Monday, March 10, 2014

Working with COLOR

After the debacle that plagued me yesterday (see above), and continues to leave me uncertain this morning (do I like theses colors??), I know exactly what I want to talk about today. 

- how to make smart decisions in the design phase, how to use lots of color successfully, and the methods I employ to keep from tearing my hair out and wasting my time making projects I hate. 

I will be talking about the way I use color in knitting design, but these ideas can be used in any kind of project to help you make good color choices. As for the project I started yesterday.... ...STILL can't tell if I like the color choices or if I should abandoned the sinking ship before I commit any more of my time to it. And since I can't get anyone around me to make my decisions (shucks) I guess I'll mull this one over a while longer...

I can tell you straight up that designing color knitting is the hardest task I've ever encountered in terms of making successful color decisions. With quilting, you can lay piles of fabric next to each other and get an idea as to how they will look together. Markers, paints, a little more challenging as you have a certain shade or tone when it is wet and may differ when dry. Knitting? Well, there's something there that one cannot foresee. Simply placing balls of color next to each other may look nice but provides no guarantee that they will work well together once you've spent all that time knitting them next to each other. It is an enigma that has led me down the path, more than once, to failed projects. See example below:


This was the very first knitted text project I ever designed and made. I had an idea as to what I wanted to do, but the whole process still overwhelmed me and I hadn't figured out the tools to allow me to design a piece successfully. I knew I wanted to employ color knitting techniques (in this case, stranded or Fair Isle, the only one I knew at that time) and I wanted lots of color. SO, I thought I would be clever and just buy a yarn that automatically changed colors, that makes sense right? Well, what I didn't foresee is that some colors, placed next to similar colors in shade or tone, will completely disappear next to each other. I learned that lesson the hard way but the important thing was that I learned.

I could talk about color theory; the color wheel, tint, hue, shade, tone, blah, blah, blah. As much as this information is valuable, even I can feel it breeze over my head when trying to understand it in book terms. I have taken years of color theory and would be stumped if you asked me to define tone. (Go google it if you need to know, that's what I just did.) Instead, I'd rather empower you to trust your gut, use colors you love that make you happy, and maybe try out some of these tools and tricks I like to use, to make the decision process easier.

 This little tool I picked up at my local yarn shop. Created by Gail Callahan,  she's basically found a way to break down the color wheel and give you quick color options instead of trying to explain why. And sometimes, don't we appreciate just getting an easy answer?! I use this to help me come up with different color stories in the very beginning. 

 You start by placing your base color (the one color you've actually forced your brain to make a commitment to) in the large circle in the center. Then the guide immediately shows you various lighter, darker and similar versions of the color (some would say tints, shades and tones but let's use simple terms). These obviously will work with your base color because they are pretty much the same color. But then she also shows you the complementary color to your base. A great example of this color palette in effect is the very first quilt I made (seen here) I was new to quilting so I decided to just pick all green fabrics. But, to make a successful design, you need contrast and focal points. So, I used the complementary color of green --red-- as my center in each square. Lots of the similar colors (the ones in the circles) and a pop of the complementary (the color in the bar).

A very basic way to divide all color is between warm and cool colors. Your warm colors are your reds, oranges, and yellows; think of a fire. They are most commonly associated with the feelings of energy, action, and, of course, heat. Your cool colors are your greens, blues, and purples; think of ice. They produce feelings of calm, peace, and the nighttime. One of the reasons why complementary colors work so well is because it will be the opposite "warmth" of your base color. Red and green. Purple and yellow. Blue and orange. If you painted a canvas full of cool colors and then put one dot of red on your piece, the eye would go to that red. The contrast that lies between warm and cool provides interest in your composition, so use it to your advantage!

Also, considering the energy that a color can bring to mind can influence the way your work is perceived. I intentionally chose mostly cool colors for my toothbrush piece because I wanted it to be a peaceful, calm image.

Me being somewhat of a snob, thought that this kind of tool is just showing me information that would be obvious to me, what with alllll my higher education  >nose-in-air<  but it just makes it so you don't even have to pry that information out of whatever crevice it has settled in, and it really just makes it easy to keep thinking of new ideas.

I'm sure there are more types of tools like this one on the market. Consider picking one up to help kick start those brain-thinkin' juices.

This next method helps you look at almost removing it entirely. So, what I've got here is a piece of red transparent film. I'm not exactly sure what type of material it is. It was a leftover scrap from a project my college roommate was working on, and I snatched it up. There are red viewers that you can buy for this purpose but you can use whatever is available to you. (I found one here.) All you need is something that is red and see-thru. The idea is that you look through the red at your project. The red acts as some sort of color blocker, and shows you basically a greyscale version of your work. It is good to see a greyscale of your work because the contrast of a light color next to a dark color is going to have more of a visual impact than two colors of equal darkness. You still might see a difference between them when viewed in color, but you won't get that extra variety or pop.

Here you can see that I employ all three basic levels of color contrast: light, medium, and dark.   Because I'm rendering an object (in this case, 2 toothbrushes), I want to show the dimensionality of the item. If I put 2 toothbrushes on a table and looked at them, part of them would be in light and part would be shaded, a cue to your eye that what you're looking at is in 3-D. So I've got my dark colors on one side that make it look like there's light coming from the other side. I also want to make sure they don't get lost in the background (think about my failed project above) so it's good that the majority of the brush is in contrast to the shade of the background color.

Finding contrast using a red viewer is not just for designing an image to look 3-D. It can be a great way to find balance in your project. It gives you an opportunity to look at your work from a different perspective; the closest you'll get to looking at something with a different set of eyes. Take this example here:

This is a rug I made several years ago. The color choices were not premeditated and I instead would pick as I went along. I knew that I might run into some overall visual problems if I didn't somewhat consider what I was using beforehand, so, I decided to use the red viewer. With this tool, I chose to alternate light, medium, and dark yarns evenly as I worked. 

As you can see, I didn't do it precisely, but enough to create an overall balance to the piece. It also just helped from a decision point-of-view. Sometimes, when you have 50 choices, it can be harder to pick one rather than 5 or 10 choices. (In fact, it's been proven to be the case ---> Sheena Lyengar's TED talk) So, limiting myself to my only the dark yarns or only the light yarns, just simply made it easier to keep progressing. You don't want your inability to make a decision to keep you from moving forward!

Okay, so it seems like the red viewer idea only works after you have made something. How do I come up with color choices before I start? I'll get to that next!

When I design my knitting projects, I do this initial work in greyscale, like I'm starting with the red viewer over my eyes. This allows me to only focus on composition and structure. I'm breaking down the design process into chewable parts. When I feel happy with my work at this point, I move on to color. 

I design my images in a spreadsheet and then import them into Photoshop. Actually, Photoshop Elements, the more affordable little brother of Photoshop. It works just as well for this sort of project. Here I can play with color easily and quickly. I will sit in front of my yarn, in a  well-lit space. Natural light is a MUST. As much as I want to sit on the couch and work, my den has very yellow bulbs and I don't get an accurate depiction of color, when looking at my yarn in this light. I only work with colors that I already have in yarn-form. It's easy enough to pick any color in the world off Photoshop but then trying to find that exact color in yarn version? Not so easy. Work with the colors you've got to alleviate future headaches. Here is another opportunity to use that red viewer. You've already decided that a dark color needs to go in this one space. So put on your red eyeballs and pick out those dark yarns that fit the bill.

The computer is an absolutely valuable tool when you want to test out an idea before you start. If you do not have access to these sort of tools, there's always good ol' paper and markers. The hard part with this way is just your limitations on how accurately you can recreate the colors of your final material or pigment. 


SO, when interpreting a color that you are thinking about using, consider these two factors:

-- what color is it? 
(is it warm or cool? If all the colors you picked are warm, consider something in the composition that you want people to look at and make it a cool color)

-- how light/dark is it?
(how does the color read when looked at in greyscale? If your composition has all medium contrast colors, consider a light or dark color to add interest)

Understanding these two basic ideas can help you pick a successful variety of colors for a project. When it comes to the actual selecting of colors, go with the ones that excite you and that you think look good together. You will ultimately be living with the final project, whether it's a personal piece or something that goes out into the world with your name on it, so put your colors into it. If you're not sure what colors are your colors, look at your wardrobe, look at your house. What colors are most commonly found? What colors make you happy? Inversely, what colors annoy you? It's good to know those so you can avoid them! Look at famous paintings you love and break down what colors were used. Eventually you'll develop your personal palette that you'll come back to again and again. Using these tools will simply help you put them together in a successful way!

Do you feel like you have an innate sense of color? Or rather, do you find tools like these crucial?

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