Christine Barnes joins us again today to share her thoughts on the role of color and value in creating the illusion of depth and layering in quilts. Click here if you missed Part 1.
The adage is a bit overstated, but it’s true: We think first of color when planning a quilt, but value is often what makes a quilt successful, or not. In my second guest post, I’d like to show how this basic concept works in my quilts, and encourage you to consider it when working on your own quilt designs.
A bit of background: I majored in design at UC Davis, and I took a color class, but honestly, all I remember was painting a gray scale and making a color wheel out of construction paper. A few years later, when Sunset Books asked me to write a chapter on color for a decorating book, I had a full-blown panic attack. I recovered enough to call my uncle, a Mendocino artist who taught color for years. With intensive instruction from him, I learned not only about color, but that a “good color sense” is more about practice than talent. Fast forward to 2014, sixteen books later (four quilt books and twelve books for Sunset), and I am happily immersed in all things color and quilts.
Teaching workshops has taught me even more about color, especially the importance of value, the lightness or darkness of color.
Value has two important roles in quilt design: First, it creates a sense of depth. In piecing/patchwork, light values generally recede and dark values advance. The exception is appliqué, where shapes are applied to the surface. What’s on top will probably advance visually, no matter what the value. There are other exceptions, especially in the realm of art quilts.
Second, in a pieced quilt, value establishes the design. You read a dark star on a light background as a star shape because of the contrast in values. If the star and background fabrics were the same value, you’d never see the star.
Enough theory! Here are some quilts in which value does some of the work.
This early quilt, “Puss in the Corner on the Courthouse Steps,” shows how value establishes the design of a block and creates different planes of color. Light- and dark-value pieces make the sixteen-patch blocks read. The blocks advance because the strips surrounding them (blue-violet and orange) are darker in value than the striped background squares. True, the design plays a big part in creating the layered look, but the use of value is just as important. This quilt was inspired by Terry Atkinson’s “Tile Tango.”
Puss in the Corner by Christine Barnes.
“Brushed Metal” is an example of luster, the illusion of light sweeping across the surface. (See my previous post for two other lustrous quilts.) The easiest way to achieve this effect is with ombrés, fabrics that gradate in color and/or value. Here I oriented Serenity ombré strips so the light-value ends are on opposite edges of the blocks. Rather than a wash of light in one direction, the effect is more like light and energy flowing in both directions. Together, the three groups of fabrics—ombrés, Kaffe Fassett stripes, and Marcia Derse prints—are darker than the light-value sashing, making the blocks appear suspended.
Brushed Metal by Christine Barnes.
Another example of value creating depth is this four-block mock-up, “Colors of Kauai.” Bright Gelato ombrés and multicolored prints from the Kaffe Fassett Collective advance against the open pattern and preponderance of white in the background fabric. (I love and use ombrés so much that I carry them in my website Store. Talk about temptation!)
Colors of Kauai by Christine Barnes.
Shifting gears to a nonrepresentational quilt, “Earthscape,” I thought about value with every piece of fabric I considered. The upper areas are lighter in value, making them seem distant, while the lower areas read as foreground because they are darker. (The design lines of the fabrics also suggest foreground.) Elin Noble’s hand-painted fabrics are the real gems here—I call them “investment fabrics” because they are magical wherever you use them.
Earthscape by Christine Barnes.
In “Transparent Squares” the illusion of see-through color is all about value. For each block I used lighter and darker values of roughly the same colors (a light blue-green and a darker blue-green, for example). And I attempted to gather light-value fabrics with the same degree of lightness, and dark-value fabrics with the same degree of darkness. I call the effect in this quilt “layered transparency.” Check out my quilt “Galaxy,” which is an example of parent/child transparency, in the Gallery on my site. Value plays a big part in parent/child transparency, too. (The term, which describes the effect perfectly, was coined by Judi Warren Blaydon.)
Transparent Squares by Christine Barnes
And finally, here’s my latest quilt, “Swizzle Sticks,” so named for the narrow strips I inserted in each block. Again, the sashing is lighter, but in this quilt I wanted to link the blocks using another graphic element. The small four-patches did the trick, anchoring and connecting the blocks. From a distance I also see single diagonal chains that slip beneath the blocks.
Swizzle Sticks by Christine Barnes
Thank you, thank you for allowing me to share my quilts and thoughts on color. Please check out my website, where you can browse the Gallery and Store (books, patterns, fabrics), sign up for “Christine’s Color Connection” (a newsletter on color), follow me on Facebook and Pinterest, and access my series of color lessons on the Classrooms page of “The Quilt Show.” If you see me in the future—at a workshop, guild meeting, or quilt show—please say hello. And for your next quilt, make value “do all of the work”—and you take all of the credit!
Congratulations to Deborah M. the winner of all the goodies from Christine’s first post.
Until next time, happy creating!