Home for three weeks between the end of my summer job and the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I decided to mix 300 colors using only three colors of RIT dye. Why dyes? Because my favorite art form at the time was making batiks.
I started with a twin sized white cotton bed sheet donated by my mom that I cut into twelve pieces. (Thanks Mom!) Each piece was dipped into one of the primary dye baths for a specific length of time then dried on a clothesline in the backyard. I cut each of those 12 pieces into smaller pieces which were dyed and dried a second time. Those pieces were then cut up and dyed a third time. By the time I was done, I had three hundred 1″ x 2″ swatches.
The primaries were scarlet red, golden yellow and cobalt blue in four depths of shade (values) based on time in the dye bath. From those I mixed 96 secondary colors. From those I mixed 192 tertiary colors. I kept track of the dye path for each piece on 3 x 5 index cards and carefully numbered them all before arranging them in one of those old spiral bound photo albums with sticky pages.
Looking back, I realize that my fascination with three primary mixing and mud colors started that fall. I ended up with dozens of little pieces that were the same color even though they were dyed in completely different orders. It turned out that there were many paths to one color. It was a huge color mixing “ah-ha” moment.
I came across the album while moving my color books into the VIA Artistica teaching studio that I share with three partners here in Portland. After 40 years the pages are yellowing, the labels falling off, and the colors have faded slightly – but the lessons learned are as vivid as ever.