How I began to learn about color

Christine Barnes

If you’ve heard me speak at a guild, you may remember that I began my life in color more or less by chance. I majored in design in college, but my only memory of color theory was a class where we painted a gray scale and made a color wheel out of construction paper. Hardly inspiring. While working for Sunset Books, I was asked to write a chapter on color for a decorating book. I said yes of course, hung up the phone, and had a major panic attack.

Then I called my artist uncle, David Barnes, who has lived in Mendocino on the northern California coast for more than 50 years. He taught color for decades, and over the next few weeks, I got a fantastic crash course in color. I mixed paint to create triads, split complements, and every other possible combination. He sent me materials from his teaching days, plus pages torn from magazines like Architectural Digest that illustrated different aspects of color. He taught me so much more, but most important was this: success with color is more about practice than talent. True, some of us are born with a knack for choosing and combining colors. But practice becomes experience, and with experience you can develop a keen sense of color. Yes, you can do color!

That was more than a few years ago, and I’ve learned so much about color through making quilts and from teaching all of you. I bring it up because I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my aunt and uncle, and what he creates continues to motivate me. Here’s one of his non-representational paintings, one of my favorites:     1 painting 1The owl below was carved from one (yes, ONE) piece of wood. That is, the legs, feet, and body form are integral to the base, not carved separately and attached. (I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that was.) He did carve the feathers individually and attach them to the body. It took about five years to complete, working off and on.3 owl5 owlBack to the present. Of course you can’t go to Mendocino without a trip downtown. These images were taken midday, and the light was harsh, but they give you a feel for this artists’ colony. I like gates and fences. Here’s “new wood.”10 wooden gateAnd here’s weathered wood. I love, love, the colors and textures.14 weathered woodThis pic of quaking grass, also called rattlesnake grass, was taken earlier in the year in the Mendocino Botanical Gardens, but I think it’s a lovely example of complementary yellow-green and red-violet. Inspiration really is everywhere. (One year at Asilomar, I had three students from Japan. The quaking grass was “quaking,” and when I showed it to them, they happily told me it grows in Japan!)quaking grass croppedMendocino has so many charming B&Bs. This one caught my eye because the trim is the color of the sky.18 B&BMy three favorite shops are The Great Put On—Art to Wear; Gallery Bookshop; and the Mendocino Yarn Company. If you knit, crochet, or felt, you MUST go to this shop on Albion Street. Annelle, the owner, is so helpful, and I the selection of yarns is wonderful.Mendo yarn shop croppedI just had to have this new colorway of Gina yarn. Color therapy comes in many forms, yes? I see a pullover tunic/vest in my future, with a little help from my friends Dee and Ginger, two awesome designer knitters.yarn on walk croppedThanks for “going to Mendocino” with me. May your Christmas be merry and bright, and if you’re lucky, white!

6 thoughts on “How I began to learn about color

  1. Lovely Blog Christine! Just wish that successful experience came easier with LESS practice….. but that is the journey and the joy to keep creating with YOUR inspiration for all of us strugglers!

  2. Thanks, Kari! Yes, it does take practice and experimentation, and the old adage that we learn by our mistakes (I like to call them detours on the path to success) is true. But some of those mistakes are so much fun 🙂 You are certainly brave in all your creative endeavors—I love seeing what you do!

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