Saturday School (p.86) Striped Blends

When you look at the past few years of the Pantone Fall forecasts you can see that there are similarities in the sets of colors selected. There’s always a yellow, a teal/turquoise blue, an off pink, a clear purple, a deep red or orange,  a muted green of some kind, and a neutral. Plus a few other accent colors.

My challenge to you for this Saturday School session is to come up with your own fall forecast. Make your Rainbow Skinner  Blend following the instructions on page 19, and then play with the colors of the background strips to see if you can get a few variations that work for fall.

The Stripe Blends combine stripes of many colors from your Rainbow Skinner laid out in an alternating pattern with a single background color. After making the four stripe blends from the book – Sunlight, Ecru, Cool Shadow and Dark Mud – play with using other background colors to come up with your Fall blend.

A few years before the book was published Lindly taught a  NYC workshop and photographed the results. The photos show lots of great ideas for blends and projects. She is still teaching this workshop. Its at the top of Lindly’s list of workshops if you are interested in bringing it to your guild.

Weekend Extra Exercises

Make lots of striped blends! Try using variations of colors for the in-between stripes:

  • Dark Brown/Burnt Umber – will make the colors more earthy
  • Light Brown/Raw Umber – will give the colors a faded folk art feel
  • Metallic Gold mixed 1/2 and 1/2 with white – will shift all the colors toward yellow but with a muted warm glow


An easy way to make the mud for this project is to take some of your Rainbow Skinner blend and mix into a single color. It will make a perfect mud for your colors.

Vary the stripe width slightly every now and then as you cut colors from your Skinner blend for an unexpected punch.

You don’t have to stick with the same three primaries from past exercises. You are designing for next week’s project – Log Cabin Pin – so choose colors for your Rainbow Skinner blend that you will want to wear this fall.

Next Saturday School: Log Cabin Pin


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From Missoni to post-Modernism

We started this week with the new line of products designed by Missoni for Target. Over the years Target has worked with a number of famous designer to produce affordable, well designed products. Remember Target’s whistling bird teapot? The designer was  architect Michael Graves.

Michael Graves also designed the Portland Building – one of the most controversial projects in the history of architecture.  I graduated from architecture school the year it was built, 1982, so needless to say, we talked a lot about it at the time.  A colorful, gift wrapped box of a building, it’s located next to city hall downtown and houses city administrative offices.  Even though it has major problems, structural as well as functional, I still appreciate its brilliantly colored facade, especially when the rains start.









The 35′ statue of Portlandia towers over the main entrance on the west side of the building. That leads us to the wacky IFC television series dedicated to the weirdness of my beloved city – Portlandia.

Oops – that’s not the direction this is going. Regardless of what you think of it, the Portland Building is internationally recognized as a seminal post-Modern building and that takes us to the upcoming exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London,  Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970 t0 1990.

Here are a few classic images from the exhibit that opens next Saturday, September 24th.

Grace Jones in maternity dress designed by John Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez  in 1979.



Hans Hollein facade for Venice Biennale 1980.

Blade Runner, 1982.





Post-Modernism was a departure from the starkness and simplicity of Modernism but I have to admit I never quite understood all the philosophy, and seriousness, behind it all. I like this definition that comes from the Simpsons. (And please note that Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, was born in Portland – connecting the dots from Missoni to Portland to post-Modernism and back to Portland.)

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A New Box of Crayons 3 – Inspired by Missoni

Vintage Missoni – 1968                                    Missoni for Target – 2011

This weekend I was inspired by Missoni chevrons. The Italian fashion house, famous for over 40 years for their iconic stripes and patterns, has been in the news quite a bit lately due to the huge hoopla surrounding the launch of Target’s new Missoni designed product line. The stores were swamped, the animitronic 25′ doll a big hit, and the Target website crashed yesterday due to the overwhelming response. The full line was shown on Fashionista in August – that might be the only way to see it all!

This weekend I experimented with rule-based color selections to see if I could mimic the seemingly random Missoni color combinations. I was curious about what colors would emerge if determined by chance. I used three collections of 26 crayon colors, coordinated with the alphabet, to color in a pattern of stripes. To keep a record of the color studies I made two blank forms. The first form included a frequency chart and alphabet key (based on Christian Faur’s Color Alphabet concept) along with a small test pattern for a 19 stripe phrase “Its all about color.” The second form was a larger 2 1/2 repeat version of the same pattern.

The first group of colors was based on random selection from a box of 64 crayons – I just pulled them out one by one. For the second group I choose 26 distinctly different colors and lined them up in spectrum order on the alphabet key.

For the third group I assigned colors to the frequency chart starting with my favorite color and continuing until I had 26 colors.

Three different rules. Three different results. I only liked the last one so I used those colors to fill in the full page pattern. The result is shown below.

Here’s an excerpt from an article written in 2007 about the designers - “Missonis are masters of colors. It seems that all family members see and understand colors in a different way than the rest of us. Other designers’ work can be good or not good, new or already seen, in color or black and white, but every detail that comes from Missoni’s imagination is full of stunning color combinations. I believe that “color fireworks” are the right words to describe that thinking. No matter whether we are looking at stripes or zig-zags, there are as many colors as there can be, but always in new and unexpected relationships. Sometimes it may seem that there was an error in choosing the color combination, but the second look clearly shows that’s not the case.

I thought it would feel like paint by numbers, and it did, but I learned a few things from the process of working by a set of rules.  I confirmed that its often the unexpected color that makes the wow factor. I found out how much I love warmer versions of colors because whenever I pulled a cool color I was tempted to put it back and try again. But best of all, when I decided to start with my favorite colors, I learned that its easy to manipulate the rules to get what you want.

The “coloring book” pages are kind of fun.  If you want to try your own colors here are the PDF’s. Rule-Based Color Selection/Rule-Based Color Selection -2.

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A New Box of Crayons 2 – Alphabet Colors

What do you get if you combine language and color?

If you take the analytical approach of Christian Faur then you might create something similar to the stripe paintings in his recent Words, Words, Words collection.

Faur developed a color alphabet connecting a specific color to each of the 26 letters in the English alphabet.

His rationale for choosing colors was based on linking the most frequently used letters, 5 vowels and 6 consonants, to the basic colors terms that are the most recognizable across cultures as identified by researchers Berlin and Kay (1969.) He then took the remaining letters and gave them colors that differed in hue, value and saturation from the first set of colors.







Here are the letters in order of their frequency of use and the color choices for each letter. But why accept these color assignments?

There is something unsettling about the colors used in Faur’s paintings. Perhaps that was his intent, or perhaps my sense of color is just different from his. Maybe they could be seen strictly as coded messages – more conceptual exercise than art.

The idea of using a set of rules for color selection and placement is not uncommon.  Many color classes use Itten’s color star with the cut-out masks representing the different kinds of color harmonies. Just spin the black masks and go with the color combination seen in the openings.  This kind of mechanical process takes thinking out of the picture – and leaves no room for instinctive choices.

I’m afraid that I do not really like most of the color combinations I’ve seen that resulted from using some kind of “rules based” approach.

I don’t want to get into the “does art need to be beautiful?” debate (because of course it doesn’t), but I’m going to ask a few questions. Are there shortcuts to harmony? Can beauty be codified? If I could find just the right method for methodically picking colors, would all my work suddenly morph from so-so to gorgeous?

My experience says “No. ”  Color selections might start with some kind of system but they usually will need tweaking once the colors are put together. That said, it would be fun to assign different colors to the letters and redo each of Faur’s paintings using a new set of rules to see if, just possibly, different rules might generate something I liked better.

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A New Box of Crayons I – Christian Faur’s Crayons

For the past five years Christian Faur has used crayons standing on end to create pointillist images of people, faces and building.

The crayons are lined up side by side in boxes with their pointed ends up like a new box of crayons.

In his most recent series, A Set of Melodies, Faur riffs on the same portrait by playing with handcast encaustic crayons in a variety of color schemes and patterning.

I don’t quite understand his “rule based” approach – I am lightyears away from his math and physics background – but each of the 14″ x 14″ images are fascinating nonetheless.

His somber work from 2010 of photographs from the Great Depression is especially appropriate these tough days. Here’s the Land Surveyers, 30″ x 60″, with a detail shot from the side. Just imagine walking around the installations and watching the images shift with each little step.




Every year on the first day of school I treat myself to a new box of 64 Crayola crayons since they are on sale just about everywhere at 50% off.  This year, the cashier and I reminisced about when we were kids and had to share our colors with brothers and sisters. It feels great to be all grown up and able to splurge on a box just for me.

Last year when I bought my crayons, I restarted the Saturday School to finish the exercises in Lindly Huanani‘s and my book, Color Inspirations. I got as far as the Contrast Table studio tool in Chapter 6 but wasn’t able to keep it going so I am going to try again. Third times the charm?

I will start next Saturday, September 17th, with the Stripe Blends exercise on p. 86. The exercises are fun to do even if you are not a polymer artist. If you want to join us, the links to past Saturday School posts are in a drop down under the Tutorials tab.

For Friday: A New Box of Crayons II – Faur’s Color Alphabet

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Art in the Pearl – 2011

Every Labor Day weekend I look forward to Oregon’s premier art and fine craft show, Art in the Pearl.  I did this show in Portland’s Pearl District for a few years way back when.  My favorite was one year right next to a huge tree that provided just the right amount of late afternoon shade. My least favorite was the year it rained all weekend and the grass in the North Park Blocks turned to ankle deep mud. This year the weather was perfect, and the attendance is estimated to hit over 70,000.

Its been about ten years since I’ve had a booth at this end of summer show. I haven’t applied because I just haven’t had enough inventory for a show of this calibre. I was focusing my limited studio time on prepping for teaching and then on writing the book and not on production.  But I have to admit that every year, as I walk the show and ooh and aah over all the beautiful pieces, I tell myself “next year.” Next year I will make enough inventory to apply.

This year was no exception. I left the show with grandiose dreams of designing a whole new product line in covetable colorways – with beautiful collaged photographs showcasing each collection of gorgeous pieces – all displayed beautifully in a new booth carefully coordinated with this fabulously stunning body of work . . .

And then, because I know how much time and hard work it is to do craft shows and do them well,  I pinched myself hard and said “some day but not right now.” Right now is about feeling my way into the best way to share what I’ve learned about teaching color. That’s enough for the next few years.

So what caught my eye over the weekend? Here’s some of my favorites . . .

When I wandered into Mike McKee’s booth I almost started to cry. No kidding. I responded to his supersaturated pastel landscapes at the gut level. The photos do not do justice to the joyful energy of his work. His was the only booth I went back to after walking the entire show. I went back to find out what pastels he uses to get such vibrant color.  He uses Unison pastels, handmade in Northumberland National Park in England. Oh dear – here’s a possible rival to polymer clay for playing with color!

At first glance, Randy Dana’s wall pieces evoke Renaissance still life paintings. Then it hits you – these are photographs!

Are they manipulated on the computer? No. According to Dana, they are shot in natural light with carefully selected flowers and fruit at the peak of their color.

The glass surface mirrors the still life and in some cases provides another layer of flowers seen through the glass.

There’s something magical about the images. They are simply amazing.

Alison O’Donoghue‘s hyper busy, large scale paintings drew me in for a closer look. Both the figurative and pattern paintings were equally intriguing.

She calls herself a contemporary folk artist. I would add – with a modernist Hieronymus Bosch twist.



Sarah Shriver made a big splash with her first appearance at Art in the Pearl.  The drive up from the Bay Area is no picnic but the crowds and enthusiastic response to her intricately patterned jewelry made it well worth the trip.

Her latest work takes pattern and shape to a whole new level. The only polymer artist in the show, she represented us well!

There were many more artists whose work I admired. This is the tip of the iceberg. If you still have some time left on your Labor Day, here’s the list of this year’s Art in the Pearl artists for your browsing pleasure.

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Palette Inspirations

As much as I love polychromatic color schemes there are times when I just want to work in neutrals, or in the case of the three artists below – almost neutrals.





Scarves by Bobbie Kowciejowski.



Glass beads by Dan Adams.







Painting by Glenys Porter




Once I posted I realized I needed to include some white space to separate this post from the last one or they would clash.

Hmmm – what is clash and why is it a bad thing?



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Optical Color Mixing

The swirls that look green and the swirls that look blue are the same color.  Yes, really. Published by Akioshi Kitaoka in 2009, this illusion is based on mixing colors optically.

What you don’t notice at first is that the colors of the thin stripes crossing the swirls are alternating between orange-red and purple. Look closely and you can see that the swirl that appears to be magenta is really a red/purple combination.

By removing the red and purple strips in a corner of the pattern you can see that the swirls without the strips are both the same emerald green.

I first saw this kind of optical mixing in a stripped weaving that a student brought to class. It took me a while to figure out what was happening.

In weaving, mixes do not darken the same way paint, polymer and dyes do.  Instead, alternating colors create what you might think of as a colored light over the pattern. This is what is happening in the optical illusion: the red/green blend appears to have a yellow light over the swirl. The purple/green blend appears to have a blue light over the swirl.

I used to say I could never be a weaver. I wouldn’t have the patience. But when I see how much fun weavers have playing with color I’m half tempted to head over to Ruthie’s community Weaving Studio just a few blocks away here in Portland and become a begineer again. (Just kidding!)

Master weaver Randall Darwall says “Why use five colors when fifty will do nicely.” I’ve lusted after his scarves at many an ACC show. Its difficult to appreciate the movement of color in his weavings from the photographs on his website – I wish I could have been in Chicago last weekend for the American Craft Expo to see his latest work. This link to the fiber artists in the show is the next best thing.

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Curiosity, Appreciation, Imagination

What is it about color that I find so fascinating?

Maybe its the wonder of it all; the amazing colors of the natural world and the equally amazing fact that anyone can pick up color and play with it in a creative way.

Maybe its the complexity of it all; the interconnection of so many various fields that interest me – architecture and interior design, art and craft, science and history, psychology and anthropology.

Maybe its that I am so much more a visual person than an audio person and color is my music.

I don’t really need to know why I am drawn to color, my guess is that its all about seeing with awareness. I recently watched this short Intel Visual Life video featuring iconic logo designer Michael Wolff and almost every line rang true. It starts with curiosity and ends with imagination.


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Fire III: Fauvist Flames

The natural colors of flames flow from red through orange, yellow and white to blue. This is the expected range of colors but what if  you want something unexpected?

I remember logs and pine cones that burned different colors because they were soaked in certain chemicals. Each chemical produces different colors.

Here is a short science classroom video that shows the colors made by a variety of chemicals. The first minute is the most interesting, during the remaining time the fires are slowly dying out. These are the same chemicals that are used to make fireworks so I don’t recommend trying this experiment at home.  Its is a rather hazardous form of color mixing!

The flame colors and the chemicals used to make them are shown below.

Blue Cupric chloride, 125g
Red Lithium chloride, 100g
Strontium chloride, 100g
Green Copper sulfate, 500g
Borax (Sodium borate), 1lb.
Orange Calcium chloride, 500g
Purple Potassium chloride, 100g
Yellow Sodium chloride, 500g
Sodium carbonate, 1lb.

An easier, cheaper, and safer way to see colored flames is to order a few Mystical Color mini packets the next time you order books from Amazon. These inexpensive packets contain a mixture of chemicals. Toss a few on a campfire and beautiful colors will appear as if by magic.

A gorgeous photo of colored flames taken by Tori Snow during a camping trip  is available on Red Bubble. (RedBubble is an art community featuring wall art, design, t-shirts and photography by artists worldwide. Check it out.)

To color a campfire or not to color a campfire, that is the question. Myself, I much prefer the natural colors of fire over the artificial. But I can see a place for pushing colors to be more vivid. Even though they are not natural, they are beautiful.

I took my first watercolor class this summer. The teacher was my neighbor, Chris Keylock Williams. A nationally known painter, Williams use of color has become more and more free over the years.  The best advice she gave to all of us painting in her stunning garden was “Don’t worry about matching the colors of the paint to the colors that you see. Its about lights and darks and the feeling of the painting – the colors can be anything you want.”

Fire I: Campfires | Fire II: Color and Temperature

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