Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Your Thoughts, Please"

A friend of mine is working on a proposal for a book on color. He wondered about quilters and their color decisions, and so I'm putting some of his questions to you.

How do you use color in your work? I know that I have a preference for brights contrasted with blacks, but I also love dusty, antique colors, and monochromatic schemes. How much do you have in mind before hand and how much occurs by auditioning fabrics?

What color questions come up in your work? Some quilters are quite daring and combine colors that I'd never consider...which means I miss a lot of opportunities.

How many of you have any training in color? What kinds of training have you had? Art, classes or seminars, retreats that feature guest lecturers?

Or is your work mostly intuitive? If so, how do you make your color decisions or get your inspiration for color combination and use?

Do you have any favorite books on color? If so, could you share them? Which ones are most useful and why?

What quilters use color in ways that you find inspirational? I inserted this question and don't even know how to answer it because there are so many. Mrs. Mel, of course, bursts with color and comes first to my mind.

Thomas is a graphic artist and has become interested in the way quilters approach the use of color. Any help would be appreciated. You can answer in the comment section or on your own blog, but please leave a link in the comments section to let me know. Many Thanks!


  1. oh my, so many thoughts on this, gimme a little time.
    i have just crawled out of a hole and the light is hurting my eyes.

  2. I love all [types of] color, and use it depending on my mood and my desired outcome. I love soft, muted colors as well as deeply saturated colors. I do not like monochromatic schemes; I like the energy that comes from throwing in an unexpected color from the opposite side of the color wheel. I pay close attention to value.

    I'd say 35% is planning and 75% is auditioning fabrics. I "see" the project in my mind, then I draw out the design and sometimes even color it in before I get to fabric selection.

    If it's the kind of work that demands forethought about color, e.g. my New York Beauty, I do decide in advance what the color scheme is going to be. I try different schemes until I find one that resonates with me and the project at hand.

    I have had some formal training in color and I have read many books. My work is mostly intuitive, but in the back of my mind I know what works with what and I generally follow color scheme "rules."

    My favorite color books are by Joen Wolfrom. All her books are good. I also like Barbara Olson's Journey of an Art Quilter. I often read these before I start a project because I stretch myself a little more.

    Hope this helps.

  3. And my math skills are terrible, because my numbers add up to 110%. But artists understand this.

  4. I usually use bright colors. I like monchromatic color schemes and also complimentary ones (the two extremes, I guess.) I haven't had any art training, so I've read a lot about color to add to my instinctive reactions, which I think are good but limited. Like Rian, I like Joen Wolfram's book about color, and I also like her little color selection tool because it helps make me aware of all the different tints and shades of one color that I might not recognize otherwise. Another book I've found helpful is Color Harmony for Quilts by Ringle and Kerr. Theirs is a different approach and has increased my awareness of color around me. When planning a quilt I start with a color scheme in mind, taken from nature, a painting or sometimes from a focus fabric, (like the Hoffman challenge --ugh) and then audition fabric, trying for variety in scale, value, texture, etc.

  5. How do you use color in your work? I love stark contrasts, regardless of the color scheme. I use a lot of brights/black, and neutrals/black with a shot of pure color. Strangely enough, I rarely ever use any white, and seldom, if ever, actually audition a fabric. I can look at it (or remember it from stash or the store) and know if it's what I want or not. I've driven myself mad on more than one occasion by KNOWING I had something in my stash that I can't lay my hands on immediately.

    What color questions come up in your work? The most common for me is what is my SECOND choice for a specific color. Periodically, I know exactly what color I want and just can't find anything that's exactly right. Then I might have to add another color to bring in one that's close, or tweak some of the others so I can change the color altogether.

    How many of you have any training in color? What kinds of training have you had? Art, classes or seminars, retreats that feature guest lecturers? As for myself, zero of any of the above. The only classes I've ever been to were process classes, and the only art class I ever had was in 8th grade as one of 4 "arts" semesters. Shop, art, home ec and something else.

    Or is your work mostly intuitive? If so, how do you make your color decisions or get your inspiration for color combination and use?
    I have absolutely no idea. I just know that I need a piece of THAT color yellow (or blue or whatever) right there. And I am never happy if the fabric color isn't EXACTLY what I have in my mind for it. I have the rare talent of a near-perfect color memory, so making do with something that's "close" is not usually an option for me. Color memory may not be the right term for it, but I can match colors without having the piece I'm trying to match in my hand. Makes shopping for clothes very easy!

    Do you have any favorite books on color? Not really, although I do have a few home dec books with the color samples for walls/furniture/trims etc in them, but that's mostly for other people to look at to reassure them that color combinations aren't always what they expect them to be. And mostly because it's so freaking hard for me to describe a color to someone.

    What quilters use colors in ways that you find inspirational? I gave this some thought and finally decided that I can't decide. Sonji Hunt's colors jump right out at you, but it isn't the color of her work that draws me, it's the energy. The energy would be there even with a different palette I think. Color is secondary (or more) on the list of things I "see" initially in a quilt. The color might catch my eye, but only in the way that a flapping flag does.

    I hope all that makes sense.

  6. That's a very good question - and I'm just not sure how to answer it. I guess it all depends on what I'm doing. I'm a very visual and sensual person who is very in tune with the earth and the environment and the seasons. I love the colors of the earth and the seasons. I take inspiration from nature - from the world around me. I'll go with a feeling - maybe I want warmth, or something that gives me the feeling of being cuddled and loved. Portraying a feeling is totally intuitive - I play with things until they give me that feeling.

    However I also love scrappy quilts best - and in my mind absolutely anything goes when it comes to a scrappy quilt. Usually when I'm working really scrappy I'll throw anything together. I believe in what Sharon Craig says - all colors go together. And I would add all fabrics go together. As long as something unifies them in some way. My latest scrappy quilts - the Broken Dishes, the postage stamp and the string quilts - have a unifying color in either the sashing and/or the borders. Otherwise there's a bit of everything - solids, Christmas prints, calicos, batiks, Orientals, flannels, you name it and it's there.

    I have several books on color that I've read and digested over the years. I don't know if I have a favorite. They include Joen Wolfrom's two books on color, Jinny Beyer's Color Confidence, Color Magic for Quilters by Ann Seely and Joyce Stewart, Color: The Quilters Guide by Christine Barnes, Color and Cloth by Mary Coyne Penders. An Amish Adventure by Roberta Horton also has great quilting exercises about color.

    I also love tradition when it comes to color - red and green at Christmas, red, white and blue in the summer, blue and white in the winter.

    I'm also greatly influenced by antique quilts and the way our foremothers used the fabrics they had available. I have a large collection of quilt history and quilt search books and can spend hours studying old quilts to see how they used color. I love the way a bright cheddar setting can bring things together - or poison green, chrome yellow or turkey red. Our foremothers did some incredible things with color that one doesn't see today.

    To me color in quilts is all involved with emotions and how the colors make me feel - while I'm working on the quilts and when they are finished and being used. I tend to run my life by my emotions, and my quiltmaking is no different.

  7. I have to confess... I am a trained professional, I have the tools and know how to use 'em (he-he-he). I can't remember a time I didn't think of color in my world. I am always aware of it around me and how it affects my surroundings. So most of my color choices now are so intuitive I am not always sure how I arrive at them. I mostly spend time auditioning colors for quilt projects and let the yardage sit next to each for a while until I feel the calmness of a good color harmony.

    I love complex colors, it must be because of my training as an Artist and Painter. Shading, gradation, as many colors as possible, the more the merrier. I have to say that brights and primaries don't excite me very often, but I've used them when I needed to convey a certain feeling in a quilt.

    Quilting is perfect for me as a trained Designer since I get to create my own compositions, mock-ups and designs using all of my skills. (even though I also work as a designer too!) I keep a sketchbook and scrapbook documenting my ideas and processes.

    Being a bit of a art snob I didn't take many quilting classes when I first got started, but now I am feeling braver and I have learned incredible things from every class and quilt teacher. Very different concepts than what I learned in school.

    My favorite sources for color theory is the Impressionist painters and how they used color and their painting philosophy. I have several coffee table books that I often look through. Monet has to be my favorite because even though he used very complex colors they always stayed clear on the canvas.

    I love the blogging process available now, it is such a great way to capture my own creative process as I work through my projects. I really think the process is just as important as the completed quilt. It is amazing that after a few years I have forgotten most of what I was thinking while creating a quilt. It is good to write it down.

  8. I'm just now getting back to check on this and can't tell you how much I appreciate your responses. Thanks to all of you for taking the time, and if you think of anything else please comment again! I'll try to get in touch with each of you as soon as I have time. You've given me a lot to think about, and I've emailed Thomas to let him know about your comments. Once more, thanks!

  9. What a fascinating discussion. I love color; when asked what my favorite color is, I think I should answer the rainbow, or a paint chart, because it is the interactions between colors that appeals to me. I think I have a very emotional approach to color. I seem to be quite intuitive in my color choices, yet, I had art training in college before I changed my major from art education, so that info is there, somewhere, in the back of my mind and I try to read and experiment with color as I develop and grow. I am fascinated with the way other quilters use color.

    I find that I am using a lot of colors that I would not have chosen in the past, and when choosing fabrics for a project, I audition a lot of colors and patterns before I find a combination that somehow clicks as just right. I have a discriminating eye for the "just right" shade. A slight difference makes a very large difference in the final product to me.

  10. Jen: I couldn't answer this first time I read through, needed some time for thought. #1: Colors I avoid: brights; 2-color combos; monochromatics; Colors I tend to use: pastels; fall colors; muted colors; I go with the instinct of the moment, rarely long-term planning. #2: I don't think this happens (I'm boring) #3: no training in color, unless you count learning the color wheel in high school home ec class one year - no art classes ever #4: I guess my work is "intuitive" - I know what I like and don't like and I rarely go for anything not in the "like" realm #5: no books #6: Robyn Pandolph comes to mind; Jinny Beyer is inspirational although I've never tried to copy her work but I find her work very interesting with good color
    I hope this is of some help. :)
    Happy Easter, Jen :)

  11. 1. In each quilt, I tend to lean toward a limited palette because I want calm, meditative and focus in my work. Gradations of colour make the limited palette work well.

    2. The guiding question for me is, do I have enough value?

    3. I've taken one workshop on colour and it emphasized mastering the colour wheel which is always close by when I'm working.

    4. I try to go for "informed intuitive" when I make decisions. Intuitive first then I question myself why it works or doesn't work.

    5. Color and Compostion (I'll mispell the authors last name if I try to type it without looking at the book which isn't in my grasp at the moment)

    6. Yes, Mrs. Mel makes me think of colour combinations that I wouldn't think of. But I'm still looking for artists who can make monotones and limited colour palettes intriguing.

  12. I had to think on this a awhile.
    I think color is a type of therapy for me. I tend to use, & gravitate toward different colors at different times of the year. Right now in longing for spring, I've been using light bright yellow-grrens. Back in the dark parts of the winter, I was using bright warm yellow-oranges & reds.

    I think I tend to work intuitively, grabing whatever catches my eye & trying it out, standing back or levaing & coming beck to it to see how I feel when I see it anew.

    My training is more informal than formal. I did take Art classes in High School. I felt like I probably learned more in a class from a 2 day Joan Wolfrom, & one from Caryl Bryer Fallert though.

    I dont think I own a book on color.

    I think Caryl Bryer Fallert is the Queen of color! I suspect that most of those Chicago based quilters in the school of fusing group learned a lot fron Caryl too!

  13. How do I use colour? I choose colours that fit with the theme/idea I am wanting to explore - my own website has many examples of vastly different colour schemes - fire, flood, desert - landscape based and all there.
    What questions come up? I don't worry too much - if the colour fits, it's used. Occasionally something has to go back into the cupboard despite my expectation it would fit ...
    Training? I did art in senior high school, and down the years have often gone to colour and design workshops. I don't own any books on colour but read magazine articles and think about colour a lot. In addition to having studied with the great colourist, Nancy Crow, I am even more under the enduring influence of the great English embroiderer Constance Howard, with whom I did a 4-day colour and design workshop in Australia back in 1979, and I will never ever forget what I learned from her.
    Intuitive describes my approach - I see colour all round me and have learned to REALLY look closely at things for the inevitable variety of colours there - there is no such thing as a plain green leaf or a brown stone - Constance's influence endures.
    Quilters who use colour inspirationlly? I think a more important thing is to consider how many don't, or how many run after the latest craze in colour like a bunch of lemmings - and this is partly because they chose their fabrics only from whatever is currently on offer from the manufacturers, and have limited actual knowledge about the whole matter of colour. Many quilters go to lots of the currently popular workshops,most of which are technique or process based, lacking any emphasis on actual design and colour theories.

  14. I use colour to create a mood or express an idea. I'm a dyer and my work is centred on colour. Observation especially of the natural world and the unexpected colur-combinations you get when you look at it closely also play a major part - but often the fabric itself is a starting-point. I also like using overlays rather like watercolour glazes using transparent colours.
    Usually questions come up like do I need to liven this up, warm it up, cool it down, make it brighter or more subtle.
    Mostly I am intuitive but sometimes my choices are planned and come from colour theory e.g using small touches of complementary or near-cimplementary colour to liven a colour-scheme.
    My colour education started at my mother's knee - she loved home dec and was excellent at choosing colour-combinations. At school I had a good art-teacher who taught the basics of colour-theory. Though persuaded against going to art school I later did a City & Guilds course which included work on design including colour.
    I enjoy looking at books on colour but apart from one very old book on painting by the artist Mervyn Levy which I was given as a school art prize at the age of 13 I can't think of any that directly affect what I do now.
    In terms of individual quilters I suppose many have influenced my work but it's usually a particular quilt rather than a whole body of work - people that spring to mind include Nancy Crow, Melanie Johnson (of course) and Dijonne Cevaal but there are others too numerous to mention. I am also influenced by the colours used by embroiderers in this country (UK) and by painters, especially the impressionists such as Monet and Bonnard. (examples of work on my blog -

  15. I tend to use mostly my favorite colors in my quilting. I have "my" shades of blue, green, and pink, that I tend to use the most. I use them in all shades, and from soft pastel, to deep & vibrant. I tend to be drawn to cool colors more, maybe for their calming effect on me.

    Most color questions that come up are what hapens if I...... I paint a lot of my own fabrics, and will experiment. I paint my fabrics wet on wet, and like to see what happens when I let colors run and mingle into each other. I do use mostly blue, green, and a rose for base colors, and end up with different shades, and combinations. I have been adding in a little yellow lately, and am pleased with the outcomes. I tend to avoid red, unless it is on the blue side, or more a hot pink. I did paint some fabiric in oranges, adding purples and pink, of course, for some fall specific pieces. I found it hard to work with them, though.

    The only training I have had was what little I got in school art class, and floral design classes in college.

    I tend to work intuitively, getting my inspirations from nature. The sky, grass, and flowers. I have a degree in horticulture, and a great interest in flowers and gardening. I tend to look at individual flowers as well as groupings, for inspiration. Some times I will work in mainly blues, and other times, with a lot of green. Right now I seem to be in more of a "green period".

    I have not studied books on color, or tried to follow someone else's colors. I just use what I like, and see in nature.
    You can see how I use my colors at my website, and blog- there is a link to my blog on my website.

  16. How do you use color in your work?
    I love saturated colors and jewel tones. I want color to make part of the statement.

    How much do you have in mind before hand and how much occurs by auditioning fabrics? Once I'm settled on the idea of the quilt, I just start pulling fabrics that help to convey that idea, either by color, pattern, texture or emotional signifigance.

    What color questions come up in your work? I am daring with my colors. I store my fabric by the jumble system and let unexpected combinations occur serendipitiously. It has helped me to be more adventurous with color choices.

    How many of you have any training in color? What kinds of training have you had? Art, classes or seminars, retreats that feature guest lecturers? I had 2+ years of design class in college, but everything I know about color is intuitive. As a teacher, I have to find a way to put my intuition into words, so I hae developed my own language of color to share with others.

    Or is your work mostly intuitive? If so, how do you make your color decisions or get your inspiration for color combination and use? - See above

    Do you have any favorite books on color? If so, could you share them? Which ones are most useful and why? The books that are favorites are not color books, they are books with color, like Tracy Porters series, Caroline Quartermaine, and home magazines.

    What quilters use color in ways that you find inspirational? - Carol Bryer Fallert, Robbi Joy Eklow, Ricky Tims and yes, Melody.

  17. How do you use color in your work?
    I use color to focus the eye, to summon up emotions, to set a mood…

    What color questions come up in your work?
    Like all quilters, I have to be extremely concerned with value. Is this part too subtle; does it get lost next to whatever it’s next to? (Ha!—I usually have to tone down!) Am I stuck in a rut? I tend to use complementary colors.

    How many of you have any training in color? What kinds of training have you had? Art, classes or seminars, retreats that feature guest lecturers?
    I’ve had numerous design classes and even had a color theory class through the Art Department at the local community college. That was probably one of the most useful classes I’ve had. Now I usually know why something works, or not, in my work.

    Or is your work mostly intuitive? If so, how do you make your color decisions or get your inspiration for color combination and use?

    I would say I’m evenly balanced intuitive vs. formula driven.
    Most of the time I have an inspiration piece—meaning a piece of fabric, a photo or just about anything. I cut pages out of magazines with color schemes I like—most often it is not an art or craft related magazine. Often it is an advertisement. Color or a color scheme may be the starting point for a project. I don’t think color has ever been an afterthought with me.

    I always have a color wheel near by in case I feel stuck.

    Do you have any favorite books on color?
    For quilters, I recommend Christine Barnes’ book Color: The Quilter’s Guide. She writes about more than color schemes-- she explains simultaneous contrast, talks about the illusion of depth (what recedes and what comes to the fore), and creating luminosity and transparency effects.

    What quilters use color in ways that you find inspirational?
    There are so many. I’d have to do some reviewing. Anytime I see a quilt and think, “AHAH! That’s how she achieved that,” or “ DUH, I should have known that!” I’ll stop and look at the quilter’s name

  18. Hmm, good questions. I'll answer that in my blog.

  19. The book "Color the quilter's guide" by Christine Barnes was a revelation to me when I started quilting. It explained the use of color for quilting/sewing as opposed to painting, etc. It explained the color wheel. It explained things to me, a beginner in the use of color. It was my Bible for learning color theory as a beginning quilter.

  20. Jackie in Reno4/09/2007 10:01 AM

    About ten years ago, I had a five- day course in color theory at Empty Spools Seminars with Joen Wolfram. I found out my color choices had been intuitive anyway. I use color as any other artist would, to influence the effect of my quilts and other textile articles. I am usually driven to make a red violet (pink) and yellow green (spring green) quilt in the Spring.

  21. Is your friend only thinking about how colour is used in the USA? Other countries/continents/cultures may well view/use colour in a totally different manner.

    For myself, it depends on my mood and what I have to hand.

  22. *I typically use bright colored fabrics. Because of the imagery in my work, shadow and highlights are seldom used. So, the need for shades and tints of the primary fabric colors used, is not great. Perhaps in the future, that may change.

    *My senior thesis at college was on the psychology of color. In preparing that paper, much book learning was done. I've also taken a number of quilting as well as other art-making technique classes.

    *Most of my work with color is intuitive rather than planned. I do run into situations working in the fabric medium in which certain colors/prints won't work in a piece even though the fabric has been auditioned next to the other principal fabrics.

    *My favorite books on color theory have not been authored by quilters. Of course, Joseph Albers was a prominent writer on the subject. My favorite books, however, are 'Theory and Use of Color' by DeGrandis, 'The Psychology of Color and Design' by Sharpe, and 'Color Primer I & II' by Zakia & Todd.

    *My favorite quilter who is gifted in her color sense is Susan Carlson.


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