Color at the Edge

Come along on a color adventure! My recent trip to Central America was, obviously, a trip through the lands of color. In both countries (as in much of Latin America) a ride through any city, a walk through any market, an exploration of the arts and crafts takes one straight into the heart of color.

Since I consider color as one of my strong suits -- where I start most of my work -- this trip was like visiting the guru on top of the mountain (volcano is more appropriate, I guess) -- a trip to my own Mecca. Working with color is where my heart goes when I work, and I consider myself a pretty masterful color craftsman, and my work is bold and brave in its palette usually. Now, I like more subtle palettes, too, and sometimes use their "rules," and I certainly love the work of artists whose palettes aren't as bright as my own.

Even so, when I stop and look at some of the photos I took on this trip, (many of them snapped out of the van window as we speeded by) my eyes are amazed. Certainly "what works" takes on an entirely new set of parameters. For example, just what doe s that little stripe of reddish orange do for the blue house in the photo at the top of the blog?

As I plan my next El Cielo workshop on COLOR (coming up in November with new exercises in dye and paint, fabric and paper) I am finding some interesting new exercises inspired by some of these photos. I'll use some interesting software web-based color tools (more later) and provide some parameters for some fabric collage mini-quilt assignments. If you'd like to join in for the LIVE and UP FRONT experience, sign up for the workshop -- or just follow along on this blog for some every-once-and-a-while color updates. You will be able to find the exercises when you click on the KEYWORD COLOR on the sidebar, OK?

Here's the first assignment:

1. Take any solid color of tissue, construction or other art paper. Choose a color you like, but not one that you use all the time, just to stretch the eye muscles. Cut twelve 6" by 6" squares of the same color.

2. Cut 18 different solid color strips each 1/2" wide and 6" long from different papers -- or paint some papers with any bits of tempera, acrylic or craft paint. Just work randomly with favorites, or with what ever you have around you.

3. At the bottom of six of the squares, about 1" above the bottom edge, glue one of the 1/2" strips of a different color. On these six squares, try to find the absolutely most interesting, most pleasing, most shocking combinations. Don't play by any presupposed rules at this point.

4. Now, cut 1 1/2" strips (6" long as well) of the SAME colors you chose. Glue those 1" above the bottom edge. What happens when the AMOUNT of color contrast changes? Which do you like the best?

5. Now look at your squares with a color wheel in hand (or on the screen). What "rules" for your color choices can you deduce? Did you choose complementary colors, split complementaries? analogous? What did the different amounts of the secondary color show you about your choices? Try cutting some 3" wide strips of the secondary color and see what they do when the amounts on a square are equal... (You may need to make some more 6" squares at this point.)

6. And now, just for fun, combine all your squares into a pieced quilt pattern on your design wall. Since the predominant color will still hold dominance in quantity, you may find that the design is wonderfully striking and interesting. A starter for a small wall quilt, perhaps? 


Color: trip photos + how to use them

 Tallinn, Estonia, Old Town

More photos from the Scandinavian trip this summer: these screamed "color" when I went though the digital stacks. I love digital photography, but you have to admit that it makes editing an essential part of the process. Back in the film days, I could never have brought home 2000 plus photos! If you've just tuned in, I'm taking the next seven days (plus yesterday and today) to post pictures from our big summer trip/cruise sorted by categories of the Sensory Alphabet.

Here are some ways that colors in photogrphs (my own and other's) inspire my work:

1. If theiy're mine, I use the photos directly, printed on fabric or other strange materials, then use them as a collage element in my art quilts, or even as stand-alone small fiber pieces with stitching and over-printing.

2. I notice what works compositionally with color in a favorite photo, then let that proportion or relationship inform a piece of work.

3. I like to play a color matching game, mixing colors of paint or dye to match a color that I find striking in a photo or painting.

4. Especially with photos of the natural world, I find new and unusually color schemes that I wouldn't ordinarily think about. Coor is such an important element in my work, I am always working from both intuitive.

While specific images from this trip have not yet found their way into my work, I have gotten some interesting ideas for some new workshops, coming soon to this blog. Meanwhile, here's the color selection to inspire your work!


Grocer's shelf near Highgate Village, LondonHydranga blooms at the V&A, London

Very old stained glass panel in the V&A collection

 St. Petersburg, Russia

Summer Palace outside St. Petersburg

Color Workshop for Weavers

Friday through Sunday the Contemporary Handweavers of Texas (lots of weavers, spinners, felters and other intense fiber types) met at the Airport Hilton. I was on the faculty -- the non-weaver of the bunch -- with two workshops, The Artist's Journal and A Field Guide to Color. Both were well received and I had fun hanging out on the fringes of another group of texture folks, most of whom have more patience and precision in their little fingers than I have in my entire body. None the less, my workshops went over well and I had some great feedback and suggestions, too, in case I ever run into another teaching op for such a group. Thanks Trish Ashton for the excellent organization for instructors!


Here are a few more pics from the color workshop bunch. I'm sorry I don't remember everyone's names, another of my attention deficit issues, but perhaps they'll leave comments and identify the happy faces. The colors speak for themselves. We did a bunch of hands-on projects, one of the favorite, and a surprisingly simple way to exercise one's color sense and sensibilities is to try to match swatches of color cut from magazine photos. This is good to try after a few basic mixing experiements: taking a hue and adding various ammounts of black, white and grey to make shades, tints and tones; and mixing complements to see the effect of the hues opposite one another on the color wheel. I use student grade acrylics for these paint mixing exercises: a good cadmium red, cadmium yellow, some mid tone intense blue, black and white. It really does surprise everyone at how quickly they catch on to the mix -- this is, I think, the equivalent of a musician doing scales. Just a way to get nimble and quick, to spot the ingredients for mixing coors, even with dyes, which while not exactly like paints, do mix according to their own rules and regulations.

After we did more color scheme/harmony exercises, each person dyed a couple of silk scarf ties with a color scheme of her choice -- that's the lead photo, today. Leave it to weavers to figure out a myriad of different tie patterns with simple rubber bands!

P.S. I have my spring and summer schedule for workshops figured out at last. I will post tomorrow I hope, but if you want a copy of the brochure emailed, please send me a message via the sidebar message block to the right. Thanks, Susie.

Color Us Fine and Dandy

This weekend's "Field Guide to Color" put us elbow deep in hues and harmonies. Five of us went to the edge with hands-on explorations, more than a little bit of theory, and enough dyeing to keep the inner kindergartener happy indeed.

I'll get a few more pictures to post later from my new studio assistant Laurel Gibson (yeah, Laurel), since I have a major problem taking photos while I am teaching. However, the lovely swatches above should give you an idea of our color box projects.

Meanwhile, here's a sample of one exercise that is really helpful in training the eye to look at color:

1. Tear out a magazine photo or illustration and cut out a 2" square of one hue (color).

2. Try to mix that color using only primary colors (cadmium red, cadmium yellow and a nice medium blue -- throug in a fuschia red for colors that cabn't easily be mixed with a warm red) and white and black. See how close you can come to duplicating the shade, tone or tint. (shade=hue +black, tone=hue+gray or hue+complement, tint=hue plus white.

That's it. But you'll dind it a remarkable challenge and you'll also be surprised I think at how quickly your ability to mix these colors improves. You can also do the same thing with swatches of fabric or paint chips from the home improvement store.

We let them dry, then cut them out and added our paint chips to a handy file box of colors each participant put together -- in addiditon to the beginnings of a dye diary/dictionary. I forget how handy that is until teaching a workshop like this one reminds me of its use.

My next "Field Guide to Color" will be presented as a one-day workshop as part of the Contemporary Handweaver's of Texas conference in San Antonio on Saturday, March 28. My small art quilt, "Pomegranate Cross" will be part of the faculty exhibit for the conference, on display at the Southwest School of Art and Craft March 18-March 28 in the Russell Hill Rogers Lecture Hall at the Navarro Campus. The workshop is open to conference attendees, so if you are interested, please check their website for enrollment information.

For more color fun and games, try a peek at one or more of these color site links:

Color the White House purple or ??? (Shades of Sandra Cisnero's purple house controversy?)


This one is a designer's almost daily links to fab color and design sites around the weboverse.


Here's where to find a color blog that has lots of interactive games and posts. Look at the ones on saturation, hue and brightness.

Big Huge Labs

One of severyl sites that generate color schemes from your photos.

Sherwin Williams

The paint company has a cool site that lets you look at ways to find good color schemes for rooms -- and art.

Wet canvas

Good info and online series of lessons.

And finally, on this long, but I hope helpful post, an excerpt from New World Kids; The Parents' Guide to Creative Thinking -- here's a few ideas about color from our book. If you comment on this or any of my posts or my guest posts on other sites at any time this month from Feb. 15 to Feb 28, your name goes into the raffle to win a free copy of the book.

Human vision is distinguished by the color-detecting
ability of our eyes, and so for us color is often the
element of discernment — and the visual language of
emotion. Green with envy, seeing red, walking around
under a black cloud, emotion transforms itself into
colorful characters, colorful language, poetic passion.
Paint on canvas creates sunny weather or an emotional
storm; and music paints a picture solomn or spritely.
Where is your color sense alive? In cooking or
chemistry, stargazing or paint mixing, finding
rainbows, delighting in a feather’s iridescence or
in an outlandishly fashionable fashion sense?

So, where is your color sense alive?


Seasonal Palette

There is a hint of fall in the air, even here in deep South Texas. We opened the windows last night and slept with a cool northwest breeze -- at least until the neighbor's dog cornered a raccoon or armadillo or whatever under his porch. Ah, the peaceful country life. Nevertheless, like a chef in a big city kitchen, i find my color sense turning to autumnal hues, longing for the leaf turning rusts and reds and golds that are at least a month away from the hillside!

So here's a little visual inspiration, no matter what colors your actual geography is gifting you with today. For me, it's a tiny little look into the future. 

Above: Beautiful rusted fabric -- a great way to get autumn hues --  by artist Adrian Highsmith. She used this fabric in a series of textile collages for a recent art exhibit in New Braunfels.


Pomegranates are among the early signs of autumn here. This photo has found its way into a couple of new textile pieces -- one will be part of the faculty donations at the Houston International Quilt Show -- and I just realized that I forgot to photograph it before shipping! But, the piece above, finished just today, uses a similar color scheme and another print from the photo above. Look for the companion piece in Houston.

(P.S. I hope the leaves will at least have a tiny bit of russet by the time of my next El Cielo workshop, October 17, 18, 19. The topic -- Altares: Dias de los Muertes. You'll choose the memory or experience to honor;  a person, place, former self, even the birth/life/death cycle of an idea, creating personal symbols and meaningful imagery. The techniques: constructing a art cloth altar with fusing, machine quilting, hand-stitching and embellishing of fabrics you've created with photo transfer, flour paste resist and hand-painting. If interested, email me at

Above, Not yet, but coming. This photo was taken a couple of years ago, when our fall produced some lovely hues. That's not always the case, but these early cool fronts bode well for color on the hillsides.