Saturday School: Albers Value Trick


Putting colors in order according to value can be tough. Here are the twelve colors from the post about value last month. I put them in the order I thought they should go and scanned the results in grayscale.

They fall into three value ranges – dark, medium, and light but, as you can see, the middle colors from the green to the orange are all a jumble. That’s because its hard to see value separate from hue and saturation.

Sometimes I take swatches into a closet, close the door and then open it just a hair. The lightest colors pop. Then I open it another hair and the next lightest colors pop. I keep going until all the colors are in order. This method is accurate up to a point. (Sometimes there’s an issue with the reds. Could be Perjinke Shift but that’s another post.)

You can take a photo or make a black and white copy – but again this is only fairly accurate. Scanning in grayscale seems to work better but it’s not foolproof. Some quilting books recommend using a red filter gel – but that really doesn’t work!

Anytime you want to know for sure which colors are lighter and which darker you can conduct this simple test that Albers recommends in his book.

1. Taking two colors at at time, overlap the corner of Color A with the corner of Color B. Stare at the overlapping area for longer than feels comfortable. You will start to see a halo around the edges.

2. Slide Color B to the side while looking at the area C.

3. If area C appears lighter than the rest of Color A then Color B is the darker of the two colors. If area C appears to be darker than the rest of Color A then Color B is the lighter of the two colors.

Its easier to see the results if you start with colors that are not as close in value and work you way into comparing colors that are very close in value. When you can’t see any afterimage then you know that the colors are the same value.

When is the best time to use this trick?  Anytime its important to get the value relationships right. Maybe you are putting together a complex skinner blend going from dark to light but two of the colors are so close you’re not sure what order to put them in. Do a quick afterimage check ala Albers.

Another time to try this test is when you plan to use a bright color and a muddy color in a cane.  If the value of  two colors next to each other are too close they will blend together. This may not be what you want. Its easy to think the muddy color is darker than it really is so do a quick check to determine if it really is darker or if the two colors are too similar in value to work in your design.

Its also easy to be fooled by colors with white in them. Sometimes a tinted purple will appear to be lighter than a pure yellow green. Just because it has white in it doesn’t mean its lighter than a color without white. Do the afterimage check.

The test is not as easy as it looks. It takes some practice to see the afterimage as lighter or darker than the surrounding color. Area C is often very saturated and glowing and that can throw you off. But with practice you will be able to sort through a whole stack of colors and get them into a smooth run from light to dark.

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De Kooning – The Beauty of Ugliness

Women, Wind and Window II 1950

“I’d like to get all the colors in the world into one painting.”    Willem de Kooning

I grew up surrounded by paintings done by mom and dad. One of my favorites is a large canvas that still hangs over the mantle in the living room. It was painted by my dad in the late 60′s. At some point in grade school, I can’t remember exactly when, I asked him about it. That was the first time I heard the name Willem de Kooning.

Woman Sag Harbor 1964

I have to admit that I never really liked de Kooning’s paintings, especially the later works. The colors seem so garish. The images so – well – ugly.  The paint seemingly applied haphazardly. The work apparently unfinished.

In art history classes I learned that de Kooning is considered one of the most important painters of the 20th century –  a leader in the Abstract Expressionist movement and a master of dynamic, gestural, action painting.  How could something I considered ugly be Art with a capital “A”?

During one of the forums at the opening of the Terra Nova show in October, the director of the Racine Art Museum, Bruce Pepich, asked the audience of polymer artists to consider the difference between “pretty” and “beautiful.”

Pepich and Lena Vigna, the curator for the polymer show, suggested that something “ugly” could be beautiful but never pretty and dared us to stop making pretty things and start making beautiful things. I’m still absorbing this difficult idea.

The recent major MoMA retrospective of de Kooning’s work and the invitation from the Xanudu Gallery to join the virtual book group reading the 2005 Pulitzer prize winning biography de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan came at just the right time.

I’m going to read the book and spend some time going through the decades of de Kooning images on the MoMA site.  I’m hopeful that this will give me some insights into where his art came from, some idea of why he is one of my father’s influences, and a better appreciation for the beauty of ugliness.

MoMA: de Kooning Retrospective
To register for the book webinar: Xanadu Virtual Book Group
The Art Story: The Life and Work of de Kooning

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I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” MLK

Today we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My daughter sent this photograph via Facebook.  She knew I would appreciate it on many levels.

First, because its crayons. Remember when Crayola changed the name of Flesh to Peach? It was 1962.

Second, because its a holiday we celebrate in many special ways every year at our inner city church in NE Portland. The gospel choir raises the rafters.  We announce the two MLK awards given every year to someone from the congregation and to a community group who “walks the talk” of  social justice. We are historically an African-American church so there is deep meaning at the end when the whole church quietly sings “We Shall Overcome” swaying hand in hand. Its a moving reminder that we still have a long way to go toward justice, equality and peace in our world and it always brings tears to my eyes.

And finally, on a more playful level, she knew I would appreciate it because my sci-fi geekiness loves that it came from George Takei of the Starship Enterprise.  Thanks, Mon.

Posted in Color Commentary | 1 Comment

Saturday School: Metric Redux on Pasta Machine Settings

Addendum:  Sage Bray from The Polymer Arts Magazine and I are collaborating on a Pasta Machine Thickness Guide. To help us collect the data we need, measure your pasta machine settings using either the playing card method or the metric stacking method and send us the information by filling out the online survey.

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There were lots of emails and comments flying back and forth last week about my suggestion for standardizing pasta machine settings. After weighing all the input, I decided to simplify my original idea and relabeled all my pasta machines with just THICK, MEDIUM and THIN settings based on the chart below.

The actual thickness standards did not change from last week so if you labeled your pasta machines last week the settings for THICK, MEDIUM and THIN are the same. What did change is the method of measuring the thicknesses.

Two cards = THIN setting.

The new chart includes both standard thicknesses for single sheets and for stacks of ten sheets. Since the majority of the world uses the metric system, the standards are in millimeters and the number of sheets stacked up is changed from the eight I used last week to ten. (Ten works better with the metric system.)

A few folks asked about using playing cards so I included a column with the number of playing cards at each setting, Stacking playing cards is not very accurate but would be a way to get close if someone did not have a pasta machine or a ruler!

If all teachers recommended labeling of pasta machines according to these standards then we would soon get a feel for sheets of each thickness. We just need to agree to a few standards so that teachers can use them in books, tutorials and workshops and students can feel confident they will get the right results.

Pasta Machine Labeling Project

1. Write down the numbers on your pasta machine dial on a sheet of scrap paper. Some pasta machines have only 6 settings, some as many as 9 settings.

2. Sheet a small piece of clay at the thickest setting and then cut it into 10 pieces.

3. Stack up the ten sheets and press gently together.

4. Measure and make a note of the width. In the illustration below my note would read, #1 – Ten Sheets = 25 mm in metric (1″)

#1 - 10 Sheets = 1"

#1 - 10 Sheets = 25 mm

5. Do the same with each of your pasta machine settings.

6. Identify the THICK, MEDIUM and THIN settings based on the sheets that come the closest to the dimensions on the chart. You will probably be a little bit plus or minus on either side of the standard. That’s OK. We are just trying to get in the ballpark.

7. Label your pasta machines. I use a file label.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Last week I included a Very Thick and Very Thin setting. I took these off the chart to make the point that we should only standardize settings that are available to everyone.

Once you find the three standard settings on your pasta machine(s), you can use all the other settings in your own work or in your studio. For example – very thick would be any setting that is thicker than your THICK setting. Very thin is any setting thinner than your THIN setting. Medium Thick would be a setting between MED and THICK etc.

I am planning to submit a post to Polymer Clay Daily about this idea and would love to get additional input before finalizing my proposal. Let me know what you think. Thanks!

Posted in Teaching Color | 15 Comments

Saturday School: Pasta Machine Standard Settings

After struggling to write the instructions for a new project, I realized how crazy it is that we do not have standard settings on pasta machines. We can’t just use the numbers because every pasta machine is different. Sometimes the thickest setting is #1, sometimes the thinnest setting is #1. Sometimes the thickest setting is over 1/8″ thick and sometimes it is closer to 1/16th”. This causes all kinds of problems in projects where the thickness of the sheet is critical to the technique.

I have a simple solution. Let’s standardize at least three settings  - call them “thick”, “medium” and “thin”  - and label our pasta machines.

1. Write down the numbers on your pasta machine dial on a sheet of scrap paper. Some pasta machines have only 6 settings, some as many as 9 settings.

2. Sheet a small piece of clay at the thickest setting and then cut it into 8 pieces. Line the pieces up, measure the width, and make a note of the width. In the illustration below my note would read, #1 = 1″ (24 mm in metric)

8 sheets = 1"

8 sheets = 24 mm









Why eight sheets? We could try to measure the thickness of just one sheet but this is difficult to do with any accuracy especially at the thinnest settings. Eight sheets gives us something to measure easily.

3. Do the same thing for all of the settings.

4. Once you have all the widths documented, identify these five settings -

Very Thick        8 sheets = More than 7/8″ (22+ mm)

Thick                8 sheets = 3/4″ – 7/8″ (19-22 mm)

Medium          8 sheets = 3/8″ – 7/16″ (10-11 mm)

Thin                 8 sheets = 3/16″ – 7/32″ (5 – 6 mm)

Very Thin         8 sheets = 1/8″ or less (3 mm or less)

5. Label the pasta machine. I just use a file label.

Not all pasta machines will have all five settings – this machine did not have a very thin setting and the thinnest setting was not even as thin as it should be. But in my experience, pretty much all pasta machines have settings that correspond to the middle three thicknesses.

I’d like to suggest that teachers start using just these three settings  - “thick”, “medium”, and “thin” –  and that all workshops start with students finding the numbers on their pasta machine that are closest to these settings.

You can of course use all your settings not just these three. I could, for example, say “Sheet the clay at your medium-thick setting.”  You would know to sheet it between your thick and medium settings.

If you have more than one pasta machine put labels on all of them. Here’s the chart for my four Atlas 150′s. As you can see they are all different.

I like to identify my pasta machines with a letter so that I can easily make notes when I’m working on a project. A is my motorized pasta machine. B is my old Atlas that I only use for its very thin setting, C and D are my traveling pasta machines.

With all the new pasta machines on the market the variations in thickness are extreme. The Dream Machine has a #1 setting where 8 sheets = well over 1″. Compare that to one of my Atlas 150′s where 8 sheets = 3/4″ and you can see how hard it is for artists spread out all over the world to get the same results. Standardizing the settings would make it much easier to teach/follow instructions and get consistent results no matter what pasta machine you are using!

Posted in Teaching Color | 14 Comments