Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Color Magic for Felters

I have been studying color theory as it relates to needle felting and I wanted to share my experiences.  First of all, as a quilter and fabric dyer, I have been coloring fabric and using color theory for years now.  As a quilter, you can go into a fabric store, purchase a pretty print, add fabrics that coordinate with that print and you have a pretty quilt. 

Commercial Fabric Color Choices

The fabric manufacturers have made all the decisions for you.  As a fabric dyer, you can purchase dye in the colors you want and with a little experimentation, you can dye many values and many hues that tend to be solidish colors on your cotton fabric. 

Hand Dyed Cotton for Quilts

I applied my dyeing fabric principles to dyeing wool and it was an easy step for me to do so. The methods are a little different and the dyes are of different chemicals but you get basically the same thing – wool that is dyed the color you chose ahead of time for it to be.

Hand Dyed Wool

For more information about dyeing wool, go to a previous blog post from May 24, 2011 called, “Dyeing Roving for Felting.”

 How much more can there be to color theory?
A lot more.  And I’m just getting started.  First of all, I started studying color theory from a painter’s point of view.  I did this for a particular reason.  Whenever I got ready to start a new felted painting, I was too overwhelmed to know what to do first.  I have dyed enough roving in each range of colors to fill large plastic bins full and feel like a very wealthy woman when I pull them all out and look at them. 

Hand Dyed Wool Roving

However, what colors do I use first?  Where do I start?  Which colors do I NOT use?  There must be some way to make color decisions besides ALL THE COLORS AT ONCE to choose from.  What do painters do anyway to come up with the color schemes for their paintings?  There must be something more to  choosing colors for  painting pictures.  All my previous felted paintings I just used my intuition but found it difficult to choose which piece of wool to work with at any given time.  This can lead to overly busy paintings or too many colors.

So I got some color theory books aimed specifically at painters and downloaded a DVD course by Richard Robinson.  Some of it was new material and some was basic to what most artists know.  So here it is:
The Color Wheel 

This information is found in many places on the internet and I won’t go into detail here
about this except for the experiments I did with it.   All the colors of the rainbow fit around a circle on a wheel.

Basic Color Wheel
These colors can be used to choose harmonious colors for a project or mix paint colors together for a painting.  The colors can be mixed in several ways.  If you take 3 adjacent colors anywhere on the wheel and use them together in a project, you will have color harmony.  These are called “Analagous” colors. 
Analagous Felted Colors

 If you use colors that are directly opposite each other on the wheel, they are called “Complementary” colors and they can do 2 things – create totally new colors or balance each other in a painting.  That last sentence was the real eye opener for me.
I began to experiment with the colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel and I used student grade acrylic paint.  I started with the one pure color in the center of the wheel and the other pure color on the first spoke, in this case, yellow and purple. 

Bright Yellow/Purple Mixture

I added a tiny bits of purple to the yellow along the spokes of the wheel in increasing increments until both colors had completely disappeared and created a totally new color – in this case brown.  I then proceeded to create another wheel and added white to lighten the colors.  They did lighten somewhat but I needed to add a lot of white to lighten the colors up to pastel levels.
Then I tried red and green – the Christmas colors.  These colors look nice together, as we all know every December, but they also can be mixed together to create new colors.  There was a certain point on each wheel where both colors were completely neutralized and had created either a muddy brown or muddy gray. 
Bright Green/Red Mixture

The pure colors I started with are the red circle in the center and the bright green spoke at the top of the wheel.  I added tiny increments of red to the green and was surprised how dark the colors became.  I created the wheel on the right by adding white paint enough to create pastel colors.  The red and green together created olive green and then brown. 

I was most surprised by the orange and blue combination.  I started with very brilliant orange and my most brilliant blue.  But as I added more and more orange to the blue, it became a very dark navy.  How did the two colors which began so bright become so dark when combined?  Who would have thought that could happen? 
Bright Blue/Orange Mixture

But even more surprising was when I transferred these experiments to needle felted wool.  I used wool colors that were identical to the paint colors I had used to create the wheels of Complementaries.  Wool cannot “change” color.  Yellow wool stays yellow and purple wool stays purple.  What a surprise to see that as I added increments of the opposite color, the wool itself transformed into the new, darker colors that paint had created.  Well, actually, your eyes are deceived into thinking you see new colors.  Wool fibers do keep their own color but the opposite color fibers “mix” in your eye to seem like new colors.  Painters go to great lengths to get that to happen in their paintings but we felters can make it happen naturally with wool. 

Complementary Colors
An example of this is in the Bottle Study.  The table looks like a pale gray in the sunlight. 

Finished Bottle Study
I placed a warm brown colored wool as the “underpainting” or first coat of wool and felted it down.  I used pale blue as the second layer and felted it down.  The two colors “mixed” and created gray. 
Underpainting the Table a Warm Brown
Adding Blue on Top Makes the Table Look Gray
But there is more.  Painters struggle with how to create shadows in their paintings.  What color is a shadow?  Some painters use black to darken their colors in the shadow areas.  Others use brown or gray to create shadows.  The Impressionist painters used COMPLEMENTARY COLORS to create their shadows.  Can you see from the painted wheels how bright colors darken when their complement is added to them?  If you are painting a green tree, use a dark variety of red for the shadows.  If you are painting a yellow object, use purple as the shadow.  I used this in the haystacks in the August Afternoon felted painting. The haystacks are a warm gold and their shadows are a cool purple.
August Afternoon
 For the red trees in Provincetown I used green in the shadows to create the darkness.  The addition of dark green in the shadows made them appear darker than the dark red I also used in the shadows. 
Adding Green to Red Shadows Makes Them Appear Darker


I knew this last year but I didn’t realize how dramatic it could be until I did the painted and then felted experiments with pure, bright colors.  Wool naturally lends itself to be “painted” in the Impressionistic style.  How cool is that?
Here is a visual recap of the lesson on Complementary Wool Colors.  I used the exact wool colors to correspond with the paint colors I used for the wheels, although the purple wool looks more blue in this photo than it actually is in real life. 

Stay tuned for more color theory next time.

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