Nellie"s Needles

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Quite a few years ago I came across information in the book, "Color and Fiber" that translates to:

"The first visual response is to value contrasts rather than to colors."

Colors have "local" meanings depending upon the culture (see end of this post for examples) whereas the relationship of values (lightness/darkness) is a universal language of moods to which each of us responds.

The full mooned Halloween small quilt is one of six pieces that I made up to more fully comprehend this theory. Each features the same composition. The consideration for my choosing the fabrics was according to value organizations for strong OR weak contrasts.

light values dominating = positive, stimulating, happy

medium values dominating = strong, direct, rich, open

dark values dominating = mysterious, dramatic, dignified, somber


light values = delicate, atmospheric, serene

medium values = surreal, mystery, fantasy

dark values = somber, depressed, brooding

For these reasons, understanding value and their relationships is a valuable tool for establishing the mood of a piece. Value and the expression of a pattern holds more importance for me than color. In so many situations any number of colors will work. Consequently, strange colors can creep in and create unexpected excitement.

To isolate value from color in my work, I view it through the wrong end of binoculars. This creates a faraway viewing distance which obscures the colors and patterns allowing me to more easily assess the values and their interaction and progression as well their as impact or mood.

What I've presented here is only touching the surface of this topic. My intention is to bring awareness to an important element that is often overlooked ... even though it's something we all intuitively feel. So, the next time you have a color problem or a particular mood is not being conveyed, check out your chosen values and their contrasts.

(This conversation is continued in a future post here as a result of Kay's comment at the end of this one.)

China: Good luck, celebration, summoning

Cherokees: Success, triumph
India: Purity
South Africa: Mourning
Eastern: Worn by brides
excitement, danger, love, passion, and stop
Ireland: Religious (Protestants)
Western: Halloween, creativity, autumn
China: Nourishing Egypt: Mourning
Japan: Courage
India: Merchants
Western: Hope, hazards, coward
China: exorcism
India: Islam
Ireland: Symbol of country

Western: Spring, St. Patrick's Day, go
Cherokees: Defeat, trouble
Iran: Heaven, spirituality
Western: Depression, coldness, royalty, wisdom
China: Immortality
Middle East: Protection
Thailand: Mourning

Western: Royalty, luxury, sensuality, magic

Eastern: Funerals
India: Unhappiness

Western: Brides, angels, peace


China: Color for young boys

Thailand: unhappiness, evil

Western: Death, mystery,
To read more about the symbolism and psychology of color go here.


jenclair said...

How interesting to see the way you developed each piece. Each one makes a different statement, and I appreciate your taking the time to show and tell!

self taught artist said...

this is perhaps one of the most fascinating posts i've ever seen from an artist. that you took the time to do this to understand the dialogue of colour blows my mind.
i'm partial to the first two as far as how I feel when I look at the colour. it's cool to look at some art and think about the colour more so than the subject...just you talking about it made me not even consider the work, only the feel through the colour.

Elaine Adair said...

Your pieces are always so interesting - I feel inadequate that I'm not able to even talk about them with any knowledge. These pieces, and discussion of color/value are intriguing. I'm keeping this post "new" so I can refer back to the study of color and value. Thanks for the good info.

joyce said...

What an interesting post. I loved seeing your pieces using the same pattern but different values. I think I spend far too little time thinking about value and too much on color. I may start taking a B&W picture of my work to check on value. THanks for the info.

Joanna van said...

Wonderfully said and lovely study.

jude said...

great post nellie, and i enjoyed the series dedicated to illustrating your point.
it is also alway interesting to study the symbolism in different cultures. i am alway intrigued with this subject.

Belém said...

Great lesson Nellie, with the best ilustration. Your quilts match exactly with your words and they ar beautiful too.

Karoda said...

I took a colour workshop last year from Juanita Yeager and it got me over the hump about understanding value but its something I struggle with retaining each time I sit down to compose a quilt. I just checked my library for this book and they do not have it in. I'm adding it to my list. thanks for sharing.

Virginia Wieringa said...

Amazing that they are all the same design! I had to look a couple times to double check. What a wonderful demo of how color can influence the feel of a piece. Great link too. Mostly stuff I've known for a while but always nice to have a refresher and always fascinating to see how different colors inspire different cultures and emotions!

Waltraud said...

Great design and colours, thanks for sharing with s!

teodo said...

Very interesting this post.
I love reading about the meaning of the colours and about all that is around us.
.........and your quilts are amazing!
ciao ciao

Barbara B. said...

I am very inspired! It is to be seen fascinating, how the same piece changes again and again.

ROZ said...

Absolutely true. Many of the old-fashioned traditional quilt patterns relied on value to express the pattern.

Kay said...

This is a fascinating post. I've never heard the ideas about the mood created by different values before. I also have a light value quilt on my bedroom wall (with less contrast than yours) and I agree about the mood effect. I find it peaceful early in the morning. The only one of these I question is the lost contrast, medium value. surreal and mystery fits your piece, but aren't the fabrics partly responsible for that? Would all colors create the same effect, do you think?

Sassenach said...

Thank you for this excellent post! The posted images make all the difference.