Color Consciousness: Sorting Scraps

by admin on 08/08/2011 · 19 comments

I call these posts about color “Color Consciousness” to emphasize the fact that we are surrounded by opportunities to expand our understanding of color and color interactions if we just pay attention. (I mean really pay attention – what color are tree trunks?)

The cane I was building when I generated the scraps below; kaleidoscoped.

I believe that paying attention to color as we go about our daily activities builds a reservoir of understanding that will ultimately enrich our art.  For example, because of my poor work habits, my work surface is usually littered with scraps of clay at the end of a project. Unless I want to end up with one big ball of “mud,” I have to sort the scraps into color groups as part of cleaning up.

The sorting process provides good practice in color matching. When I pick up a scrap of green I have to decide which of my different piles of green I should put it in. If my piles of greens are similar to each other in hue,  I try to pick the best match as I lift the scrap rather than waiting until the scrap is closer to the piles.

A representative section of my work surface after my latest project.

Right or wrong, I’ve learned something about color in the process. Sometimes I’ll notice two scraps side by side that look particularly beautiful together. I make a mental note to try putting them together in a future project.

Piles of clay sorted by hue.

If there is enough scrap, I separate light, dark and medium values of the same hue into separate groups. This leaves me with more options for how I use the clay in future projects. Now comes the fun part: I blend the piles individually using the pasta machine, creating an entirely new range of colors.

Piles of clay after blending. Locations of blends match original piles.

The cane I constructed was for one of my classes. I started with only fuschia, zinc yellow, cobalt blue, white and a tiny bit of black. The colors in the cane were extremely vibrant, except where I lightened them with white. These new colors are less vibrant because most of them contain a little bit of a third primary as well as quite a bit of white, but I love them for their richness. When I mix colors for a project, I almost always add a bit of a third primary to “knock the brightness down a bit.” To my eye, muting or desaturating the colors a bit adds interest, a bit of the unexpected, and makes them more beautiful. Because all of the colors above were mixed with the same primaries, the blends all go together as well. None of the colors jump out as not fitting.

One other thing I often do is pull out individual colors and put them in groups that I think go well together. These are some of the groupings from the collection above.

I seldom take notes and never save “recipes.” I just try to pay full attention to what I’m seeing and store the knowledge in my subconscious. I truly believe that doing this gives me a repository of color “sense” to draw on in the future.

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