The Colour of Shadows

As we head towards the Winter Solstice, our rather limited daylight here in Scotland has rather surprisingly been a source of colour inspiration to me.

In June 2010, philosopher and art historian, Dr.George Roque read his paper, Chevreul at the Gobelins: The discovery of the law of similtaneous contrast of colours and its consequences, to the Colour Group (GB) in Paris.  Unfortunately I missed the presentation but have been sent a publication,  Chevreul’s Colour Theory and its Consequences for Artists,  written by Dr.Roque which is based on the paper he presented in Paris.

He writes at length about the French chemist, Michel Chevreul who famously published Chemical Researches on Animal Fats in 1823 before being appointed Director of the dyeing department at Gobelins Manufacture in Paris.

Dr. Roque explains that it was due to queries from the weavers at Goblins about the intensity of certain black wool samples that led Chevreul to discover perceived colour, say grey for example, varies depending on the colour it is placed next to. He realised this change in colour was not a chemical change but a psychophysiological change. After intensive research into contiguous colours Chevreul came up with his famous Law of Simultaneous Contrast.

I’ve redrawn the illustration that Chevreul and Dr.Roque used to demonstrate this point. The two grey rectangles on the left are exactly the same colour and the two greys on the right are the same as each other. However, you will notice that when the two different greys are placed next to each other the light grey appears lighter and the dark grey appears darker. Our brains are exaggerating the difference between the two greys.

This demonstrates that colours change their perceived lightness but Dr.Roque goes on to explain that Chevreul also noticed that when two hues were placed next to each other, their hue appeared to change.

Chevreul was aware of complementary colours so he applied the same logic – if the brain exaggerates the difference of lightness between two contiguous shades then  two hues will also strengthen their differences and look as different as they can. Below you will see the red and green in the centre look stronger than they do when they are isolated.

Chevreul’s discovery was of huge significance to artists, textile designers, wallpaper manufactures and artists. Artists such as Delacroix, Monet, Pissarro, Seurat, Van Gogh now had a psychophysiological “tool” to use to help them to strengthen the colours in their work.

If you wish to read more on this fascinating subject, you may want to read Art et Science de la Couleur by Dr.Roque but for now I will get round to the point I was initially going to make about our winter light (or lack of it!).

Artists armed with this new knowledge were able to use colours in completely new and exciting ways. It also led on to the understanding that shadows were not actually normally black or grey. We now know that shadows are the complementary colour of the light source hitting an object so in outdoor landscapes, the yellow sun light will cast a violet shadow (yellow’s complementary colour) – the French Impressionists were the first to really take this on board.

Finally, I arrive at my point. I have been looking at shadows in the past week and capturing some of the violet-greys which are cast. I plan to use some of these natural violets in some textiles I am currently working on. I will also be thinking a lot about Chevreul’s Law and attempting to create some “accidental” colours which are only visible due to psychophysical reasons –  an area that really intrigues me as it gives colour a whole new dynamic……and I’ve not even mentioned colour vibration yet…..its hardly surprising that so many people are fascinated with colour around the world is it?

Shapes from an Industrial Landscape

Someone asked me a pretty valid question yesterday, “why is it that you often write about the colours you find on beaches, hills and forests on your blog, yet your textiles are highly chromatic and inspired from an industrial landscape?”

Actually, the answer is pretty simple. Shapes emerge from industrial structures  which are bold and graphic – shapes which look comfortable in highly saturated hues.

It’s difficult to walk past such obvious patterns, especially during the Winter months when our low sun creates such long and obvious shadows.

The tangle of pipes and tubes look precious not ugly in late afternoon sun,

and the facades of warehouses look like a complex weave,

Living in a city, I see shapes like these every day but I also know that we all must escape the constant city shapes and immerse ourselves in the organic patterns and broken hues of the natural world, equally inspiring but sometimes less obvious for translating into textiles but an environment I am having fun with for my next range.

What landscapes inspire you?


Made in Britain

How important is it to you to buy products which have been grown or manufactured in your own country? Surely it’s a good way to get people back to work, instil some national pride and cut down on our carbon foot print?

Earlier this year I decided to produce a range of home wares and I was determined to design and manufacture them here in Great Britain. The first designs are a set of kitchen textiles which I think have architectural overtones. I am well aware that the market is awash with decorative kitchen textiles but I was keen to produce something for the contemporary kitchen – my designs can’t be described as pretty, and a friend actually thought they were quite masculine but I was pleased with that, it’s what I intended!

The designs are all screen printed – a long process but the best process for obtaining vibrant colours and colours that stay truer for longer. Digital printing is fine for some things but as it’s strong flat colour that interests me, screen printing was the answer (all the inks are water based causing minimal environmental impact). I decided to print onto linen union because the texture and slubs you find on linen gives the product more character.

So, they are designed and printed in Great Britain (including the brand label which has been woven) but I have paid the cost of taking this route. I hope it works out (I could have had them printed abroad for a fraction of the cost) but it gives me immense satisfaction having them produced here in Great Britain – I hope it is important to buyers too. I thought it was interesting to see that a new Made in UK  logo is set to appear in our shops next year.

My retailers would prefer me not to display the textiles until they have the stock (by the end of the month) which is why I have only inserted a tiny image of my proofs above.

Below are some of the reasons why I like living and working in Scotland. Where do you live and why?

Dynamics of Metal Surfaces

Although it’s normally colour I look at, today I am taking a look at metals and their various properties.

I am currently working on a large semi derelict building which reeks of character and punches it’s industrial past at you straight between the eyes. The space will become an edgy new restaurant, its colour palette nodding to its industrial past (the decayed properties of the space make it very alluring ), but should also transport visitors to a new set of urban aesthetics. The building has attitude and the colours and surfaces must acknowledge this.

Our chosen colour palette may require some metallic “lift” so I need to consider various properties that metals can display. Polished metal  has a high light reflective value (LRV) an effect which is magnified when placed next to a dark colour. If for example a gold panel is hung on a black wall, the gold will appear particularly bright. The black wall will absorb light and the gold panel will reflect light so the gold’s will appear luminous in contrast to the black which is absorbing the light.

Placing a reflective metal on a dark background will  make the edges of the metal more defined and the metal will appear “contained”, smaller but very bright. If you place the gold panel on a white background however, the gold panel will appear larger because the gold will “spill” or “grow” onto the surrounding lighter surface.

I also need to consider the “temperature” of metals. Silver is “cooler” than gold although it can be “warmed up” if used next to black. However, place silver against white and its “temperature” drops like a stone.

Silver is also highly influenced by surrounding colours and will actively seek out and reflect other colours in the room – much more so than gold. The Tony Cragg sculpture below is reflecting an adjacent yellow sculpture – also a Tony Cragg piece – presumably the curator has positioned the sculptures carefully in order to create another interactive dimension to the art work.

So now I have considered some of the dynamic properties of metal, I can’t wait to mix them into the equation and use them to breath another dimension into the project – a project I hope to post more on in the coming weeks.