Create your own color cascade (Playing with Color Series by Joen Wolfrom)Joen Wolfrom | June 3, 2012
It’s true—-it’s time to bite the bullet and have some fun and let your imagination take you away to create your own color cascade in a project of your choice. In these past ten months, we’ve discussed the 24 major pure colors that make up the color wheel; the multitude of color variations that are created by whitening, blackening, and graying pure colors; and the color scales that set the visual stage. Many of you have dedicated time to painting variations of your favorite pure colors along with making your own color wheels. Now it’s time to take what you know and indulge your creative juices in some fashion.
I invite you to play with color in whatever way you wish—geometric, representational, non-objective, organic. Be whimsical, fantasy-like, traditional, sophisticated, or quirkish—-just let loose. This is not a test; it’s simply a time to play with color without worrying about technique, judging, grades, or any other concerns. In order to grow creatively, we must take the time to experiment with new ideas. If we don’t, it doesn’t always take hold in our creative soul. So before we begin a new topic, this is a good time to play. I have written more about this project at the end of the blog under It’s Your Turn. BTW, in case you’re interested, I have a little contest for you titled What’s Up Next?—also at the blog’s end.
One important reminder before beginning your project: Perfection is not the goal. Experimenting with color is the goal, so that you can explore new ways to work with color. It’s totally unrealistic to expect perfection when exploring new ideas. So enjoy your freedom to play as you experiment. Let your imagination go wild.
(photo by Craig Howell, Studio Craig, Bend, Oregon)
To put us all in the color-cascade mood (aka flowing colors), let’s look again at one great example of colors flowing throughout— the Sewjourners’ Color Cascade quilt challenge (above). The Sewjourner’s color challenge was quite different from any quilt challenge done by these Oregon quilters. This color challenge was based on my 3-in-1 Color Tool. In a nutshell, each person was assigned a color from the 24-step color wheel based on a random drawing. (If you are interested in forming your own group to do a similar challenge, Wendy Hill, a member of the Sewjourners quilters, discusses the Color Cascade organization of the challenge in my September 7, 2011 post. Also, some a group of these quilts were featured in the November posting of the Color Cascade quilt challenge.)
Incidentally, I knew nothing about this quilt color challenge until a quilter emailed me to tell me how beautiful the color-tool quilt looked on display at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. Eventually one of the Sewjourner quilters contacted me about their quilt. I think a color challenge like this is a great idea. I hope many of you will decide to do a similar challenge with your friends. However, you can just as easily work on one design by yourself, using the entire color spectrum if that is better for you.
Here is another view of a portion of the cascade of colorful quilts while it is on display at Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, California.
Featured Color Cascade Quiltmakers
Comments by five of the quilters who made quilts for Color Cascade are featured below, along with their quilts. If you are a quilter, you will be interested in what they have to say about this color challenge. Each quilter has a different message.
Number 14 by Pat Pease
Pat Pease’s Thoughts:
I was delighted to pick #14 – Red-Violet, as the color for my Color Cascade quilt. Red-violet is one of my favorite colors, and I thought I had all the red-violet fabric I would need in my studio. But, I was in for a surprise. Most of my fabrics were just a little too violet – #13, or a little too purple – #15. What fabric I had that was the correct color, was mostly medium in value.
The hunt for the correct color began, and I never left home without my 3-in-1 Color Tool card. Finding very light and very dark red-violet was a challenge, but I kept at it. I signed up for a hand-dying class at The Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, where I dyed and over-dyed some commercial cottons. Luckily, my colors came out just right.
Number 14 is machine pieced from silk and commercial and hand-dyed cottons. I have been exploring string piecing for the last six years, and used this method again. It was constructed in sections, which were auditioned on my design wall. Playing with all the values of one color was a wonderful educational exercise. Before I had the sections sewn together, I realized “Number 14” needed something more. Adding just a bit of the complement, #2 – chartreuse, was all that was needed to add that little spark.
Blue-red, Number 18 by Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson’s Thoughts:
Most people react emotionally to certain colors. For some, specific colors even carry emotional “baggage.” Such is the case for me in relation to the color card I drew for the Sewjourner Cascade Color challenge – Red-Blue #18. As a child, I was a fiery redhead. My mother picked clothes for me in rusts (shades of red-orange, I now suspect), browns, golds, tans, beiges, and occasionally “dull” greens – but never in the reds that I liked. If I dared to look at anything she called red or pink – and I often did – I was reminded that “redheads don’t wear red.”
I suppose I believed the myth for a while – but I soon longed to wear the spring and summer-like colors that looked so good on my “not redheaded” younger sister. Of course there came a time when I revolted (big time) from these color restraints – and the color I was most drawn to was blue-red. My clothes closet soon filled with blue-reds and its various tints, shades, and tones. Many years have passed. Now the red in my hair is mostly from a bottle and I am more interested in quilting than in clothes. None the less, blue-red remains one of my favorite colors.
For the challenge project fabric palette, I started with what I believed to be the blue-red pseudo-solids in my stash – plus a few other commercial fabrics that I purchased. To these I added a gradated cotton sateen fabric that was hand- dyed by Jeanette Viviano of Jeanette’s Fabric to Dye For to match pure blue-red and the two shades and tints on either side of it on the color card. I also purchased a fat eighth of a metallic hand-dyed fabric (also by Jeanette Viviano) in blue-green, the color compliment to blue-red.
Deciding on a composition for the project was easy. Creating and designing with curved-pieced units is my newest quilting passion. I had just completed a class sample for a class I would be teaching later in the year at Quilters’ Affair in Sisters, Oregon. It seemed natural to apply some ideas from that quilt to my challenge project. The units in the project, which I call Ribbons and Waves, are created with free-formed cut curved pieces that, for the most part, alternate between the smooth hand-dyed sateen and the more textural commercial fabrics. I chose alternating textures to provide a bit of contrast, yet allow the piece to remain fairly true to pure red-blue. Narrow strips of the metallic blue-green fabric are interspersed as accents and to add a bit more interest to the composition.
My completed project pays homage to the days when I was stuck in an “autumn” wardrobe and wished for “the days of spring and summer”. Since completing the quilt I have done more reading and studying about my color. Should have done it before, not after, the challenge – I know! It’s been a real learning experience. I now realize that I did not entirely “nail” blue-red in my project. The quilt palette may well be more analogous than monochromatic – and the composition itself has design flaws that I wish I could correct. However, I still like the quilt and I could not be happier with the card I drew!
Orange-red, Color #20 by Virlene Arnold
Comments by Virlene Arnold:
To spark my creativity, I always need a starting point. That was provided when I drew my color for the Color Cascade challenge, #20 – orange-red. I have always loved the warm orange-reds and I can’t seem to keep it out of my home decorating scheme. I recently moved and thought I’d try keeping a more serene atmosphere by using the quieter colors found in nature, like leafy greens, warm browns, and wheat tones. But in less than two months touches of orange-red have inserted themselves here and there amongst the calm serenity I was aiming for. I just can’t help myself.
So I was very happy with my choice from the Color Tool package and immediately went to my rather large stash of red fabrics looking for just the right tones and shades to create the all-over “read” of the color for my part of the group exhibit. I found some good choices, including a shiny, metallic-looking one that I knew would be part of the quilt. One of the other women in the group gifted me with some fabrics from her stash that fit right in. I think I purchased only one or two others to round out the selections.
Don’t remember why or how I decided to do the smaller blocks with the diagonal strips for my pattern. I do know that math was involved to meet the imposed size requirements of our assignment. I enjoyed putting the different textural elements together in strips, and then arranging them on my design wall to find the most pleasing balance. The final touch was scattering a few sparkles over the surface to give it a little zing.
None of us who took part in this project ever envisioned that our efforts would be so well-received and viewed by so many other folks around the country. I am grateful to be part of this enriching experience. Virlene Arnold
Number 22 Yellow-Orange by Linda Payne Saukkonen
Comments by Linda Payne Saukkonen:
Being part of the “Color Cascade” quilt project has been an exciting and enriching experience. Even though I have been quilting for 15 years, I had never been part of a group quilt-making experience. Prior to this project I had been using the 3-in-1 Color Tool for some time. I found the examples of tints, tones and shades very helpful when coordinating fabrics.
The Color: From the beginning when we drew our color assignment out of a paper bag, I was delighted with my draw. I like orange. I use it in decorating my home, and my fabric stash reflects this love. My color, yellow-orange (#22), sits between orange and orange-yellow in the Color Tool and in the display of the “Color Cascade” quilts. I was very careful not to include much of colors #21 and #23 in my quilt, because the quilt had to read yellow-orange ten feet away from the quilt. Because I am also a fabric dyer, I had the ability to dye any of the colors I wished to use. I chose yellow-orange’s complementary color, cerulean blue, (#10 on the Color Tool) and dyed cotton to use as color accents. The orange hand dyed fabrics have light spots that I strategically placed to add brightness and to make the observer’s eye move around on the quilt
The Fabrics: For months after getting the color assignment, I carried around the Color Tool to make sure that I did not stray from the color yellow-orange in my purchasing. It would have been easy to stray without the tool because most of the orange fabrics I saw were either orange or orange-red. I purchased fabrics such as polyester taffeta, cotton homespuns, textures, and tone-on-tones, and a few prints. I cut a swatch from each fabric that I bought and added it to my Color Tool. I dyed cottons for the main body of the piece. The Indian weave yellow-orange fabric with shots of cerulean blue and lime was purchased at Haberman’s Fabrics in Royal Oak, Michigan while I was on a vacation. I did a little dance in the store when I saw it on a sale table because I knew that it would be perfect for the quilt.
The Design: I had taken classes in Sisters,Oregon from Jean Wells —-classes that focused on color and design and more recently “intuitive quilting.” Long a traditional quilter, I have embraced the intuitive method in order to become more creative in my quilting. I began my design without a plan. I had selected my fabrics and, with great use of a design wall, I began to try out different ideas by draping fabrics. My last “intuitive” piece was a geometric design in green and yellow, so I was eager to express myself in a more flowing design. After I chose a design, I drafted a pattern to make sure that the curved pieces and the thin blue string-pieced sections would all fit together. I had a good start but the quilt needed a spark. I decided to piece orange and blue mini blocks to sew to the right of the quilt and added what Jean Wells calls “little jewels” to make people take a closer look at the quilt and ask, “What fabrics did she use?”
The Quilting: Using a variegated orange and blue thread, I echo quilted one-half inch along the curves and did straight stitching on individual small blocks.
Throughout this total process, I grew as a quilter. I didn’t see any of the other quilts in the project until we had a trial hanging of the quilts. It was exciting to see what other quilters in the project had done. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Color Cascade: Golden Forest by Sue McMahon
Sue McMahan’s Thoughts:
I am a quilter. To me, that means a lot since quilting and working with fabric has been a major part of my life for almost 20 years. I still am somewhat of a traditionalist, but frequently step outside that box and work on contemporary designs. It often seems that the fabric does all the work and I just feed it through my sewing machine. Teaching quilting classes has definitely added a satisfying dimension to my life. Collecting antique quilts offers inspiration every day, which is provided by quilters of years past designing and sewing beautiful quilts that color my life.
Teamwork is always a challenge but can be very gratifying. The challenge in this case was to design a quilt of a particular size. My personal challenge was to have this piece ‘read’ golden yellow (#24). A love of all things Asian and a small piece of fabric featuring trees and a koi pond was the first inspiration. I have a love of Asian scroll paintings and silk screens which are often rectangular in shape with a larger set of borders at the top. I used this concept and added shades of golden-yellow in cotton and silk and then did a simple ‘spider web’ quilt design in the center of the piece. The result is “GOLDEN FOREST”. I enjoyed every minute of its emergence as part of the Color Cascade exhibit.
It’s Your Turn
Using the Oregon Sewjourners’ Color Cascade wall art as an example, create your own artistic cascade of color in your medium—or invite a group of fellow colorists to create a group color-spectrum project. If you go it alone, either play with one featured color or use the total spectrum of colors. Give yourself an actual assignment and a realistic finishing time. Take notes or keep a diary of what you decide, what changes you make, what your thoughts are as you work, what your challenges or frustrations are, what was unexpected, what was exciting, etc.
If you are a quilter, make your project small enough that you can finish in a reasonable time. If you are a painter, paint on a surface that will allow you to create wonderful color splashes without the concern of running out of space. If you are a graphic designer, select a color and feature it in your design or play with a beautiful color spectrum. If you are an interior designer, give yourself an assignment, using a one-color focus or a wide range of color. No matter your medium, let your imagination take the lead. For all of you, really push the envelope as much as you can. Try to work intuitively. Most importantly, have fun doing something new.
Now, if you are one of those people who thrives on looming deadlines, here’s a deadline: Tuesday night, July 3rd, 2012. If you know you’ll need more time than that, set your own deadline and stick to it. You’ll be so happy. Take pictures of your project in progress. When you’re done, email me a jpg image of your project. I’d love to see it.
What’s Up Next?—– A Fun Little Colorful Contest
Our next color subject is so very important in every work of art—-no matter the medium. If it’s missing in a design, the design is destined to be disappointing at best. If you think you know what we will be discussing next, shout it out in our blog’s comment section. If you guess correctly AND you add a sentence or two about something colorful that’s on your mind, you will be eligible to win a copy of my book Adventures in Design. The winner will be announced in the next post. Have fun being colorfully creative!
See you in a couple of weeks!
Text and photography copyright © Joen Wolfrom unless otherwise noted. The copyright of each artwork shown remains with its creator.
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 is also available. All books and products are published by C & T Publishing.