Joen Wolfrom’s Playing with Color: Elusive Shades Worth CapturingJoen Wolfrom | January 6, 2012
A RARITY—-LUSCIOUS, RICH SHADES
The Shade Scale
There are four color scales in the world of color: pure color scale, tint scale, shade scale, and tone scale. During these next two weeks we’re going to investigate the shade scale.
A shade is created when black is added to a pure color. A shade can be slightly darker than its pure color, almost black, or it can be a color that lies anywhere between these two extremes. Every color that is a shade belongs to the shade scale.
An Important caveat: A shade NEVER has gray in its makeup—even a tiny bit. If there is any hint of grayness in a dark color’s makeup, it is not a shade. It’s a tone. Only black and a pure color can be present in a shade. Don’t be fooled into thinking a dark color is a shade because most darkened colors have a hint of grayness in them.
The Changing Colors
When you first add a touch of black to a pure color, the pure color becomes a bit darker. Also it begins to lose its intensity. It is not quite as brilliant as its pure form. As each bit of black is added, the color lessens its intensity and increases its darkness. Eventually the color will appear almost black—-with a hint of the pure color as a subtle influence.
The color is darker than its pure color, but not dark enough to call it dark green.
No grayness is found in shades. Instead, they are a combination of the pure color and black.
Whenever the word dark or deep is placed in front of a color name, it indicates the color is a shade. Such examples are dark blue, dark violet, dark purple, dark green, deep violet, deep blue, deep green, and deep purple. Loosely speaking, relatively cool pure colors have shades that are fairly predictable in their darkened forms. They simply look darker. These most predictable shades come from the colors that move around the color wheel from green through the blues, violets, and on to magenta.
Shades that move from spring green to yellow to orange and on to blue-red are less predictable in their shaded form. In fact, shades of these warmer pure colors can be quite surprising. These shades rarely use dark or deep in their names, although occasionally you’ll find it used, as in dark red or deep red, Usually these shades have unique names that do not indicate their pure color origin. Examples are rust, brown, olive, avocado, and maroon,
Other shade names that you are probably familiar with are cranberry, grape, raspberry, teal, navy blue, and ink navy.
Pure colors are shown on this color wheel. All shades are darker than their pure colors.
Shades in Your Medium
If you are a painter, it should not be a problem to paint with shades of color. Simply begin with a pure-color paint and a clear, deep black paint with no hint of gray. The amount of black added will determine the darkness of the paint. Also, you can purchase a tube of shade paint. Either way, the paint should be rich in color.
It’s more difficult to find a shade if you are a quilter, weaver, fabric artist, or fiber artist because you are at the mercy of the manufacturer that dyes your material (cloth, yarn, etc.). To create a shade, the coloring process begins with a pure white material. This means the fabric must be bleached white before applying the dye.
Most fabrics begin their dyeing process in their natural unwhitened state. When the dye is applied to a non-white fabric or yarn, the result is not the same as when a bleached white fabric is used. This is because the natural hue of the gray-good influences the way the color looks on the fabric. It results in a gray cast to it. The more grayness in the natural color of the material, the more the color grays. If the original material is only slightly off-white, its influence will not be so great and the grayness will be subtle. Because most fabrics are dyed on unbleached fabric, most fabrics are toned—with a slight gray cast to them. This is why it is difficult to find fabrics that read as shades.
Northern Lights by Joen Wolfrom
Whenever I find a shade fabric in a fabric store, I purchase it, as I never know when I need it. When I can’t find a beautiful, richly colored shade that I want (or need), I use a dark, slightly toned fabric as its substitute. There just aren’t enough shaded fabrics in existence, so substitutions are needed. In the Northern Lights quilt (above), I have used dark toned fabrics because I couldn’t find the appropriate shades. If you need to substitute a dark toned fabric for a shade fabric, select the fabric that is the darkest and richest of your possibilities. .
Below is a closeup of this quilt, giving you a better look at the darkest substitute fabrics used. Notice the darkest, least toned (grayed) fabrics provide interest. The fabric closest to being a shade is the dark blue one. Although I would have preferred using shades, I actually don’t mind the tonal variations of the darkest fabrics used. I try not to get too hung up on my inability to find a shade that I want. I have learned to buy them when I see them; then I can use them as needed—-that’s my hope anyway. I end up using more substitutes than shades, as you can well understand.
The Beauty of Shades
Using shades in your artwork provides visual strength and beautiful richness. Shades contrast well with tones and pure colors. Meredith Annett’s quilt Northern Lights (below) provides us with an example of how shades enhance a design with their deep, dark beauty. When you use shades, be certain to include light-valued colors in the design too. This will assure that your design can be clearly seen from a distance. Meredith did this so beautifully. I absolutely love this quilt with its rich beauty. (If you have the book Adventures in Design, you will find Meredith’s Northern Lights quilt in it, as well as other quilts of hers.)
Northern Lights by Meredith Annett from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
If you want to explore shades:
1. If you have a fabric stash, consider doing the following: Purchase a half-yard piece of the blackest black cotton fabric you can find. Next pull out your darkest fabrics from your stash. One at a time, place a dark fabric on the black fabric, so that you can see both of them clearly. Does the dark fabric look strong and luscious against the black fabric? Or does the dark fabric look slightly drab or veiled beside the black fabric. Does it lose its strength? If the color holds its own, it’s a shade. If it appears weaker, grayer, or not as intense as the black, it’s a tone. See how many shades you have in your stash.
2. If you work with fabric, yarn, or other fiber, go to the store and see if you can find a shade. Use your black fabric to help you determine whether a fabric is a shade or a tone. If you find a shade and you like it, consider buying it for later use. You may be surprised to find that your favorite store has no shaded fabric or yarn on its shelves. If you are a painter, did you find any shades amongst your tubes?
Let me know what you find in your stash. See you at the next post—more about the shade scale then. …..
Text and photography copyright © Joen Wolfrom
Joen is a color enthusiast who teaches and lectures on color. 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. Her new book Adventures in Designis now available. Joen’s newest design tool, the Magic Design-Ratio Tool has just been released. All books and products are published by C & T Publishing.