Finding your colours
Updated: Jul 15
Right now in the Netherlands the world is completely white, snow covered with sparkling snow crystals. And even though nature has tuned down it’s colours I thought it would be a great time to talk about colours and finding your colours to print with. I often get questions about the colours and combinations that I use. They are partly about the technical aspects of color mixing, partly about finding inspiration on using color. I’ll try to address both in this post.
You may have heard me say this before, but my earliest preferences for color may have their origins in going to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as a child with my grandmother. I most of all loved looking at the Golden Age painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt. I loved the warm, glowing and still somewhat muted colors that they used. Even though my taste in colors has evolved over the years and through many different influences and has become generally at bit brighter, I still always seek to muddy up my colors just a little bit. I almost never use colors straight out of the jar, and love to mix my own ink. Mixing blue for example with just a tiny bit of black to get a beautiful night blue and then maybe add a little bit of white to get a dustier shade of blue. I never use yellow without mixing in just a little bit of brown, to get to a warmer yellow or with a just a tiny bit more brown a rich ochre. For me green often needs a bit of brown too, or black and then maybe add some white, to get the beautiful greyish green of eucalyptus, or add a bit of yellow to get a more olive like tone. One of my top favourites: a dark teal is a mix of turquoise with quite a bit of black. And my favourite kind of orange is a burnt orange: orange mixed with some brown. I still do a lot of color experimenting with my textile inks and find that I still have a lot to discover.
Since I started working with textile inks I found that the pigments that are used in these inks work very differently compared to gouache (or water color) on paper that I was used to before I started fabric printing. The colors that I mix in my jar can be very different from the colors that come out on fabric. If I am mixing an ochre that looks brownish in the jar, it can be much more yellow on my fabric as the yellow pigments seem to be so much stronger than the brown ones. So when I’m mixing ink I test it all the time on the fabric, to get a good idea of the color.
Combining colors is even more fascinating: using just a little bit of a bright color can completely light up an otherwise dark and even dull print. Or the inverse: a print in a brighter color can become more interesting putting it against a dark or muddy color or by adding some darker colored details. Since I first started printing I have been even more intrigued than I was before by everything related to color and finding sources of inspiration everywhere. Apart from art which I mentioned, nature is obviously a huge inspiration. I sometimes use pictures as a starter to find color inspiration. There are lots of tools that can be used to extract colors from a picture digitally: I have sometimes used the color picker in Photoshop to extract colors from a picture and put together some palettes and I think there are quite a few apps that you can use in the same way, but I prefer to use my eyes and recreate from memory. I often find it hard to match a digital image which is always affected by the light from my device with real world colors and a hand mixed color.
There is a book called ‘Local color” by Mimi Robinson that I love looking at for inspiration. She has mapped the colors of different landscapes across the world at different times of the day in water color . When colors are natural and drawn from actual natural landscapes they go together so beautifully.
Another great source of inspiration are movies and tv series. I love mostly European (British and Scandinavian) programs, sometimes period dramas. There is so much attention these days to creating beautiful scenes. Creating them with interiors, costumes and natural scenes has become an art in itself. I often lose the plot because I’m too intrigued by the colors. Just looking at clothes, interiors and landscapes can give you so many ideas. Each scene can be like a picture where a dress against a wall creates a delightful color combination.
I also use inspiration that I come across on social media. I keep a color board on Pinterest that I sometimes refer to for new color ideas. And of course, as a regular Instagram user I come across some beautiful inspiration in my feed too. When I find a picture that is particularly interesting from a color point of view I use the little flag on the bottom right hand side of the picture to save it in my ‘Color inspiration’ collection.
And of course, for printing purposes I need to keep track of colors that I use, because I do want to be able to reprint the same pattern several times. For that I keep color swatches on fabric on which I describe the way I mixed the colors. Most bigger screen printing studios keep their recipes with the exact number of grams used for every mixed color, but I use very little ink with my stencil printing technique and therefore this doesn’t work so well for me. The quantities are simply too small, But knowing which colors I used can generally help me recreate them.
Maybe this has given you some ideas and I’m always curious to hear where you find your inspiration. The sources seem to be infinite.