In the Feb. 18, 2010 episode of Project Runway guest judge Tory Burch said “I’m not sure that blue and orange are that complementary, do you think so?” Heidi, Michael, and Nina (the show’s regular judges) agreed with her.

Maybe Tory meant “I’m not sure that blue and orange are that complimentary, do you think so?”

In either case she – and they – are wrong. And it irks me that fashion designers don’t take the time to understand how colors interact with one another.

Blue and orange are complementary: they visually complete each other. Blue and orange are also complimentary: conveying a compliment, something that is flattering.

I’ve run across so many people that should understand color, but don’t: interior designers, graphic designers, jewelry designers, painters, artists of all mediums. And now, the top fashion designers in the USA.

Color is absolutely critical to these professions — it can make or break a project. Color influences mood, decisions, behavior. It definitely influences how people spend (or don’t spend) money.

It’s shocking to me that these artists do not see the value of learning about color. Why wouldn’t artists want to expand their color knowledge (and possibly their income) to develop their mastery? It’s not hard, and it’s a lot of fun.

Leaving a BeadFest show I shared a shuttle van with another teacher and her assistant. They asked what I did and I told them I taught color. The assistant said “You should see [the teacher in the van]’s work – she’s great with color!” And they opened up many cases of her beadwork. It was all the same three pale colors used in combination. They were lovely combinations, not a thing wrong with them. But over and over the same combinations, the same degree of paleness, the same predictability. (I bet she doesn’t know that humans can see the most subtle shift in color, and can visually distinguish perhaps as many as 10 million colors.)

Years ago, before I’d published my color books, a very well-known bead author said to me “No one will want to spend time learning about color: there’s just not that much to learn. I know what works well together.” (By the way, after 40 years of doing so, I still study color on a regular basis and am still learning.)

I find many artists engaging in two severly limiting behaviors: operating under the the arrogant assumption that they know all there is to know about color, and limiting their work to a couple of combinations they feel safe with. They don’t risk anything. The price is that they don’t gain anything. There’s no personal voice singing through the work, you can see and feel the timidity of playing it safe. It’s mediocre. It’s boring.

As artists on a path of growth we start with the academics: theory and the color wheel. We learn the basics so we know how colors interact optically and impact us emotionally. Then we have the confidence to expand into our own voice, working intuitively and expressively on a solid foundation of learned knowledge. Then comes the magic. Then the mastery. Then the whole cycle all over again, many times, microcosmically and macrocosmically. A never ending, fun-filled journey, rich with rewards.

Congratulations and thank you, Dear Reader. You are not one of the folks blindly unconscious to the value of understanding color. You would not be reading this if you were!

Project Runway Judges: You are welcome to take any of my classes and learn about color with me. I can show you 50 ways to make the complementary colors blue and orange look fantastically complimentary. We did it in my Denver classes.

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