Exploiting Color

IMG_0564“Color is all. When color is right, form is right. Color is everything, color is vibration like music; everything is vibration.”

~ Marc Chagall Russian-born French Painter and Stained Glass Artist, 1887-1985

That’s it. That’s how I feel. Everything is color. When I am working if I do not get the color right – I cannot go on – I drop the piece – I start something else.

Dyeing my own fabrics allows me to get my colors exact.  I can make the fabric sing rather than lay there and whimper. When I open the dye pots, I know what I want to achieve. Maybe one day I’ll be dyeing something with browns and greens or gold and another I’ll be into turquoise and red …………. every time I open the dye pots, I know what I want.

The dye method that most appeals to me at the moment is the wet and splatter method. Sounds weird but it’s super easy. I soak the cloth in water, ring it out and cram it into a container that is too small for it. I then open the dye pots (after putting on the dreaded mask) and begin sprinkling dye on the wet cloth. I pour a soda ash/salt solution over the dry powder and turn the cloth over and repeat. I will use as many colors as I feel right at the time ……… I try not to make mud but sometimes the mud is the best color – the one I need to make the whole piece sing.

I spent a lot of time in art class learning color theory. I read about color theory constantly. I practice an instinctive form of color theory and one learned more from observation than books.

Years ago, during my collecting of African-American quilts, I came across a quilt of simple vertical bars. Each bar was a value of two colors but the fabrics were different. One was raw silk, the others cotton or polyester ……. but the whole was stunning. The bars were red and a deep turquoise. Not teal but close, not a light turquoise but a rich one. That quilt became a lesson in color theory for me that had nothing to do with the standard “the opposite of red is green” sort of theory. The opposite of red may be green, but the singer of red is turquoise.

To me, nothing is uglier than purple placed with yellow, but those are opposite colors. The vibration offends me. I don’t feel comfortable. With yellow I must see blue or black or red ……… not purple. Purple goes with lime green ……… a purple pickle if you will. That sings to me. There is still yellow in the base of the green, but the vibration is more muted, still punchy, less offending to my eye.

Brilliant blue, the electric blue that is so appealing, needs black to tone it down, show the different bend in the color, the richness. Blue can also be accented with orange, albeit a brownish orange, not a red-orange. A rich teal blue with a smoky orange brown is calming, solidifying, comforting. A blue with bright orange is a parody or an advertisement for a football team (I’m from the home of The Fighting Illini so blue and orange will always speak of home).

When I am composing a piece of cloth from cut up pieces of cloth, the placement of the colors is my first act. I lay them out, see how they feel next to each other, I don’t want them to fight although I don’t mind if they annoy one another ……….. the tension in the annoyance is what I’m after.

Traditional quilting is beautiful and I have no problem owning traditional quilts. I just can’t make one again. I’ve made over 150 quilts in my lifetime so far and a great proportion of them were traditional – particularly at the beginning when I was honing my skills. I started out copying. And then I started thinking ……… what if I put this color together with that and what if I DON”T piece my quilts exactly square and how can I get movement in this 2D object ………… the how can I moved to color ……….. and that’s why I exploit color ……. to see if I can.

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