Friday, August 18, 2006


Color and You -- Part II

We need to talk just a little more about color theory in this article. Then, in the next, we can move on to the fun stuff!

First, did you know that on average, we women are more aware of color than men are. Moreover, we know more words with which to describe colors?
This is why your husband's eyes glaze over when you ask him if you should paint the bonus room watermelon or light coral-pink.
"Watermelon is a color?" he says. "I thought it was something to eat. Speaking of food, I'm hungry. If you'll excuse me, I'll go fix myself a sandwich."
"Wait. Which of thse do you like best?" you say.
He shrugs. "I don't know. How about....that one?"
He points to a swatch at the top of your discard pile. He has forgotten that you have explained in great detail why it just won't work. Content that he has helped you by being decisive, he's off to the kitchen.
Now, you are left standing knee-deep in swatches. To you, each one has an entirely different effect from the next, so you are intent on finding just the right one. To him, they all look vaguely the same -- sort of a warm, pinky-red -- a color, in fact, for which he has no word to express. So, in his mind, most any in your piles of swatches will do. For him, the selection has been made, and his attention span wanders to something else.
This does not mean that men don't enjoy pleasing colors. They do. Nor, does it mean that they don't want to help us with decisions or that they don't care what the house looks like. They do.
It does mean, however, that they just don't see all of the finer points that we do. Perhaps, we can learn from them not to overly "sweat the details".
There is actually a biological reason for a man's limited concept of color. Some aspects of color perception are tied to the X chromosone, of which men only have one and women have two. Some women -- though not all -- find that along with their two X's, they have inherited a "double portion" of color sense. They simply can see more gradations in color than men can. This is particularly true when it comes to the myriad manifestations of red and orange.
I'm sure conditioning also has something to do with a man's color limitations. I've known men who are architects, home builders, carpenters, house painters, graphic artists, sales-clerks in men's departments, etc., whose color sensitivity would put the average woman's to shame. (I know many men who are more gifted in this area than I am). Usually, these men have reason to be observant about color, and they become adept at working out color schemes or in knowing what colors flatter different complexions.
Generally, though, men do not engage in activities or professions in which an understanding of color is vital. It's enough for them to know that the traffic light is green. They do not need to distinguish whther it's emerald, jade, forest, moss, sage, olive, etc. The possible exception is that men -- from toddler to aged -- do take an interest in the paint and upholstery of cars and trucks.
We women, on the other hand, think about color variations from childhood. Most little girls dream up outfits for dolls. Few boys do. I remember that a doll of mine had a formal gown. I loved everything about that doll dress, including the name of the color-- sea green. I could not wait to grow up and wear something so lovely sounding as that!
Dear hubby and I had not yet met at that time, but I can guarantee you that his G.I. Joe was attired neither in "an outfit" nor in anything labeled "sea green". Joe could choose to wear fatigues or fatigues or... let's see...fatigues.:)
We women also deal with more variations of color in our clothing, beginning in babyhood and continuing through our adult life. Men buy a blue shirt. We select a blouse from periwinkle blue, lavendar blue, indigo blue, true blue, sky blue, cadet blue, gray-blue, etc. They buy a yellow tie. We choose a scarf from lemon, light lemon, butter, maize, etc.
We also stay more in tune with whatever exotic name designers have picked for "the color of the year". Thus, we are comfortable with titles like "Parisian Parfait" or "Frosty Cappuchino" or "Dill" -- names that don't give men much of a clue about what color category we're even talking about.
As women, we often grow up to be the major purchasers of colorful household items. Let's say that this Saturday, our husbands or fathers or brothers all go out to purchase lawn mowers. They will compare things like price, power, effectiveness, and whether they want a push mower or a riding mower. Few of our men, however, will factor color into their choice. They care very little that one is silver-gray with maroon stripes, while another is black with brick-red chevrons on it.
We, on the other hand, think about color even when we are buying something as basic as a dish cloth. Does it really matter in the long run what color a dish cloth is? No. But, aren't most of us attracted to ones that we consider to be pretty or to ones that fit in our kitchen decorating scheme? In the end, we may choose price or practicality over color, but we will likely at least take the color into consideration.
Extrapolate that out to all of the applicances, sheets, curtains, couches, craft materials, sewing goods, carpets, clothing, accessories, etc, that women buy. We women learn by considering color in decision after decision after decision -- over the span of a lifetime. Men, do this, too, but not nearly so often as we do.
So, next time you wear a blouse in this year's"Marvelous Mauve", don't be surprised if your husband says, "You look so pretty in that...um...pink." Just smile, and say, "Thank you."
Now, even though men are biologically limited in their view of color, this simply means that they fall somewhere short of women in their abiliyt ot distinguish from a range of hundreds of thousands of color variations. The number of colors that the human eye and the human brain can process is mind-boggling!
Fortunately, all of these organize neatly into the rainbow or color spectrum. People have taken God's colors of the rainbow and have arranged them in a circle called "a color wheel". You can use the color wheel to identify which colors "go" with which. Of course, you won't hundreds of thousands of colors on the wheel. Who could cope with that! But, you will see the basic categories into which any of these colors fits.
You may have noticed that this article is accompanied by a small illustration of such a color wheel. You probably already own a book about art, quilting, fashion, or decorating that contains a larger color wheel. If you don't, I urge you to buy an inexpensive wheel at a craft store, such as Michael's or Jo-Ann's.
On the color wheel, you will find the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. These colors are not made up of any other colors, but they are the basic building blocks from which all other colors are made. For example, we all learn in toddlerhood that if we color with a blue crayon and, then, color over thatwith a yellow crayon, we end up with green.
The primary colors are evenly spaced between the secondary colors. Secondary colors are the colors that consist of equal parts of two primary colors. Thus, we have, as mentined above, green. We also have orange (a mix of red and yellow) and violet (a mix of red and blue).
You will also see tertiary colors on the wheel. These occur when you mix a primary color with its nearest secondary color. For example, you could mix blue with green to make blue-green. You could mix yellow with green to make yellow-green. Other tertiary colors are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, and blue-violet. These colors are called tertiary (having to do with thirds), because they are made up of two-thirds of one color plus one third of another. Blue green is two parts blue and one part yellow.
Some color wheels move on to colors comprised of fourths. These are called quaternary colors.
Remember, all of these colors, from primary to quaternary, can be modified by adding some degree of black and/or white.
Also, remember that you have to add a certain amount of color to color to make up another color. For example, if you add just a hint of yellow to red, you will end up with a yellower hue of red. It will still, however, be in the red family. But, if you add yellow in an amount equal to the red, you will create a third color: orange.

So, what do we do with this color wheel? We use it to create color harmony. The following are some color harmonies that you can use in sewing, in fashion, and in decorating your home. In this article, we will consider these mostly from the aspect of home decorating. (You will also find some good ideas here for quilting Note that many quilts benefit from using off-white or white along with the other colors in the quilt). Later on, we will apply the color wheel to other things, such as dress.

Complementary colors. These are found on exact opposite sides of the color wheel. So, to determine a color's complement, first locate it on the color wheel and, then, note which color is directly opposite. Complementary colors work well together, and, when used properly, they bring out the best in each other. For example, my mother-in-law made a quilt for me ofviolet and soft yellow. Violet and yellow are complements of each other.
Red and green is a popular complementary color scheme. Red and green are strong colors. Thus, we often find this pair used in softened forms, such as shades of red and green, pastel tints of red and green, or tones of red and green. Mint green and pink (tints of green and pink) look wonderful together, because their base colors or hues are complementary.
Blue is opposite orange. This is why a room with lots of light blue in it looks inviting with peach accents. Peach is a tint of orange.
Be wary of using equal amounts of complementary colors, especially in their pure forms. Instead of bringing out the best in each other, they end up competing with one another. You could end up with a dull effect. Let one color be the dominant and use the other in smaller amounts.
Analogous colors are "close buddies" of the color world. You can easily identify them; they sit side by side on the color wheel. In effect, you take neighboring secondary and tertiary colors and use them -- most likely along with the nearest primary color -- in a harmonious deorating scheme. Think of a room done in blue, blue-green, and blue-violet. This particular example may not be your cup of tea, but you can see that these colors do work together. They do not fight each other.
Triad colors are any three colors that are an equal distance from each other on the color wheel. Some examples of triad decorating schemes would be red, blue, and yellow or violet, green, and orange. You can also use any two colors along with white or black Many nations use triad colors in thier flags. The U.S. flag for example is red, white, and blue.
A Monochromaticcolor scheme is based on a variety of tints and shades of one color only. This is an easy and lovely way to decorate. It works best, however, if you give it some "pop" with a few accesories in an accent color. Perhaps, your accent color might be the main color's complement. You can also use a "neutral" color -- such as beige or gray -- in a monochromatic scheme, but you will need touse a variety of textures so that overall look isn't too bland.
White and One-Color is a can't-miss color scheme. True white will go with any color. If you venture into the softer whites or the off-whites, it is best to choose a cool white to go with a cool color and a warm white to go with a warm color. (More on warm and cool later).
A Neutral, plus another color is similar to the white plus one color scheme.
The Split Complementary scheme means that you use one main color with the two colors that are adjacent to the main color's complementary hue. You do not, however, use the complementary hue, itself. Now, when we climb up to this level of color theory, I start getting a little dizzy. But, it's not as complicated as it sounds. Find your main color on the color wheel -- let say red. Now, find red's opposite -- green. But, instead of using one of the various hues of green, look to green's next-door neighbors: yellow-green and blue-green. Next time you are browsing through a magazine and a photograph of a room catches your eye, study it for a moment. Is it possibly decorated in a split complementary scheme? This scheme is very popular, and it can be used to acheive some wonderful looks.

Earlier, I mentioned that some colors are "warm" and and some are "cool". This is true of the colors in our surroundings. It is also true of our own personal coloring -- of our hair, our eyes, and our skintones.
The warm colors are on the side of the color wheel that extends from red to yellow-green. The cool colors are on the side that extends from green-blue to blue to violet. Some cool colors are warmer or cooler than other cool colors, and some warm colors are warmer or cooler than other warm colors. In addition, within one color hue family -- say blue or red -- some hues will be warmer and some cooler than others.
In my article yesterday, I mentioned true red, red with a bit of blue in it, red with a bit of orange in it, and red with a bit of brown in it. If you add a little blue to red, it is still red and still warm, but it moves to the cooler end of red. If you add a little yellow or orange to red, the result is still red and it is very warm. You can warm up a cool color by adding a bit of yellow, orange, or red. You can cool down a warm color by adding blue.
Cool tones recede just a bit into the distance -- consider a room with light, gray walls. Warm colors seem to advance toward you a bit. Think of a room with true red walls.
Cool colors are generally soothing, making you feel cool, calm, and relaxed. Imagine winding down after a hot, summer day in room that is painted blue or pale green or pale violet.
Warm colors stimulate you, making you feel warm, cozy and energetic. A famous fast food chain used bright red in its decorating for the following two reasons: Red stimulated the customer's appetites, and these hungry customers spent more money on food. Also, when surrounded by red, the customers also ate faster. Thus, they finished quickly and left their tables for others. In this way, the fast food chain were able to pack in more customers per hour.
As mentioned, cool tones are great for bedrooms, where you want to relax and sleep. They are also useful along walls with western exposures, where the afternoon sun can make the room feel hot. Warm colors are good for family rooms, where you want to stimulate conversation or activity.
Remember, however, that if you overdo things toward the the cool end, you can end up with a room that depresses everyone. If you overdo towards the warm, you can end up in a room where everyone feels jittery.
Imagine a house in which every inch of the ceiling, floors, and walls is painted gray and every object inside the house is gray. Does this sound inviting? Probably not. Even though gray is beautiful, to be completely surrounded by it would sap your spirits.
Now, imagine a house in which every inch of the ceiling, floors, and walls is painted fire engine red, and every object inside of it is also fire engine red. This sounds a bit more fun than all-gray. But, to spend more than fifteen minutes inside such a place would be nerve-wracking and overwhelming.
Of course, these are extreme examples that no one would employ. Common sense usually keeps us from creating disasters in this area. But, still, it's wise to take the "color temperatures" of our rooms from time to time and adjust accordingly.
Here is where tints, shades, and tones can help a lot. You can soften fire hot red with a bit of white or black. A very toned-down red can be lovely in a dining room. It's rich and warm enough to stimulate conversation and to feel cozy -- but it is cooled down enough to let everyone relax. Family members and guests will not feel jittery or hurried to finish their food. They will enjoy a leisurely, happy dining experience.
Some people call green a "balanced color". It is the closest cool color to the warm side of the color wheel, and you can make it even warmer by adding yellow to it. It neither stimulates you nor depresses you, but it does soothe you. It does not seem to advance, nor does it seem to retreat. After all, green is the backdrop of God's creation, and it is literally the color that "grounds" nature. It's found all around us, in grass, trees, and other plants. Most people feel right at home in green.
Remember, every warm color has a cool compliment, and vice versa. You can decorate a room in basically cozy, warm colors, but you can calm a too warm effect by adding a few soothing accents of a cool complimentary. Or, you can do the opposite. This is probably one reason why we enjoy complementary color schemes so much. They balance cool and warm in a way that makes us feel happy.
When it comes to paint or dye, you can mix certain warm coolors and their cool complements to create a neutral. Neturals can be either warm or cool, if the warm complement or the cool complement dominates. That's why two "beiges" don't always match or two "taupes" don't always look exactly the same.
This is also why browns and grays can be either cool or warm. Think of the difference between cocoa brown and golden brown. Cocoa brown is cool; golden brown is warm. Note that grays which are made from equal parts of white and black are cool. But, grays that are made by mixing complementary colors can have a hint of warm in them.
There is a theory that we are most flattered by colors, hues, tints, shades, and tones that reflect the depth and the value of our own personal coloring. We are at home in colors that are compatible with the various colorations of our own hair, our eyes, and our skin. We may choose these colors instinctively, without knowing why certain colors "feel right" to us.
If we don't recognize why we are drawn to certain colors, we may think that everyone should wear or decorate their homes with the same colors that we do. This is not realistic, however. Think of the mother with cool black hair, milky white skin, and bright blue or violet eyes. Her coloring had a lot of depth and contrast. She has always loved to wear jewel tones and icy pastels, as well pure black and pure white. She tries to dress her eleven year old daughter in the same way, and she wants to paint her daughter's room deep burgandy. But, her daughter has light auburn hair, peachy pale skin, and yellow-green eyes. The daughter's coloration has less contrast and is softer, more muted, and warmer than her mothers. She would be more at home in soft, warm, muted earth-tones. She would prefer to paint her walls a pale peach.
Neither the mother nor the daughter has better taste than the other. Each is simply responding to colors that she intuitively understands and that work for her.
Also, consider the woman with jet black hair, ebony black skin, and black-brown eyes. Her sister has skin that is a yellow-toned brown, warmer brown hair, and golden brown eyes. Likely, though they were raised in the same family, the first will be drawn to cooler colors and the second to warmer colors.
But, personal coloring is a topic for another day.

Enjoy!
Elizabeth

4 comments:

Inga Helene said...

Hello Elizabeth!

Thank you for the comments in my blog. I've read through both your colour articles and it was interesting to read. I have an active relationship with colours and I'm looking forward to reading the next post.

Inga

Elizabeth said...

Hi Inga,

I hope you will come back, and I hope you will share some of the things you have learned about color in a comment to my color posts. With your quilting and knitting skills, I'm sure you have wonderful color sense.

Elizabeth

Passionate Quilter said...

Hi Elizabeth--thanks for your comments on my blog, so I decided to check yours out! What a great tutorial on color! I'm going to print it out for reference. I'm not trained in color at all and just do what pleases my eye in quilting. But it would be nice to know a little more color theory.

Elizabeth said...

I hope you enjoy the article, passionate quilter. My mother in law visited me this weekend, and we hit a fabric sale at Jo-Ann's (99 cents a yard for quilter's showcase fabrics). We had fun shopping and disdussed a lot about selecting colors and patterns for quilt. She is much better than it than I am.