Thursday, August 17, 2006

Color and You: Part I

God could have made us without the ability to perceive color (some animals can't). He also could have made the world gray or monochromatic. Instead, He surrounded us with beautiful colors, and he gave us the faculty to appreciate them. Color is a gift from the Lord, and it reflects his beauty, his creativity, and his power.
An understanding of color adds to our enjoyment of our homes, sewing, crafting, quilting, and clothing. It's helpful in cooking, menu planning, creating a centerpiece, and in setting a table. It aids landscaping and gardening. It also helps you mark the seasons with appropriate decorations, so that you family adjusts to the year's rhythm. Knowing which colors to use in a bedroom can help you get a good night's sleep. Understanding color can help you make or buy the ideal gift for someone, and it will help you present this gift in a delightful package.
Since color adds so much to our lives, I thought I'd start a series on the topic. I do this with some trembling. I am no expert in this area! But, I'll share some research I've been doing, and we can all learn together. I hope that those of you who have a wonderful sense of color will comment on the articles, so that we can glean from your wisdom.
I'll begin with a few introductory comments:

1) Most women enjoy learning about color, as color is such an integral part of our surroundings. There are basic principles of science and art that anyone can grasp, and anyone can improve their sense of color by studying them. However, color laws aside, our color choices are also influenced by subjective preferences. Do not feel insecure if your color taste is different than your mother's, your best friend's, or Martha Stewart's.

2) A study of color should add fun to your life. rather than frustrate you. Just as some women have an ear for music, some have a natural eye for color. These women choose wonderful color selections effortlessly. Others of us are not so gifted. We have a hard time making color decisions. We are paralyzed by all of the paint chips in Home Depot and all of the fabrics at Jo-Ann's. We have to study to improve our color skills.

If you are in this latter category along with me, relax. Good color sense is a nice thing to have, but it's hardly a matter of eternal importance. Besides, it says nothing about your ability as a keeper of your home. Which is more vital? To love God and people or to know whether you should paint the entryway eggshell white or sunshine yellow? To devote an hour to reading Bible stories to a child, or to invest so much time selecting fabrics for a quilt that you didn't have time for your little one? If the green dress you make today ends up making your skin look sallow, so what? Isn't God far more concerned with your inner beauty. Enjoy color, but keep it in perspective.

I, myself, have a limited budget for clothing and for home decorating. I also have limited time for shopping. If I do choose a color that I end up disliking later, I have to live with it for a while before I can change it. The more expensive the item, such as a sofa, the longer I need to keep it before I can change it. Developing my understanding of color helps me make long-lasting fashion and home decorating choices with more confidence. However, I can still get fritzy about these selections if I let myself. That's when it's time for me to pray, to make the best decision I can, and to remember that people are more important than things. If I do make a mistake and have to live with it, it's hardly a tragedy.

(Of course, as a married woman, I also would consult my husband before choosing someting as permanent as a paint color or furniture fabric.)

3) Even if you are not naturally gifted with color sense, you can improve simply by thoughtful observation. God's creation is the best place to learn about color. Watch the seasons. Study sunsets. Examine flowers and other plants. Notice the coats and eyes of animals. Observe a rainbow in the sky or light that is fanned out through a prism. See how natural objects look in morning light, noon light, afternoon, and twilight. Don't forget to thank God for His beautiful creations as you observe them. Some manmade items to examine are paintings, home and garden magazines, quilts, fabrics, clothing catalogs, store displays, etc.

4) Learn color terminology. In our everyday language, we often interchange the words color, hue, tint, shade, and tone. But, to artists and to the people who manufacture fabrics, clothing, and home furnishings, each of these words has a precise definition. In order to communicate with the clerk at Sherwin Williams or to understand a book on quilting or to choose a coat wisely, you need to understand what professionals mean by the following terms:

HUE OR COLOR: Mary Crowley, of Home Interiors, says that you can safely interchange the words color and hue. In my non-expert opinion, this is true for all of us "regular folk" -- all of us who don't work as artists, fashion designers, or home decorators.

However, you may run across craft books or color experts who do use hue in a more specific way. One common way to look at "hue" is that it is the "family" name for a category on the color wheel. For example, all blues are different members of the blue hue family. You have baby blue, cornflower blue, indigo blue, etc. All of these "children of the blue hue" share the same last name, but they have individual first names.

Others use a slightly different twist on this same theme. They look at color as being the "family name", and they see hue as the "first name". They define hue as being a modification within a color. Particularly, people use this to mean when one color has been changed by adding another. For example, add a dash of green to blue, and you will end up with a hue of blue. Add blue to green, and you will end up with a hue of green. Add orange to red, and you end up with a hue of red.

In this sense, both definitions end up in the same place. Hue covers a color, such as red, as it moves across its defined place on the color wheel or in the color spectrum. For example, if you add some orange to red, it leans towards orange, but it is still within the boundaries of the color red. If you add some blue, red leans towards violet or blue, but it also is still considered to be a red. Later on, we'll discuss why some people are crazy about true red, while others love a browner or orangey red, and why still others have a yen for bluer-reds.

A vintage book on millinary has this to say about the term hue: "In writings on the science of color hue signifies the property which distinguishes one color from another. In common speech it is employed to mean a particular shade or degree of color. The word is correctly used when applied to the modification of one color by the addition of another color. Thus, red-violet and blue-violet are hues of violet made by the excess of red or of blue. In the diagram the hues are found between the primary and secondary colors. Still further divisions are possible."

Don't let this technical definition throw you. It's enough to know that hue and color cover the same territory.

Whenever I use "hue" in this particular article, I will refer to a color that has been changed by adding another color -- though not by adding black or white. As we move on, we will see that there are special terms for the results of mixing black and/or white with a color or a hue.

SHADE: A shade occurs when you add black to a color or hue. We are very lax about this term in normal conversation. That's ok. Most people know what we mean when we say, "That's a lovely shade of pink you're wearing." But, if you go to the paint store to buy a "a shade of pink", technically, you won't find it. Pink is what happens when you add white -- not black --- to red. A true shade is something like midnight blue (blue plus black) or forest green (green plus black).

TINT: A tint results from adding white to a color. Now, this is where our pink example belongs, as do other pastels. Some tints have less white in them and are still pretty colorful. Some tints are very light -- to the point that of being considered an "off-white". Yellow with lots and lots of white added to it can ranges into "cream", for example.

TONE: A tone is what happens when you mix equal amounts of black and white to a color. Since black and white make gray, the effect is to soften or to "tone down" the vibrancy of the color. Think of what happens when you add gray to true blue. A grayed-blue is "quieter" than a true blue, isn't it?

When you pick up a strip of paint swatches or chips at Lowe's or Home Depot, you will see a color or hue, along with some of its tints, shades, and tones. The center swatch will be the "truest" color. The ones above it will be tints with ever increasing amounts of white added. The ones below it will be shades, with ever increasing amounts of black. You will probably choose only one of the selections on the strip. However, since they all are based on the same color or hue, they will work in harmony with each other.

Let's suppose you don't see what you're looking for on the swatch strips. You decide that you want the sales person to help you create your own favoite paint from the true red family. If you ask the clerk to mix a tint, he will add white until you are satisfied. This will move you one or more steps closer to pink, starting with a slightly lighter red through rose to pink to palest pink. If you ask for a shade, he will add black, moving you one or more steps closer to crimson or maroon. If you ask for him for a tone, he will add equal amounts of black and white. You will end up with a quieter, softer, grayer red.

All of this is oversimplified. But, if you understand this much, you can find your way around a paint department with confidence!

While we're at it, let's throw in three more terms:

VALUE: This refers to a color's lightness or darkness. White has the highest or lightest value, black has the lowest or darkest. Obviously, colors that are darker create a different mood in a room than colors that are lighter. This is not a matter of good or bad, but of what effect you want to achieve. Also, some poeple look wonderful wearing dark colored clothing, while other people cannot carry off dark shades. When I wear black or deep chocolate, people check to make sure I have a pulse. LOL. The opposite is also true. Some people look sickly in the lightest tints. Again, though pastel tints are perfect for me, I do not wear pure white very well. My best colors are somewhere in between black and white in value.

INTENSITY, CHROMA, or SATURATION: These words all indicate a color's purity and strength. A highly saturated color is one that is fairly true and strong. In other words it hasn't been toned or shaded or tinted or muted in any other way. Again, a color's intensity will determine the mood of a room. Also, some people can and should wear highly saturated colors, while others look better in muted variations.

SCALE: The scale of any color consists of the range from the lightest tint to the darkest shade. All colors and hues have scales. For example, there is pure purple-blue, tints of purple-blue, tones of purple-blue, and shades of purple-blue. The same is true for gray-blue and green-blue and reddish-blue, and so-forth. Thus, when you go into a paint store, you see a big section of various hues of blue, with a strip for each hue to show the lightest tint of that hue and the darkest shade. You will also see hues of red, with tints, shades, and tones. You will a section of yellows, a section of greens, a section of purples, and so forth.

Whoa! Deciding to paint your room blue isn't as simple as it seems, is it? You will need to determine if you want a true blue, a gray-blue, a purplish-blue, etc., and then, you will need to move up and down the scale to determine if you want the pure color or hue, one of the tints, one of the shades, or one of the tones.

(This is even more complicated when you consider that color professionals use letters to denote hues and numbers to measure tones, shades, and chroma. Thus, you could see a designation of BBG/1, which would mean a very, very light tint of blue blue-green. Fortunately, most of us will never need to get that scientific! We will likely know that tint by a fashion name -- probably something fun and exotic, such as Tropical Cloud.)

By the same token, you may think that you know the exact blue of your favorite skirt. You happen to see a simialry colored blouse on sale, and you snap it up. But, when you get home with your new bargain, you find that it doesn't work with the skirt after all. It's hard for our minds to remember and match exact variations of color. Therefore, when you want to coordinate one item with another, it's wise to bring along either a swatch or the item itself.

If you wish, snip tiny bits of material from the seams of your garments and paste them on an index card. Carry the card with you so that you will be able to select accessories or clothing to go with what you already have in your closet. You can also make a home decor card with bits of leftover fabric from your home decorating projects.

If all of this sounds color theory sounds complicated, never fear. The more you deal with fabrics and paints and other color elements, the more intuitively you will grasp all of this. As your personal style evolves over the years, the more quickly you will decide exactly what variation of a color that want for a particular item. Besides, good salespeople in fabric, clothing, and home improvement stores are always willing to help you.

If you are totally unsure of your color choices, use items created by professionals as your color guide. Build your wardrobe arond the colors in an appealing print scarf. Or, buy or make a home item from a floral or plaid, and choose solids from the floral or plaid to go along with them. Also, home decorating fabrics have little colored circles in the nap, which serve two purposes: They indicate the repeat of the fabric pattern, and they denote every color (hue, tint, et al) that the designer used in the fabric. Save these strips and use them as ideas for color shemes.

5) If you get lots of compliments when wearing a certain color or variation of a color, take note. The comments should be about how pretty and how well you look, rather than about how gorgeous the color is in itself. For example, let's say you wear a true red blouse to the grocery store. You run into your friend, who says, "Oh, I just love that color." What does she mean by that? It could be that your blouse has caught her eye because true red is one of her own favorite colors. Or, she may be unknowingly drawn to it because it suits her complexion. But, if she says something like, "You look so lovely today!" or "That color really brings out the green in your eyes," you can be confident that the color is flattering to you.

Remember, since color is somewhat subjective, what another person thinks is not an infallible guide to your best group of colors. One person in a thousand may think you look wonderful in bottle green, and another person in a thousand may think you look sallow in bottle green. So, don't base your observation about a color on one comment alone -- no matter whether that comment is positive or negative. Look for the one or two colors that nearly always bring you positive comments. And, think about the one or two colors that hardly ever garner compliments. These will give you some important clues about which group of colors (or hues, tints, shades and tones) is most flattering to you.

6) The way we see color or a variation of a color can be affected by many factors, such as lighting or the proxmimity of another color. For example, the red sweater that you loved in the store may not look the same when you look at it in sunlight. Or, if you use equal amounts of red and green in a project, they may dull each other out, and you won't end up with the festive look you were shooting for. Paint is notorious for drying to a different look on the wall than it appeared in the can or on the color swatch. Often, these nuances are slight, and no one but a real color expert would notice or care. But, sometimes, the interplay of light and of other colors with a color choice does make a difference -- for good or for ill.

My dining room is painted in a "brick-rose" tint inspired by Laura Ashley. The windows are covered with lace curtains that let in sunlight. It's an eastern exposure, which gets strong sunlight in the morning and softer, more diffused light in the afternoon. At certain times of the day, the "brick-rose" looks warmer, as if it has a fair amount peach in it. At other times, the brick-rose looks rosier and pinker, and you don't notice the peach. I don't mind this at all, for, no matter what time of day or evening, the brick-rose always appears soft and romantic -- which is what I was going for. And, no matter how the light affects it, the tint never clashes with the other items in the room. My paint story has a happy ending. I personally think that if you really love a color, you will be fine with it in all type of lighting. But, design experts do reccommend that you put a swatch card on the wall and live with it for awhile before making a decision. You can even buy a small can of the paint and brush on a huge test square before investing in enough to cover the entire room. If you do follow this advice, you will not only get to see how the paint appears in different lighting, you will discover if the paint grows on you or wears on you. If you like it more and more every day, that's a sign that you probably enjoy it for some time to come.


1 comment:

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