In this research, I will look at the work of a range of textile artists and designers and consider the way in which they control colour in their designs; and whether they have a ‘signature’ use of colour.
Marie O’Connor was one of my previous research subjects so I will not repeat that work, but will analyse a couple of her artworks/designs.
Marie O’Connor. No titles for work given on artist’s website.
This artist uses colour in an amusing and bold way: to define forms and patterns that sometimes entirely obfuscate the wearer of her clothing (example above). The top artwork shows repetitions, and a mixture of real objects and two-dimensional shapes which find echoes in each other, but toy with the viewer’s perception of what is in front of them.
Marie seems to use predominantly black and white, but in some of her work both chromatic and pale, muted tints are added to the palette. The backgrounds (as shown in the images above) constitutes a large proportion of the colour, with the small, distinct, colourful forms highlighted by it. The colours are, on the whole (her digital work being the exception), distinct and separate, rather than being blended. Red seems to be a small, but prominent ‘highlight’ in a number of the designs. I think that her use of colour in her clothing is successful in redefining the perceived shape of the body, and in re-directing the focus of the viewer. In her artwork, it leads the eye over the work, trying to find patterns, repetitions and variations of colour and form. I feel that the colour and design are interdependent: the artworks and clothing would not have the impact that they do without each other.
Eduardo Paolozzi formed the company, Hammer Prints Ltd, with fellow artist, Nigel Henderson in 1954. They designed textiles, wallpapers, ceramics and homewares until 1975. Designs were based on a variety of sources, such as:- Victorian transfer prints, botanical and marine illustrations, wood rubbings and children’s artwork. Designs (eleven or more) were silk screened onto the textiles, papers and other objects.
Eduardo Paolozzi, Hammer Print Textile, Portobello
Source:- https://www.nationalgalleries.org/object/GMA A40/7/13
Eduardo Paolozzi, and Nigel Henderson, Hammer Prints, Screen printed cotton twill furnishing fabric, Barkcloth, c 1954
The Hammer Prints designs illustrated here, are complex and detailed. I think that the artists chose simple colour palettes to accentuate the modernity of the artwork, and also because it is suited to the silk screen printing process. The company was working at a time when pop culture and mass production were being embraced. Other textiles and wallpapers that I have seen, designed by these artists, might be printed onto a coloured background (green or red or brown), but the modern, graphic feel, that is their ‘signature’ remains the same.
The Portobello pattern has more of the grey background fabric, balanced against a more sparse white pattern. It looks ‘softer’ and gives the eye more of a chance to rest and investigate the individual motifs in the pattern. The Barkcloth pattern has a much more equal distribution of white and black, giving an intense, overall pattern. I feel that the colours chosen are ideal for the designs: any greater number of colours would have taken away from the pattern and striking impact of the designs. I think that the design is dominant over the colour in these pieces: I think they would be adaptable to a number of colour combinations: red and white, or yellow and black, for example.
Voyage Decoration is a company that sells luxury wall paper, wall art, and textiles for soft furnishings.
Voyage Decoration, Myanmar Samui curtain fabric, 100% silk/embroidery
This gorgeous textile is an embroidered silk design with medium and light muted greens contrasting with muted purples and pinks, with just a touch of orange/red to give a spark of liveliness; and the dark eye of the peacock feather adding another focal point. This range seems to be inspired by both Asian embroidery and crewel work. There are five colour variations for the textile: some are paler and appear to have more analogous palettes with fewer contrasts giving a more subtle and restful appearance. The textile featured here has a balance of light and dark colours, and green and pink/purple giving a varied and lively feel, which I find very successful. Because the colour palette can be varied so much with this design and still work successfully, I think that the design is dominant.
Voyage Decoration, Country 3 – Hedgerow – Autumn, 53% linen, 47% cotton print
This design features 10 or more colours in the palette. I think that it must be a digital print derived from original art work. When seen in the repeat on their website, this pattern has waves of colour: autumnal shades of reds, greens and browns, contrasting with areas of soft pinks and misty purples. These colours are set on an off-white background, which, I feel, gives the fabric a vintage/cottage chic vibe. Regarding their signature use of colour: the company has a number of different collections: some have more formal patterns with a focus on texture and a limited colour palette. But many of the prints have a painterly look to them, with lots of blended colour that reminds me of watercolour paintings. I think that their use of multiple colours in the palette of a textile, like the one illustrated here, works well in making a product that will mix and match with a wide variety of other textiles, wall papers and furnishings. The design of this piece is as important as the colour: the images of autumnal subject matter requires a certain colour palette, although the pink/purple areas are unusual in a more traditional autumn palette of reds, greens, browns, oranges etc.
Marimekko is a Finnish design company, founded in 1951. The company sells clothing, accessories, textiles and tableware.
Maija Isola for Marrimekko, Pieni Unikko 2, printed cotton
This four-colour, smaller flowered, version of the Marrimekko iconic textile designed in the 1960s, Unikko (poppy), is bold, fun and joyful in its simplicity of design with a bright, contrasting use of colour. Five other colour variations are available (although, I personally prefer this one). The company seems to favour limited palettes of contrasting colours, or monochrome (black and white) treatments of the designs. In this design, one colour (the two shades of pink) dominates, but is offset and accented by the golden yellow and black and white background. I think that the colour and design are interdependent (although other colour variations exist, this variation is still on their best sellers list).
Aino-Maija Metsola for Marrimekko, Tuppura, printed cotton
This design has a palette of 8 colours and comes in three colour variations, one greys/pinks and another darker values (greys/blues/khaki/pink/red). It is one of the new designs on the website and is reminiscent of folk art paintings. It has a higher number of colours in the palette than other textiles on their website. Again, the shapes that make up the design are coloured in bold, flat colour, with the small overlaps forming new colours, but there is no blurring of colour. The strongly contrasting dark blue background makes the lighter colours more vibrant. Different values of reds (red, pinks, peach), blues (dark blue, and denim blue) and yellowish browns fight it out with the strong stripes and florals of the design, making the design and colour palette interdependent.
Mary Katrantzou – is a Greek-born designer of womenswear with a focus on digital print. She has an interest in the way that printed textiles can be made to change the shape of a woman’s body.
Mary Katrantzou, Theia Dress, Look 4 Spring/Summer 2017
This dress features strong contrasts of orange and purple, with a printed pattern inspired by classical Greek imagery in black, white, brown and golden yellow. The use of digital print allows a wide palette, but the effect seen from a distance is of an orange dress with purple arms and black pattern. I think the use of unusual patterns, digitally printed in contrasting palettes such as red and blue, with black is this designer’s signature.
Mary Katrantzou, Look 17 Spring/Summer 2017
This striking outfit consists of a polo-neck, long-sleeved top printed in black, white and yellow, with a ?perspex chain-mail dress over the top. The chain-mail dress has subtle patterns printed in shades of brown and black, with an orange ‘hem’. The see-though aspect of the dress allows the bright top (and the wearer’s body) to show through, adding another layer of interest to the look.
Some of the pieces in the designer’s collection have a 1960s, psychedelic feel to them; some have Bridget Rileyesque op art effects. The collection is quite varied as to colour palettes and proportions of colours used, as can be seen in the two examples here. The first outfit has more plain, bold areas of colour, whereas the second outfit has overlapping, clashing patterns and materials. So I find her work hard to make generalisations about. I think that her use of clashing colours and patterns, combined with the digital printing gives the clothing a modern, young feel to it. I think that this is another case of colour and design being interdependent.
Wallace Sewell is a UK company featuring the work of designers: Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell. They design accessories such as scarves, and textiles which are used in furnishing and even on public transport seating. Their work is inspired by Bauhaus paintings.
An example of a Bauhaus painting.
László Moholy-Nagy, K VII 1922, Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Wallace Sewell silk scarves inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe artworks, for Tate Modern, 2016
The designers have analysed the work of artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, (in a way that I feel is very relevant to the coursework I am about to undertake), and have used her colour palettes and proportions of colours used, as inspiration for their scarves. Looking at the scarf on the top left of the image above, there seem to be 10 – 12, or more, different colours woven as either weft (greens, blues, black) or warp (reds, pinks, browns) in the scarf, and these form stripes of colour that yield more subtle variations where they cross. At a first glance, blue and red are in the largest proportions, with touches of green, pale yellow and brown providing contrast and variety. Although the colours are kept in distinct lines within the textile, there is a great deal of interplay where they intersect, and in the proportions of each colour used. The designers’ signature is stripes, checks and/or blocks of colour. Personally, I prefer the colour palette shown on the scarf at right above, as the left hand one is too busy for my taste (with the muted reds, blues, greens, black and yellow all vying for attention.)
Wallace Sewell, Barcelona Stripe Cushion, 50% wool/50% cotton
The larger image of a cushion on their website appears to consist of a palette of six autumnal shades, forming stripes and blocks of colour. In some areas the warp and weft are different colours giving rise to subtle variations of mixed/marled colour providing further variations from the original palette. Ochre and reddish brown dominate the earthy palette, with small highlights of red, black, grey and pink. I think the use of colour in this piece is very successful and works well with the design. I am sure that the colours could be varied with other palettes (for example blues, or greens, or pastel tints, or monochrome blacks, greys and whites), so I think that the tonal design is more important than the colour.
Cole & Sons – design and manufacture wallpaper and wall coverings. They were founded in 1875. Their archive comprises around 1,800 block print designs, 350 screen print designs, many original drawings and wallpapers, representing styles from the 18th – 20th centuries. Their collection is historically important, containing designs used in both Buckingham Palace and The Houses of Parliament.
Cole & Sons, Caledonia, Eriskey wall covering, river grass fibres set onto dark slate background
This highly textured wall covering features a natural grass with all its variations in colour (and shape) highlighted by the dark slate background. A very simple colour palette, relying on just two colours (although there is a variation in the shades of brown in the grass). The designer has used roughly equal proportions of brown to dark grey. I really love this combination and think that the blue grey of the background perfectly accentuates the warm browns of the natural material. I think that colour works perfectly and is an integral part of the design.
Cole & Sons, Whimsical, Punchinello wallpaper
This simple diamond pattern, evoking associations with the harlequin costume, has been rendered in six colour palettes by Cole & Sons. The version illustrated here has seven colours, with the shades of turquoise/sea greens closely situated on the ‘colour wheel’, the warm, pale greys and the dark grey giving a marked contrast, but no vivid colour clashes. In this variation, the dark grey dominates, with the greens next in proportion, and finally the pale greys. It gives a restful colour combination, despite the geometric pattern. The design works equally well in other palettes, so I feel that it is more important than the colour palette.
This company has numerous collections, with many of the wall coverings in subtle, ‘liveable’ colours such as muted greys, greens, blues, creams etc. There is usually a vivid and interesting ‘feature’ design that would probably be used on one wall only, in a room. Their signature use of colour seems to me to be a mixture of traditional and modern (‘something for everyone’), but with subtle colour palettes that can be enlivened with bright, ‘eccentric’ patterns with vivid colour palettes by those who like them. The colour palettes are made to mix and match, with some examples showing the top half (of a wall) in one wallpaper, divided from a different, but matching pattern below, with a border strip, again in matching colours. This method allows customers to produce many variations from a set of colour co-ordinated options.
Norma Starszkowna is a Scottish-born textile artist, now living and working in London. She is renowned for her exploration of printing and dyeing techniques, and for her politically-inspired textile works.
Norma Starszakowna, Hinterland, 2004, 18 panels, with digital print, hand painting and embossing on silk organza
The artwork was commissioned for display in the Scottish Parliament.
Norma has used colour to represent her own interpretation of Scottish history. For example, the colours of blue, green and brown represent sea and landscapes; and more abstract connections are made, with the bright colours standing for education, science, medicine, etc. The colour has therefore been given an emotional and/or literal connection with its subject matter. She has been able to produce a wide range of colours in the artwork by using digital reproduction techniques. The colour seems to be intimately entwined with the design of this piece.
Norma Starszakowna, Diasporas, 2005, Screen printed silk organza, heated treated latex rubber
The artist focuses on the textural effects that can be achieved by the dyeing and printing processes that she uses. This piece, investigating the history and memories embedded in walls and buildings, has a subtle background palette of muted and blended areas of pink, brown and black, evoking the subject matter. A bright highlight of red draws the eye and mimics a pamphlet nailed to a wall (one of her childhood memories). Graffiti-like words and cracks or lines, can also be seen. The artist works with colours linked to her memories and to the actual subject matter (walls, in this case). The signature use of colour seems to be layering and blending, sometimes with a distinct highlight of pure colour, as seen in the piece above. Of the artworks I have seen, the artist seems to tend towards an earthier palette of browns, greys and blacks, with some red. The colour and subject matter/design is interdependent in this piece.
Paul Smith – is a British designer, who opened his first shop in 1970. His designs are described on the company’s website as “unmistakable Englishness augmented by the unexpected”, and include garments for men, women and children, and household goods.
Paul Smith, Women’s ‘Wildflower’ Print Cotton Shirt, current collection
The design of poppies, cornflowers and buttercups is rendered in a palette of triadic primary colours: red, yellow and blue, set against a white background. On closer inspection, small proportions of pink, orange and purple are included. The colour is used in a realistic way and is integral to the design. Personally, I prefer the design seen in close-up detail, because it all blends (optically mixes) when seen at a distance. Enlarging the pattern would overcome that effect.
Paul Smith, Boys’ 7+ Years Wool-Cashmere Striped Beanie Hat, current collection
Perhaps best known for his striped shirts, the designer continues his signature stripes using seven colours of yarn in this hat. It features a complementary colour clash between red and green, with a mixture of primary (yellow), secondary (green and purple) and tertiary colours (eg, dark turquoise), and some muted colours (such as the green). This makes for a visually interesting mixture, leaving the eye jumping from light to dark tones to vivid clashes of colour. The interaction between the colours leads you to think that there are more colours than actually appear in this garment. The varying width of the stripes allows for optical mixing of the thin stripes, adding to the illusion. There is yet another interaction between the cool (light grey, dark turquoise) with the warm (red, yellow, brown) colours in the palette. I think that this design and colour palatte are interdependent and very successful.
Vlisco – was founded in 1846 in The Netherlands. It designs, produces and sells textiles, predominantly to Central and West Africa. The company (and its sister companies) have 2,700 employees, (900 in The Netherlands and 1800 in Africa). The company encourages its customers to name some of the textiles and to share their stories related to the company’s textiles. The company calls colour its “obsession”, with indigo being their most important dye. Also, “…colour is an integral part of our craft, which fuses with design to create wonderful optical illusions and eye-catching new looks. The combinations we use can entirely alter the appearance of one design creating several new visual designs.”
Vlisco, One Nation textile, embellished wax fabric, 100% cotton
This printed textile mimics traditional batik textiles. The symbols are iconic Vlisco designs and are surprisingly large in scale. A dress featuring the textile, shows just three of the figures on the front of it. The colour palette features analagous green and turquoise blues, paired with muted ochre yellow and black. Small proportions of indigo blue and white are seen in close-up. The’grey’ at the front of the plinths is made up of tiny dots of black on a white ground (more optical mixing). I find this design quite fascinating and different to traditional European textiles: the large ‘realistic object’ motifs and batik-like patterns with strong contrasts, are what I think accounts for this. I feel that the design dominates this textile, and the colour palette is secondary.
Vlisco, L’Oignon, 100% cotton, printed textile
The vibrant colour palette uses three shades of yellow contrasted with black and white. The signature ‘crackle effect’ is present in the diagonally placed patches of colour in the background (white paired with one of two shades of yellow) forming a subtle background pattern to offset the bold black and white ‘onion’ motifs in the design. The proportions show more of the yellows, followed by black, then white. At a distance, the eye sees the black motifs and solid areas of golden yellow, then the ‘batik’ areas with white and yellow can be seen as diagonals forming a secondary pattern in the design. The design is the more important feature of the textile, with a second choice of colour palette of pinks/purples and black being available. I think that this palette of yellows with black is the more successful of the two, as it shows greater tonal contrast.
Ptolemy Mann – This designer set up her studio in 1997. She designs and makes wall art, housewares and furnishing textiles. Her signature use of colour is based on hand dyeing and weaving.
Ptolemy Mann, Ikat Lampshade (Gold, Teal Drum), current collection
This textile-covered lampshade appears to consist of yellow and teal in equal proportions, separated by a thinner greyish-white band. On close inspection it can be seen that each colour is made up of streaks of pure and muted colours (for example the white-grey area contains warm chromatic grey (pinkish) mixed with white, and cool (bluish) chromatic grey). I think that this design has been digitally printed, and mimics (as its name suggests) the woven texture of Ikat weaving, (in which the yarns are tie-dyed before weaving). The subtle colour mixing gives a secondary pattern to the design and brings more interest to the piece than plain stripes alone.
Ptolemy Mann, Circle #08 / 2011 / 60cm Diameter
Ptolemy’s hand-woven artwork in the Ikat tradition features strong stripes of colour with the typical feathered overlap where the yarn changes colour. She has used rich, warm, saturated oranges and pinks (in the same quartile of the colour wheel), contrasting with dark, cool purple, black and greys. Personally, I very much like this colour combination and feel that the contrasts play off against each other well, while not overpowering the feathered sections. The largest pink section has more subtle colour variations with the warm, dark value in the centre transitioning to a cooler, darker violet at the bottom. I think that the design dominates this piece, with the tonal contrasts being more important that the colour palette used.
Kaffe Fassett is an artist and designer, whose work in painting, knitting, patchwork, and textile design is world-renowned. Handling vibrant colour palettes and designing vivid patterns is his métier.
Kaffe Fassett, GP158 Rolled Paper Fabric Design in Black and Pastel variations, Fall 2016 Collection
This design comes in six different palettes, all evoking different moods, and getting the most out of a single design, as it will appeal to a range of customers with their different end uses for the textile. Each fabric contains 8 colours, including the background. The designer has worked here with strong triadic contrasts in different values. The result is an exciting, fun combination that will mix and match with many other textiles in a patchwork quilt, for example. His signature use of colour is to use a fairly large palette (I have counted 7+ in the fabrics of his that I own) of contrasting colours, sometimes scattered uniformly over the pattern, as in the example here. In other designs, much larger, bolder motifs are used, but still with a large palette of complementary colours. The design can then be varied with a different proportion of a main hue, or a different saturation or value of palette to form several variants.
Kaffe Fassett, GP128 Chard, in Autumn variation, Fall 2012 Collection
This is one of my favourites of his fabric designs, featuring large proportions of orange and violet in different levels of saturation, with chocolate brown and golden yellow. The orange and purple secondary colours provide an (almost) complementary contrast. The muted mauve background recedes, while the vibrant large areas of colour on the leaves and stalks advance. There is a strong tonal contrast. This design is available in five colour palettes, so I think that the design is more important than the colours used: however, Kaffe’s colour choices are, I think, particularly successful.
Two short YouTube videos of Kaffe’s thoughts about colour and design can be found here:-
Summary: What can I learn from these artists about their use of colour palettes and how to control colour in a design?
The same design can be rendered in different colour palettes, giving a different mood and feel to the textile. Colours may reflect changing fashions (with reference to trendforecasting); the seasons; colours found in the natural world; different cultures; modern or traditional outlooks; different emotions, etc.
Marie O’Connor – A wide range of colours (from bright primaries to pastel values) can be combined. Colour can bring focus onto a particular form in the composition. A black, grey or white background makes the colours ‘pop’ and unifies the whole arrangement.
Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson – a complicated and detailed design may be more striking with a simple palette. White or black can be used against a variety of backgrounds to change the impact of a piece.
Voyage Decoration – unexpected colours (eg, pink and purple in an ‘autumn’ palette can make the design more adaptable in use. The same design can look quite different in mood in a paler, simpler palette.
Marimekko – I find this company’s designs very appealing, with their combinations of bold, bright, flat colour combined with simple shapes and patterns.
Mary Katrantzou – explore clashing patterns and bold colour palettes. Digital print allows a larger range of colours in the palette, compared to traditional techniques such as weaving or printing.
Wallace Sewell – I like their use of simple patterns in woven textiles (stripes and blocks of colour), and admire the chenille cushion range in particular. I am less keen on the muted, muddy colours (chromatic greys) and clashing colour schemes in some of their pieces. The woven textile allows for optical mixing of colours where the warp and weft cross.
Cole & Sons – use of natural materials; ‘mix and match’ patterns and palettes; inspiration from a variety of modern and traditional sources.
Norma Starszakowna – linking colour to feelings and memories, evoking subject matter with realistic colour palettes. Exploration of layering and blending subtle colour palettes, with a bright highlight to draw the eye of the viewer.
Paul Smith – use of optical mixing, using different proportions of colour; mixing warm and cool, light and dark, primary, secondary and tertiary colours. Taking care with which colours are next to each other in a design.
Vlisco – use a colour paired with white to produce a ‘lighter’ area using the same colour palette. Consider scale in the design (eg large motifs or areas of colour); using strong contrasts in colour (black and white with another colour).
Ptolemy Mann – pay attention to tonal contrast within a design. A bold design (stripes, for example) can have more subtle secondary patterns.
Kaffe Fassett – be inspired by design motifs to be found all around you. The same design can be rendered in a variety of colour palettes to achieve a different outcome and ‘mood’ to the fabric. A large palette can produce a striking and vibrant design, however, some muted tones provide a restful contrasting background, or place for the eye to pause in an otherwise bright design.
Hornung, D. and James, M. (2012) Colour: A workshop for artists and designers: A workshop for artists and designers. 2nd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing
Stevenson, F. and Steed, J. (2012) Basics textile design: Sourcing ideas: Researching textures, colors, structures, surfaces and patterns. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA.
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