Monday, November 4, 2013

Black & White

Since we have been discussing color this month, I'd like to talk about the particularly polarizing polar-opposite duo: black and white. We all know them. We all use them. We all wear them. I wear black yoga pants almost every day! But my love of black ends with my Lululemon leggings.

(My feelings about color are based on a lifetime as an abstract painter, artist, and designer, and they are just opinions, so feel free to ignore.)

The bottom line for me about black and white is that I use them both, but sparingly. Whether I am painting,
designing fabric, or sewing a quilt, I almost always choose a shade of charcoal over black and I almost always choose a shade of off-white over white. WHY?

Black and white are both terribly loud. White is actually very similar to black in its starkness. They shout. They scream. They are overly simple. The color black represents our ideas and projections about what black means. The same is true for white. Black absorbs tons of light. White reflects tons of light, so they are equally intense.

In terms of light, white is the presence of all other colors, and black is the absence of all others. But in terms of paint, if you mixed all the colors of the spectrum together, you wouldn't get black or'd get a lovely shade of poopy mud color.

Personally, I couldn't really live without white as a painter, but I could almost absolutely live without black...well, except that it is in Payne's grey. And I love Payne's grey. (Payne's grey is a lovely combination of ultramarine blue and black.) But other than that I could easily toss out all my shades of bone black and carbon black and the rest.

You see, in many beginning painting classes, and especially oil classes, the teacher will instruct you about squeezing out very specific colors onto your palette. Depending on your subject matter, these will probably include:
From Lori McNee
lemon yellow
cadmium yellow
cadmium red (medium)
alizarin crimson
ultramarine and cobalt blue
hunter or virdian or pthalo green
titanium white
burnt umber
raw umber 

Notice that black isn't on the list? From these basic foundations, you can create almost any color. White will lighten your colors to create tints and black will darken each color to create a shade of that color.

But black will more often than not make a mess of the beautifully luminous colors you have made. It sucks the life out of them. It makes them dark in an unappealing way. I much prefer to mix complementary colors on the color wheel. To darken a red, I'll mix in a green, etc.

What if you are sewing with black and white?  Whenever I begin designing a quilt, I first think of the story and mood I am trying to create. There is a time and a place for every color. If I were creating a  cool snowy winter scene, I might need some white.  But I generally like to soften my palette to create a more complicated story.

You wanna know the basic trick they teach you in art school? Never, ever use a paint directly out of the tube. EVER. I mean...ever. Are you with me? So if you use white or black, whether when sewing or designing or painting, then you are using colors that aren't altered, surprising, or changed in any way. The story they will tell is the story of the inside of the paint tube, not your own story. They tell the story of the "idea" of black and white, but not necessarily your version of that story. So think of that when you are using colors. Think about your own shades of colors. Do you like warm whites of cool whites? Warm blacks or cool blacks?

Build your palette around the story you want to tell. Begin to see the story inherent within each color. 
Start finding your own personal shades of each color, so that you begin to build a personal palette.


Karin Jordan said...

Interesting! I always sew with off-white and not-quite-black thread. White always seems too shocking, and I suppose my fabrics are rarely black so that makes sense. The range of what is considered 'white' is pretty diverse, actually. When you look at the base of each of those 'whites', there's usually something else responsible for the tint. Oh, and I'm wearing black yoga pants as we speak. Hm.


Well stated. I like to think of myself as a "Colorist" and love reading all I can on Color Theory. It's my all time favorite unit to teach. Looking forward to more from you, Carrie.��