Tiger—– the purr-fect cat dressed in tones
There were many amazing quilts exhibited at the 2013 Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. One quilt that caught my eye for a variety of reasons was Tiger by Jeannie Moore. This quilt was included in the quilt exhibit Festival Awareness Project: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. As you can see, Jeannie’s threadwork and all-around technical abilities are superb. Her ability to create this lifelike furry feline took my breath away. What I’d like you to notice about this quilt is something very subtle and noteworthy: Tiger is a dynamic quilt, but notice there is not a strong, saturated pure color in its midst. Instead, this brilliant work of art is created exclusively with toned fabrics. Indeed, Tiger is a picture-purrfect cat in tones!
Just to review, tones are colors that have been grayed in some manner (it doesn’t matter how the color has been grayed in this discussion; it only matters that it is). When a hint of gray is present in fabric, the color is visually softened. As more gray is added to a color, the color becomes more calming. If considerable gray is applied to the color, it becomes visually subdued. If a color becomes very grayed, it often appears old or drab. As you might imagine, the range of tones within any one color is almost limitless. You can see many such variations of tonality in Jeannie’s quilt. Notice that tonality shifts help to create this amazing quilt.
Tiger appears to be taking his afternoon nap on a much-loved quilt. With his colors moving from light to dark in a very natural fashion, Tiger clearly has the featured role in this design. There is no visual conflict between Tiger and the quilt he is lying on because Jeannie has provided us with a visual separation between quilt and cat. Even though the bed quilt has both light, medium, and dark hues of the same basic colors as the cat does (with a bit of green added), Jeannie has placed the quilt’s lightest hues next to the cat’s furry body and legs (with one small exception). By having the bottom of the cat’s body next to the off-white fabric, a clear definition is made between these two elements. Hence visual clarity is provided (see photo above).
Notice that the quilt hanging behind Tiger is softly colored in high value colors (light colors) that are very grayed (toned). Because there is a clear value and tonal difference between this background quilt and the cat, there is no visual competition. Tiger is much darker than the quilt behind him, which makes it very obvious that Tiger is our focus. If the background quilt had been done in colors and values similar to the cat, we would have a difficult time discerning where to look and what to focus on.
It is easy to be led into thinking that to have a dynamic quilt, you have to use strong, brilliant colors. This is not really the case, as we see here with Tiger. Toned-colored designs can be very dynamic when partnered with excellent value contrast. We can see this clearly in Tiger, as Jeannie featured toned fabrics and partnered them with value contrast to create a masterful design. It is easy to underestimate the power of tones and their ability to attract attention. When we partner toned hues with good value change, our designs can have superb visual power. When we ignore value and/or when we use mostly colors that appear to have the same amount of grayness in their makeup, our designs can be confusing or ineffective.
When planning a design, think through the different layers (or different elements) of your design. Consider these items: What do you want to accentuate? How will you accentuate it? How can you avoid visual conflict from one layer or element to another? As you plan, consider working exclusively with tones—-and be sure to use value variation and contrast as a partner to help you define and accentuate different parts of your design.
Have fun with color!
Text, illustrations, and photography copyright © Joen Wolfrom The copyright of each artwork/quilt shown in this post remains with the artist/quilter.
Joen is a color enthusiast who teaches and lectures on color and design. She has written three color books: Color Play, Visual Coloring, and The Magical Effects of Color. Her Studio Color Wheel is used to illustrate color concepts in many of these blog posts. She is also the designer of the 3-in-1 Color Tool. She is the author of the book Adventures in Designis. Joen’s newest design tool, the Magic Design-Ratio Tool is also available. All books and products are published by C & T Publishing. These products can be found in fabric stores, book stores, and online websites such as C & T Publishing.