Newsletter Feature of the Month: Optical Illusions

I copied and pasted this segment from the November newsletter I sent out yesterday.  Lots of fun links!  You can sign up for the newsletter on the right. Here’s a link to the November newsletter: Newsletter #2.

The classic Albers color interaction exercise above is included in one of the recent NPR stories. The X’s are the same color but appear to be different. This is just one of many ways to create optical effects that fool the eye. Some illusions involve color, some play with lines and forms, and all confuse the brain. I just spent four days exploring these phenomena with a few hardy polymer artist/guinea pigs in North Carolina. Crazy but fun!

Watch out! Here are some of my favorite optical illusion links:

For Kids: National Institute of Health
Michael Back: Hering Illusions and many others
Akiyoshi: Illusion Pages 
Recent: 21 Mind-Boggling Optical Illusions That Will Melt Your Brain

More on Josef Albers: Hirshhorn Collection

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Color Scales for Artists – November 21st at OSA

color mixing scales - Maggie Maggio

With the help of generous support from Muse Art and Design, our local independently owned art supply store, I’ve spent the last year exploring color in traditional media – acrylic, oil, watercolor and gouache paint,  ink, colored pencil and pastel.

As a result, I am now offering a workshop on making color scales in all media. The first of these fun classes - Color Scales for Artists – will be Friday, November 21st with the Oregon Society of Artists.  This workshop is a companion class to Rene Eisenbart’s “Color  Mixing Demystified” workshop at OSA on November 14th.

Exploring the properties of colors and pigments as a separate activity from painting itself can save time and money. Making color scales can answer all sorts of color questions and can be an enjoyable and inspiring activity. Once you get a system in place, the process is quick, easy, painless and fun!

Participants will leave with a huge amount of experience under their belt, templates for making additional scales, and the beginnings of a collection of invaluable references for choosing and mixing any color they want.

If you’ve always thought about doing color studies but could never quite get started, this workshop is for you!


Bring the paint medium of your choice (oils, acrylics, watercolors, or gouache) in a variety of colors, including at least three colors that you use frequently or that you’d like to explore. The templates and tools will be provided.

We will be exploring three types of color scales:

test color mixing scales - Maggie MaggioTest Mixing Scales
Test mixing is recommended anytime you pick up new colors or materials. A few quick and loose color scales to white, water, or any clear medium can provide invaluable information about the tinting strength, opacity and bias of a new color as well as give you an immediate feel for how it handles. Bring your favorite colors to test – or new colors to try out.

color chart scales - Maggie MaggioColor Chart Scales
Mixing every color on your palette to all the other colors is a standard color mixing exercise. The best way to do this is with color scales instead of the standard grid or matrix. Not only will you be able to see more colors than just the half-to-half mix, you can continue to add to your collection every time you pick up new colors.

These color chart scales are designed to be connected into a fan deck that spreads out to show all the colors and their tints. Bring four colors to practice mixing to each other.

limited palette color mixing scales - Maggie MaggioBase Mixing or Limited Palette Scales
Color scales are a simple way to map the gamut (or range) of colors possible using just three colors. The Maggio Mixing Map is a triangular chart that starts with five base colors between the blue/cyan and the red/magenta corners.

After the base colors are mixed, a series of five vertical color scales are mixed from the base colors to yellow. The result is a visually balanced chart that includes higher saturation colors on the outside of the triangle and lower saturation colors on the inside. All of the colors can also be tinted if time permits.

A $10 discount for this workshop is available to registered participants in Rene Eisenbarts “Color Demystified” Workshop at OSA on November 14.  Please call Muse Art and Design at 503.231.8704 for the discount code.

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Treasure in North Carolina

Munsell-Tree-at-VIA-4webI just got back to Portland after teaching three workshops in North Carolina and now have a Munsell Color Tree in the teaching studio at VIA Artistica!

The east coast of NC is famous as the haunt of Blackbeard the pirate. The history is fascinating. Many believe his buried treasure is still out there somewhere along the Outer Banks.

I had no idea starting out on my last teaching trip of the year that I would find so many treasures of my own.

Here’s the story . . .


My first stop in NC was a two day Mark Making workshop with the Blue Ridge Polymer Clay Guild in Asheville. The trees in the west were at peak color. Stunning! While there, I stayed with Kay and Werner Bonitz in Hendersonville just outside the city.

Kay’s beaded jewelry is featured in a number of shops and her polymer pieces can be seen at the elite wearable art gallery, Bellagio in Asheville. Werner’s photography has been in a number of group and solo exhibitions.  Their beautiful home was filled with art.

The first night I was there, Werner and I discovered we share a love of teaching color. He is a retired textile engineer who worked for many of the major fashion houses over the course of his career. Part of his job was insuring that the colors of fabrics from different manufacturing plants all over the world matched each other. It was a huge job given the variety of materials and textures, the influence of lighting, and the strict controls needed in the dyeing process.

As the conversation veered into extremely geeky color stuff, Kay suggested that Werner bring up “that whirly-gig thing you have stored in the basement.”

It was a Munsell Color Tree!

Munsell Tree Photo

The Munsell Color Tree is the inspiration for the visualization exercise that I’ve used for years in my color workshops. 

The most important part of the exercise is understanding the location of the pure hues in relation to the central neutral axis. Rather than run the pure hues in a circle around the middle, Munsell showed them in relation to their different values from yellow at the top to blue purple at the bottom. 

Here are two of Munsell’s early drawings along with my “tilted equator” drawing that show this concept of placing the hues in relation to value. 


I’ve coveted a Munsell Tree for years. I’m sure I was drooling. Given my groveling, it’s no wonder that by the end of the night Werner offered to let me take the tree back to Portland to give it a new home at VIA Artistica. (To say I was thrilled is a huge understatement!) Along the way, I was able to use it in each of the three workshops going from west to east across the state. What a difference it makes to have a real life 3D model of color right there in the classroom! A gazillion thanks to Werner!!

After Asheville, I spent four days in High Point with Jenny and Michael McKitrick and a small group of polymer artists/guinea pigs. The tree had a place of honor on the shared table. We were testing my ideas for a color class focused on using millefiore to explore optical effects. I learned much more than I taught! Many thanks to my fellow color explorers, Jenny, Judy Carroll, Julie Eakes, Kay Bonitz, and Cheryl Stippich.

Then it was on to Winterville, NC just outside Greenville, home of Eastern Carolina University. It was there that I found out that the east coast of NC is famous as Blackbeard’s hideaway and that the ECU teams are the Pirates.  There was purple and gold everywhere you looked!

MalekuStudiowithleanaI was invited to Winterville by Ileana Rojas Bennett, CEO of Maleku Jewelry. Ileana is an award winning jeweler with work in over 40 stores in her home country of Costa Rica. Her work has been featured on runways and at the Oscars. The best thing is – she’s also a warm, caring mentor. Once again I was spoiled by incomparable Southern hospitality.

I used the color tree in the class at Maleku Studio and again it was a big help in explaining where colors live in a 3D color space. You cannot imagine how grateful I am to have it.  The tree that was buried in a basement now has a place of honor in my teaching studio in Portland. It is indeed a treasure. But, corny as it sounds, there is an even bigger treasure – all the new friends I made from west, to middle, to east, in the gorgeous state of North Carolina!


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Highlights from Racine

I am still recovering from last weekend in Racine. I was so intent on seeing and doing everything that I did not get many good photos. Bummer!

I can’t possibly do justice to the whole weekend so I will just share my personal highlights.

Wendy Wallin Malinow’s LAB at RAM


Top of the list – seeing my friend, and fellow Portlandian, Wendy Wallin Malinow’s work featured in the (in)Organic Lab at the Racine Art Museum. It was a room chock full of Wendy. A long overdue one-person show for a quiet artist with a vivid imagination and a rich artistic voice. Congrats, Wendy! So glad your whole family came to see the show!


Racine Art Museum’s Commitment to Polymer

Executive Director Bruce Pepich and his team at the Racine Art Museum welcomed us the Polymer 2.0 Symposium with a sneak preview of the museum shows on Thursday night, then spent the whole weekend in dialogue with us and closed the symposium with a challenge to take polymer out of the box. We heard the call and will start working together on projects to move polymer forward.


A Spot in the (in)Organic Show


Definitely a thrill to see some of my latest work all lined up in the RAM’s (in)Organic show. Wonderful to be in the company of many artists from many different media who all share a passion for exploring the edges between man and nature. Sure do wish I had a better  photo.


Re-visioning Polymer


Getting up close to so many amazing works of art in A Re-visioning: New Works in Polymer show at the H.F. Johnson Gallery at Carthage College. Pictured above – a detail from the sumptuous work of Heather Campbell.


 Visiting Johnson Wax Headquarters


Frank Lloyd Wright designed the admin building and the research tower for the headquarters of Johnson Wax.  They did not allow photos inside but here we are with our small group in front of the tower getting ready for the tour. All the interior and exterior photos I’ve ever seen were in black and white. They make the campus feel cold. The reality was so much warmer. Layer upon layer of Cherokee Red.


Dinners in the FLW’s Johnson House


Last but not least – sitting down with old and new friends in the living room of Wingspread, the huge house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Johnson family. Dream come true.

The symposium left us with many thought-provoking questions. Stay tuned to see what happens down the road as we partner with RAM to take polymer to the next level.

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Racine Art Museum Symposium

I leave on Thursday for Racine Art Museum’s second Polymer Symposium at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin.

Racine Art Museum Newsletter OctIt’s an honor to have a number of pieces in both the RAM (in)Organic show and the A Revisioning: New Works in Polymer show at the H.F. Johnson Gallery at Carthage College. I’m looking forward to seeing the RAM show at a preview reception on Friday night and heading to Carthage on Saturday afternoon to see the show at the gallery.

It was especially fun to see “Temptation” featured in the Racine Art Museum newsletter that went out last week.


MaggioRAMGrowIIIcropped4webHere’s another new piece from RAM’s (in)Organic show.

“Grow III” represents the interweaving of the animal and plant world by blurring the lines between snake and vine. 

I will need a larger oven as the pieces grow and grow!


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