about the phenomenon of the afterimages:

An afterimage is a type of optical illusion in which an image continues to appear briefly even after exposure to the actual image has ended. We are not normally conscious of this phenomenon, but it is present whenever two shapes meet on a flat surface. To understand it more try the following experiments:

Stare at the black circle for about 20 seconds, and then shift your gaze to the white area within the square, below the circle. The afterimage will appear as a very bright white circle of the same size as the black one. This optical phenomenon is called successive contrast. 
Stare at the black circle again and repeat the first exercise but, this time, when you see the circular white afterimage, concentrate on its outer edge. The afterimage, the bright white circle, will be surrounded by a week but perceptible dark gray aura. (The afterimage of the afterimage.)
Now concentrate on the black circle and, without shifting your gaze notice the white halo flickering around its edge.

So on the border between two colours there are two afterimages at the same time.
On the darker side of the two squares there will be an even darker stripe of dark colour, on the lighter side an even lighter stripe of light colour. This phenomenon is called simultaneous contrast. (Picture below)
Let’s look at this again with different hues. If I replace the black circle above with a red one, its afterimage has a hue, a complementary to the red: a green one.
If the red circle is placed against an achromatic light gray, the afterimage that surrounds it will contain its complement (green) but will be lighter value than the gray background. Also inside the red circle there will be an afterimage, a thin ring of darker red. (The gray is achromatic, so it influences only the value of the red and not its hue.)

This phenomenon of afterimages play a very important role in colour interaction – which is where I’ll continue next time.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Some of the exercises

I made the first three exercises – a grid drawn and coloured with paint program. This is an easy and rather fast way to make several examples out of the same basic design.

the basic grid:
with big value differences – and the black/white version afterwards

concentrating on warm and cool colour, trying to create spatial differences.
working with saturation, trying to create luminosity, the inherent light.

Well, even knowing the principles, it is not so easy to put them to work. Judge it for yourself if they reached the aim or not.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Colour – 5. What was it all about?

Today I would like to sum up the three fundamental factors of the colour: value, hue and saturation and give you some exercises – if you feel like doing them.
We saw that all these three factors can liven up or subdue the composition. There are no real “rules” how to use them and as I said, many of us use them intuitively. Knowledge can help us to correct not-quite-right-intuitions as well.
For example: I would like to make a picture/quilt/composition with the theme summer heat. If this is an abstract composition the more important it is to suggest the right sensations. I won’t go now into the other principal elements of the design like line, mark etc. but concentrate on choosing my colours right.
So summer heat: a landscape, nothing dramatic about it. My first intuition: no big value differences, keeping it calm and quiet. Hues: mostly warm colours, referring the heat. So I’ve chosen two factors with reduced scales – but I don’t want my composition to be boring. I would like to bring some life into it with the last colour-factor what is left: saturation: I can choose mostly warm hues, little to medium value-differences and pay attention that I use glowing and dull colours enhancing the inherent light and make the picture lively. The beginning could be to collect my colours: make a grid, colour it with paint, pastel, or use your computer or cut small fabric pieces and glue them on. This is generally a good exercise you can repeat with different themes what could be easily associated with colour sensations, like heat, cold, the seasons, water, rain forest etc.

I would like to show some results, how artist had handled this:

Paul Klee’s Castle and Sun is painted mostly in warm colours with reduced value-difference in it. The yellows are light, yes but they take up little surface compared to the reds and browns.
Just to control the values, here is the black and white version:
Back to the original: as said, the yellows bring in some value-difference, but they are a bit too cool colours! What really carry the heat are the pure, intense, glowing reds! Remember, I said last time that when working with saturation-difference, the effect shall appear stronger when the colours are closer in value. And this is what works so beautifully here with the reds, oranges and browns.
Almost the same could be said regarding Claude Monet’s Vetheuil in the Summer and Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Reaper and Sun. In both picture you find so many yellows of different saturation making them lively - not overly dramatic but in noways flat either.I'll skip longer explanation, just regard them and try to explain it to yourself.

In contrast to those two, here is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. This is a painting what shows a summer night scene but the emphasis is not on the heat - thought one can sense it lightly - but on the scene itself. It is so full of tension. Hopper conveys a mood of loneliness. But of this picture Hopper said: `I didn't see it as particularly lonely... Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.' He reaches this dramatic tension using big value differences. The hues are subdued and the saturation doesn’t play a central role either. 

If you have any question to hue, value and saturation, feel free to ask, I’ll try to answer them.

And now, the exercise(s):

Make a simple, maybe geometrical design. (A tip: a simple drawing programm on your computer will help.) Try to keep it simple. You can also use one of your favourite abstract paintings, maybe something from Paul Klee or just use a geometrical grid of squares and rectangles or concentrical circles (like the painting of Kandinsky).
Prepare three variations from the same design

  • one concentrating on values – use big value differences. Try to create a strong, dynamic composition. Convert the result into black and white, to control it.
  • The second colour study should be about hue and temperature. Try to create spatial sensation, a “movement” in your composition.
  • The third example should be about saturation. Use a variety of glowing and dull colours to generate a lively, dynamic sensation.
When ready, look at you results and think about it what works for you. All three? Wonderful! You don’t feel very comfortable working with saturation, for example? Leave it or better go on experimenting with it and you’ll get better. Your three compositions will probably all be very different though you’ve used the same forms. Colour is a mighty design factor.

And something fun: convert copies of paintings you like into new colour compositions. Use the same image but change the colour concept. This can be real fun. Important: take time to think over your results: what does work and what doesn’t? Could you bring up new sensations just by changing colours?

More practical could be to collect your fabrics, cut off little squares of 1 x 1 inch and arrange different colour ranges with them:

  • broad hue, value and saturation range within one sample
  • narrow hue range, broad value range and moderate saturation range
  • narrow hue, value  and saturation range
  • narrow hue and value range, broad saturation range
When done, note some adjectives you would use to describe the colour sensations these ranges evoke and try to think about in what context you could use these colour groups.

I’ll make a short break here and let you work. If you do the exercises and send me the results – - I would love to show them here. In a few days I’ll continue discussing contrasts.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Colour – 4. Saturation: the sensation of inherent light

Saturation can also be called a colour’s intensity  and it refers to the relative purity of a colour. We can also think of it in terms of week and strong or dull and glowing. The more the colour resembles  the clear, fully illuminated colours reflected in a prism, the more saturated it is. The lighter of tw colours is not necessarily the more more saturated one. In the following two pairs of colours first ist he lighter one (yellow) and than is the darker one (green) less saturated.


When I add white to a pure colour it will be bleached, lightened, robbed of its intensity. These colours are often referred as tints or pastels.Saturation can be done on different ways:
  • Adding black to a pure colour results in deepening shades.
  • Mixing pure colours with already saturated colours will result in saturated colours. The most direct and powerful way to rob a colour of ist purity is to mix it with ist complementary colour from the opposite side of the colour wheel.
  • Mixing the three primary colours together should theoretically result in a perfectly neutral gray – provided that the starting colours the perfect primary ones.

On this picture you can see the tints and the shades of some pure colours and on the right their values (marked through the dots).

If you’re not so familiar with saturation I suggest to try to mix a five(nine)-step saturation scale:
  1. Prepare a horizontal row of five (nine) adjoining squares of the same size. (e.g: 1 x 1 inch)
  2. Fill the first square with a pure colour.
  3. With white and black paint mix a gray that is equal in value to your chosen pure colour.
  4. Paint the last (fifth or ninth) square with this gray.
  5. Using the pure colour and the gray you’ve mixed, create a dulled version which should be about halfway between those two. (pay attention, the mixing proportions are not necessarily 50-50%!) Paint the middle square with it.
  6. Now mix a halfway dulled version between the pure colour in the first square and the somewhat dulled one in the third(fifth) square and than repeat it with the colours in the third (fifth) and in the fifth (ninth) square.
  7. If you choosed to make a nine step graduation, you have to go on filling out the squares nr.2, 4, 6, 8, mixing always the two colours on their both sides, creating a halfway saturation in between them.

A colour can be pure or more or less saturated. So what’s the big deal about it?
The answer is a bit similar to what we saw at the value.
Again I prepared three grids:
  • One with a pure yellow, a neutral gray that has the same value as the yellow and a series of different saturations of these two in between.
  • Second grid with only little saturated yellows and grays
  • Third with nearly pure or very strongly saturated yellows in it.

If you have the time, regard them and write down your impressions in form of adjectives again. Try to collect adjectives with a positive and negative meaning (like serene and dull).


The first arrangement is quite powerful, dynamic, lively with tension in it. Could express agression maybe.
The second seems calm, quiet, more unified, less tension, almost subduded, boring.
The third is tense, vibrant, unruly, could work „hyperactive“.

But this perceptions are relative: a muted colour will seem to glow when seen among a group duller colours. This effect of „glowing“ is called inherent light. One would expect that the more saturated a colour is, the stronger the inherent light is. But actually the sensation depends on the relative saturation and doesn’t necessarily require prismatic, pure colours.The effect will appear stronger when the colours are closer in value. 

Beautiful examples of inherent light are Ad Reinhardt’s abstract paintings:

I will stop it here and if you’ve followed my post, take your time to reflect and sort out how the hue, the value and the saturation could help you to support your design. I will sum it up in my next post – along with some examples – and again we can compare notes. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Colour – 3. Within the hue: Temperature

Colours are often described in terms of temperature as “cool” or “warm”. These psychological associations have a lot to do with certain physical characteristics, like red-fire-warm, yellow-sun-warm or blue-ice-cold, green-shade-cold. Still, the feeling of warm and cool is relative. The same color might appear cool in the company of warm yellows and oranges and warm surrounded by cool greens.
(I’ll look at it closer later this month when talking about contrasts.)

When thinking of the colour wheel, it can be roughly divided in half: warm colours stretching from red-violet to yellow and cool colours from violet to yellow green.
Before we go deeper into it, I’d like to make a small exercise.
Please prepare a grid of 6 x 7 squares. Something like it is on the photo.

Take your coloured pencils or pastels or even your scraps of fabric and fill the squares of the horizontal rows as follows:
·      1. row: only cool colours (don’t think much, this is not a beaux-arts competition, chose your colours randomly.)
·      2. row: 5 cool colours and 1 warm colour.
·      3. row: 4 cool colours and 2 warm colours
·      4. row: 3 cool colours and 3 warm colours
·      5. row: 2 cool colours and 4 warm colours
·      6. row: 1 cool colour and 5 warm colours
·      7. row: only warm colours.

When finished look at the composition. Again try to collect adjectives to describe the sensation you get with the warm colours on the top and with the cool colours on the top.

Here is my example:

The warm colours feel much heavier. When they are down, the composition feels stable and static. The top is more airy.

Are the warm colours by the majority on the top, our sensation of balance is disturbed. A feeling of insecurity, incertitude is coming up and I expect those “heavy bricks” to fall down and crush all the airy cool bricks below.
So this is again a knowledge we can use consciously in our design. It works also on the horizontal level. Everything else being equal, warm colours generally “come forward” in the space. Cool colours, on the other hand, reced in our vision. Painters often take advantage of this aspect to create the illusion of depth.

Cezanne used this so called colour-perspective very often, especially in his still lifes:

Just two more examples. First Miro’s Figures at Night Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails.

And second a Gee's Bend Quilt von Luisiana P. Bendolph: „Housetop“ Variation
In both the reds are just coming forward, creating the impression of space.

Contrast of temperature can also be used to create mood. Though reactions to colours are somewhat subjective and different from culture to culture, general tendencies apply. Arrangements dominated by cool colours typically evoke feelings of peace, quiet, serenity, and tranquility. Warm arrangements often bring about feelings that are relatively active and dynamic, from vivacity and joy to anger.