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Learning about Color

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ColorSense by Susan Levin.

Sixth & Spring Books.

If you’ve ever been intimidated by the prospect of choosing colors that will look good together for a knitting project, ColorSense: Creative Color Combinations for Crafters by Susan Levin should help to give your more confidence.

It’s a book that’s short on words and mostly full of charts illustrating how different colors work together that can help you decide which colors will play together best in whatever crafty project you’re planning.

Not Just for Knitters

The book is really designed to help all creative types get a better handle on color; the same rules apply whether you’re designing a sweater, decorating a room, sewing a dress or plotting a jewelry design. Understanding how different colors work together and the different effects they create is important in the success of each of these projects.

The book opens with a brief primer on how colors are categorized (it uses the classic primary, secondary, tertiary system), what happens when you add white, black or gray and issues such as color value, tone, contrast, receding and advancing colors and a glossary of basic color terms.

Some of this is likely to go over the heads of people who don’t have a lot of experience working with colors, but the rest of the book makes it pretty simple to understand.

Another interesting part of this introduction is the discussion of proportion. Levin suggests that crafters use a two-thirds to one-third ratio when working with two colors in a project, with the main color taking up about two-thirds of the project and the secondary color one-third.

When adding a third color, she says it should take up only about 5 percent of the total. Of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is something for people who aren’t that comfortable with color to use to up their odds of producing a pleasing palette.

How the System Works

ColorSense is not just a book; it’s actually a system that makes choosing pleasing colors much easier for people without an art school training. The book comes with a cardboard color wheel that includes all the primary, secondary and tertiary colors, further divided into the pure color and a range of tints and shades.

The wheel has a series of triangles, rectangles and squares on a spinning circle. To find colors that go well together, first choose one color and align the star on one side of one of the geometrical figures with that color. Then just look at the other sides of the figure for colors that will look good with it.

If you want a lighter or darker version of the color, you can choose one of the tints or shades and use the color in the same position on the other color you’ve chosen to make them all blend well.

The bulk of the book is made up of two-page spreads showing how different color combinations work, including monochromatic schemes, two-color, three-color and four-color combinations. One page shows the colors in their pure form, as a tint and as a shade, while the other page shows tints, saturated colors, shades and mixed values combined in squares with no background or circles with a white background, gray background or black background behind them.

Flipping through these pages you can see the huge range of differences when different tones of color are used together or when they’re placed on a different background.

Using the System in Real Life

Introductions to each section explain how to find the color combinations shown on the color wheel if you want practice developing your own sense of how to combine colors effectively. These pages also provide hints on easy color combining techniques, such as the fact that analogous colors -- those next to each other on the color wheel -- will always look good together.

This would be an interesting book if that were all there was to it, but this book becomes even more useful because it also contains perforated pages with a range of basic colors on them that corresponds to the colors on the color wheel, similar to what you’d find in a Pantone book but much bigger because there are fewer options.

This is handy if you’re thinking about colors for a project before you go to the craft store. You can look at the colors on the wheel and in the book and then play with the bigger swatches before you go to the store. Then take the final swatches with you to help you pick the perfect color of yarn (or fabric, bead, or whatever other material you need for your current crafting project).

The book also includes masking templates that you can use with the swatches to determine how different colors will look with different backgrounds.

Taken together, all the parts of this book provide a great system for learning more about, playing with and successfully using color, no matter what sort of craft you’re into.

Publication date: June 2008

Publisher’s website

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