This project seeks to train us in colour theory and the application of this through exercises. The first preparatory work includes creating a colour wheel, and thinking about complementary colours (colours opposite each other in the wheel), how various mixes might work. I have photographed the work as it looks in my workbook, but as with many colour photographs the images may have distorted the colours to a point once they are shown on the internet.
I had a go at drawing up a colour wheel using water soluble pencil:
This was an interesting exercise, as I tried to mix the primaries, red, blue and yellow using the pencils, by adding more or less pigment to the paper before mixing the colours using water. In most cases it worked reasonably well, although I think the blue-violet is not quite strong enough and I guess I did not put enough red onto the blue (maybe because the blue was quite dark it was difficult to see how much red to add on top).
I also used black in varying densities to see if I could create a sort of grey scale using the white paper as the lightening element, this was also done with green blue and violet.
I then went on to mix a few pencil colours to see what would happen:
Here I mixed some complementaries, such as violet and yellow, making a brown, the red and green and blue and orange also made browns, however I think I must have put in too much green, because when I mixed the primaries and added green I got a dark greeny brown. A light brown and blue made a very dark brown, which, had the brown been darker, or maybe the blue, would have been almost black which would have been great. I have seen this done in acrylic and that near-black was a beautiful thing.
Stage 2 Colour perception
Next came an exercise which in art seems to evoke Josef Alber's colour theory exercises.
Firstly laying a small square in one colour on top of a number of larger squares to see what the optical effect will be.
First I used a small blue square. It is not possible from this picture to get a sense of the frisson, or slight tension that arises from the clear blue on a yellowy-green (top right). Some of the more harmonious squares, such as the pale green or the pink can be sensed here, these colours would potentially in a mix contain a bit of blue perhaps, and so there is something more comfortable about that matching. It is interesting that although the pink and blue seem reasonably calm together the stronger red does not seem to balance with the blue very well.
I used a red square for the second test of this exercise. The red is quite dense and powerful and really only seems balanced with the pink and the pale orangey-peach. There is something energetic, and maybe a bit uneasy, about the red and yellow - being warm, maybe - and as the red paper was not fully red, but might have an orangey note to it, the yellow would sit more comfortably with that note in some way.
The second test was to see what happens when grey is placed on top of various colours - to see how the grey changes with the background change. I found it harder to see the afterimage on the grey square, and wonder whether the background colour choices are a bit weak, or maybe it is not the right grey? Anyway, I think we do experience this in everyday life as well, looking at traffic lights for example.
Stage 3 Recording colours
Exercise 1 - gouache mixes
This page may look at bit messy, but I was more interested in looking at the colours, tones, tints and shades being created than whether areas were of the same size or shape. I mentioned before that I like gouache. It is a soft, wet, pliable sort of paint that is easily diluted and mixed. I have used a designer gouache set from Windsor & Newton here, which in addition to the primaries includes black, white and a green. So on this page I mixed various colours with white and black to look at the lightening and darkening effects of these. I also mixed some colours to make orange for example.
I did a second page, not just to practice colour mixing, but to look at how brush jabs and strokes make marks, and to use undiluted as well as watery solutions of the paint. There are mixes of red-yellow-black, green-black, blue-red-white and various permutations of these.
When I had finished this test I used what was left on the pallet/mixing plate
This was quite useful, as I found a green that I might use for a later exercise, and I created pinks I would not normally aspire to create. Again there are tests of black added.
Exercise 2 - colour mixing to fit a textile square
For this exercise I used a square of woven silk from an old tie. This means that the weave determined the pattern and the number of colours used. There are two colours on the red-orange side of the colour wheel and a number of blues-grey tints from a pale blue and grey to a bright blue. Starting with the orange, I got this pretty quickly, but when I tried to mix blue and red to get the deep wine this was more difficult. This needed a tiny drop of orange and much more red than I first thought. The blue-greys were also interesting to mix, as this was more about a tonal scale, albeit I had to use both white and black to get the right nuance. What was the most difficult was the bright blue. This was not a pure primary as the one in the blue primary tube; it was a tiny bit darker, with something else too. I struggled to mix this one to match, but hope it is not too far off.
Again I enjoyed playing with the left-overs, and mixed and overlaid various colours. I quite like this type of design, it is reminiscent of weaving, and you get a bit of a feeling for how colours work together, or not, across the page, rather than localised, lying next to each other. With the various mixes, they got increasingly brown as I used the decreasing volumes of colour left over.
I was thinking about something that Albers said about music (Albers, 2006 (1961)). About colour and music - he said that we hear music when several notes ring out together and bring in the in-between sounds (or non-sounds) as well. He aligned this bringing together of colours to create dissonances or harmonies with music and poetry. I was thinking about this; where in art I get this sense of colour as a poetical notion? Although most artists/painters probably use colour in this way, even when only using whites or blacks - or the pastels of the Impressionists, I think that painters such as Emil Nolde, or some of the Blaue Reiter expressionists, August Macke and Franz Marc, used colour in a boldly energetic and singing sort of way. They used very strong colours that blasted at you, shouting 'here we are.... look what we can do in these shapes and in this paint'. Other artists such as Paul Klee used colour with more subtlety maybe, but also in a poetic way.
In any case the language we use about colour: on tones, notes, harmony, dissonance - those types of words, we also use about music. This suggests that the way we speak, and maybe think, about colour might evoke feelings and touch our senses beyond the physical properties of colour frequencies and light emissions of colour pigments. It can also lead to descriptions of colour that end up sounding a bit strange to us when someone tries to describe their personal perception of a colour. For example when Johannes Itten uses white as a way to describe the yellow hue..... I would not have thought of that, and I think he was trying to say something about the poetic effect of the colour yellow on himself.
Anyway, I am wandering off the point maybe. These exercises are a technical-analytical way of looking at colour that tests some of these things, that artists use when they work with colour in their paints.
Using an image as a base for colour mixing
I had a go with this exercise using a photograph of graffiti from the Southbank in London. I took a corner in which there were around 9 colours, and tried to mix these. Luckily the graffiti colours were pretty clear and straigthforward, so not too had to mix. There were yellow-green, pink, pale blue, a silver, black and white. There was a tine area of black that had been mixed, which was brown-black, and that took a bit of mixing.
A second exercise using a fraction of a painting by Elizabeth Blackadder was a lot more challenging to analyse colours from. And when I went on to choose object to paint from in exercise 4, now there I chose less wisely and found mixing a lot more difficult.
Colour mixing using gouache
Colour blending oil pastels
Colour mixing from objects
I chose: a Vietnamese pale yellow pot, a lavender jam jar, a shell, a bright blue enamel brooch and a Japanese style bowl in greens and browns - all placed on a dark petrol silk scarf.
I made one big mistake here: I did not primarily analyse the colours in the image without heeding the composition, and ended up forcing the objects into some sort of loose 'still life', which was a distraction. This made the whole thing quite trying - I worked too hard at making the tea-bowl round when the greens and browns were equally varied and complex, and needed more attention. The blue of the brooch enamel was ok - a mix of primary blur with a little red to make the blue shine more strongly; the orange of the shell is OK as well, but should have been made more pale in the yellow pot. Interestingly, the petrol scarf was very dark. The photograph could not show what I was seeing, the richness of the blue-greens and shadows, although what I mixed might have needed to be a bit darker.
So, not fully happy with this one - there were a lot of reflections and variations of colour in the glaze of the bowl that needed much mixing, adding to, and I think even a more analytic approach would have been difficult. It was a lot more direct to make the lavender jar for example, which was mainly blue, a little red and white in differing amounts to get tints and shades.
For all these colour exercises I did not want to waste what was left over, so I used up all on separate pages.
What was left on the pallet?
Firstly after the graffiti test: Here I used the leftovers on coloured paper. I dragged the brush, jabbed it, printed with tissue and an old cork. The green sample with red brush prints is quite effective, as the complementary colours work well together and the rhythm of the lines with the red 'prints' give it a bit of dynamism.
Then some leftovers from the Blackadder colour analysis - zigzags, prints using the brush, dragging a paint-dipped piece of string across the page:
Here I tried a different way of making marks with the brush - I created 'tails' of brush marks in different colours that swing and curl across the harder lines.
Stage 4 Colour moods and themes
Active - Passive
Active: a repeated and jabbed set of marks running along lines. This was to show the activity of painting and thinking about each mark.
Passive: quickly pulled out blues, a quiet colour in pale blue. However I am not sure 'passive' means fully inactive or dead, so I added some gold ink, a complimentary to give it a hint of life through the dullness.
Bright - Dull
Bright: using the white of the paper, yellows, oranges and gold to make the marks shine
Dull: Blue, purple and a light grey with a vague wash across - the colours were dull, dulled further with the grey. Unfortunately this section was on the same pages as the 'bright' marks and unconsciously I pushed it to the far right of the paper, the bright almost pushing the dull bit away. It would have been better to have just had the bright section alone on a page.
Joyous - Mournful/Solemn
It occurred to me that 'joyous' seems to have a kind of religious note to it. That was not my intention, and so all the reds, yellows and lively stamps made using a cork ended up in a sort of neutral grid. Perhaps not as joyous as could be - the 'bright' section is more joyous really.
Mournful/solemn is a column of blues and greens and black. I am not convinced that deep sadness is fully black always (although for some that may be the case), it can also pick up small rhythms of something else, hence the colour.
Careful: a measured construction, slowly built up, considered highlights of corners and flecks of colour accents.
Sloppy: triangles loosely painted, no system, no striving for completeness or perfection. I quite like this bit - better than the rectangle-pattern.
What was left on the pallet? - very little, some green and reds
Stage 4 exercise 2 calls for me to gather together materials based on topics and themes. I mention some of this work in my dyeing section here.
This exercise evoked a similar piece of work as an earlier exercise. This time, rather than dividing the foundation fabric into defined sections I just placed a stitch sample in a corner and built the whole sample from there. I used a number of stitches, as lines, overlapping and as individual stitches - chain, fly, running stitches, French knots and couching. Everything went swimmingly until I got to the couching part, when I was constrained by the hoop. I was making a rounded shape that did not fit with any other absurdly shaped thing on the sample. But what luck when I transformed it into a jelly fish, suddenly the other shapes became fantastical sea creatures. I know we were not meant to make anything representational, but in the end the final sample looks quite good as a piece as well as a sampler.
I used blue and yellow as the primary colours, with diversions into orange and purple. This was useful to broaden the range and create visual interest, and created interesting tensions between the colours. I used different materials, from dyed nettle yarn, cottons and linens, to rayon. I used the stitches to overlap, sit alone against the black background fabric, or sit very close together as in the couching. My comments on the effect of this can be found on the colour work overall here.
Combining textures and colour effects
Here we were asked to either use French knots as a pointillist type of colouring device, or use the machine and soluble fabric. I used the latter, as I quite like the sewing machine, would not need to use a hoop, and can be free and loose, as well as reflective as I go along.
I mixed colours a lot - had different colours in the thread holder and the bobbin, changed these regularly, and then went on to overlap them, cluster them and work out whether direction in the stitching would have any separate effects. For the first sample I thought I might use blue and red as suggested in the book - using primaries. However I used paler and darker hues of each and once the threads overlapped, the effects of neighbouring colours changes the way some of the sections were perceived.
In the area where red was used with an equally strong blue hints of purple are suggested.
The exercise also asked for a way of looking at pastels. This is not a range I usually would work with, but I quite enjoyed it, because I used suggestions from a previous colour test piece as a source. I made a sample in pastels looking at the 'spring' sketch and an 'autumn' sample similarly in watersoluble pencil.
Here the leaf pattern was used. I used commercially dyed pale blue wool tops and a bit of Koolaid dyed texel staple as well as a small piece of green organza that was sewn in and joined up by the stitching. I thought this was quite a successful sample. It showed up the yellow well once the base had been made up of pale greens, blues and pinks, and close up the tonal level of all these hues show themselves to work together harmoniously.
For the autumn themed sample I used mainly browns, greens and blues, with a little red to add contrast. I was trying to work out how the direction of the stitching would work if it overlapped sufficiently, and I think that with sufficient layers of stitch the whole managed to hang together.
For this exercise I wanted to experiment with stitch direction and work fast and intuitively. I enjoy using watersoluble fabric and with the machine you can create structures in the textile that, although potentially lacy and quite textile based, can be used to suggest the wash of a watercolour sketch.