Sunday, March 1, 2015

Recognizing Your Color "Rut"...and Climbing Out of It!

Color is something that I'm very passionate about. You might remember from previous posts that my mom is a fiber artist. She always made a point of keeping me busy with creative projects, and because of that I learned color mixing before I could read. This doesn't mean that I don't struggle with color combinations from time to time! Like many people, I tend to get stuck in a color "rut" - using the same colors and combinations over and over again...

Here is what I recognize about my own color preferences:
  • jewel tones
  • bright colors as accents
  • black as the predominant neutral
  • ocean-y colors
  • contrasting palettes
  • saturated colors
  • a tendency to have color "crushes" - buying and using the same color or combination for at least 6 months
And I do have some color hangups...
  • monochrome - all one color 
  • monotone - all one saturation, nothing lighter or darker than the surrounding colors
  • white
  • red and yellow, other than as an accent
When I recognize I'm stuck in a rut (like my recent crush on turquoise/brown/rusty orange), I have a library of books that I reach for to inspire myself to try something different.  Today I'm going to share a few of my favorites with you! 

Wallace, Sandra. The Beader's Color Mixing Directory: 200 Failsafe Color Schemes for Beautiful Beadwork. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2007. Print.

If you have one basic bead color book, this is the one I recommend.  The first chapter of any book like this should be about color theory, and the nice thing about bead color books is that they will teach you about finishes, transparency, and other things that affect how the beads interact with each other visually.  Beyond the first chapter, this book is broken into themed pages of beaded color palettes, and each palette is also represented in percentages, so you can easily replicate the effect in other beads.  It's a prefect way to start thinking about what a mixture of beads will look like in a finished piece - because you have the beginning palette and the finished piece next to each other on the page.

Roza, Olga. An Eye for Color / Olga Gutiérrez De La Roza. New York, NY: Collins Design, 2007. Print.

Graphic design and art color books are also great tools for finding new color palettes.  I really like this one, because the author speaks about how her own eye for color developed over time and how to start developing your own.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard other beaders tear themselves down by saying "oh, I'm just really bad with color".  Your own color sense develops over time, and that's ok!  Trust me, my older work does not show the same color choices that I make now.  The best thing to do when you feel like you don't combine colors or beads well is to make test swatches to figure out what works well, what doesn't, and what you actually like...because that's most important.

Black, Alexandra. The Evening Dress. New York: Rizzoli, 2004. Print.

With my background in costume design, I have a large collection of clothing, costume history, and textile books.  This is one of my favorites.  Books like this are full of great photography, but also concept and design sketches, old advertisements, and closeups of textile details - all can be great sources for color inspiration.  

Imperatore, Cheryl, and Paul MacLardy. Kimono Vanishing Tradition: Japanese Textiles of the 20th Century. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2001. Print.

Here is another one of my favorite costume books...but I like this one for a different reason.  Other countries have completely different color aesthetics than what we're used to seeing in America.  I love this book with it's close up photography of Japanese textiles because the way they combine colors is so different than how I do.  It makes me think about color, about why these combinations work, and how I can design with similar palettes, but in my own style.  

Lanting, Frans, and Christine K. Eckstrom. Life: A Journey through Time. Cologne: Taschen, 2006. Print.

Nature photography books make up the largest part of my inspiration library.  You cannot go wrong with a color palette from nature!  I love this book for its wide variety of subject matter, and Frans Lanting has long been one of my favorite nature photographers.  

Chinery, Michael. Amazing Insects: Images of Fascinating Creatures. Buffalo: Firefly, 2008. Print.

Ok, so I love bugs...I always have.  I was the weird little kid always asking her parents to poke holes in the top of a new jar for my new pets.  But regardless if you love bugs like I do, photographs of them can give you fantastic color inspiration.  Butterflies and dragonflies are used for bead subjects quite often, but don't forget about the rest of the insect world too!  Good photographs of grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, and even spiders will give you tons of color inspiration...and probably even design and texture ideas too!

Koinberg, Edvard, and Henning Mankell. Herbarium Amoris = Floral Romance. Köln: Taschen, 2009. Print.

Plants and flowers are hugely inspiring to me and many other beaders.  This book focuses on the reproductive parts of and pollen.  The photography is gorgeous!  But what I really love is seeing something that I already use as regular color inspiration presented in a new way.  There are plants and flowers in this book that I would never have been inspired by, if I had not bought this book.  The textures, colors, and shapes make me want to get out the beads and play...RIGHT NOW!

So these are the things that inspire me to experiment with color - art and graphics, textiles, world culture, Mother Nature in all her glory.  I'm so tactile and visual that having these books to flip through really makes me want to create.  Have you investigated what gets your color juices flowing?  It's different for everyone, and I feel you owe it to yourself and your creative process to seek out this knowledge.  Anything that allows you to know your own work and choices better is a good thing.  Do you have any inspirational color references already?  What are they?  We would love to know!



  1. Thank you for the reminder and push to get out of the rut. Currently I'm stuck in blues and greens. I have the first book but haven't opened it in a while. I guess I'd better take a look.

  2. Lots of great advice Lindsay, I always stick to the same colours so I think that book is a must for me!

  3. Thanx Lindsay. My favorite color reference is Margie Deeb's "The Beaders Color Palette" She even gives delica bead numbers so you can create the palettes that she shows.This book expanded my color horizon many times over.

  4. Excellent post - and a reminder for me to keep pushing my color choices into new directions. I tend to prefer earthy hues, partly due to the media I am currently working in. I like rich ochres, sepias, teals, greens and shaded blues. I have been working with color professionally for more years than I care to admit (okay over 30 years), and while I tend to change with the media I'm working in, I still get in a rut. Good kick in the pants - thank you!

  5. Oh, my gosh! Look what you have done. I just bought two of the books you mentioned. lolol. The TIME book as I love the photography and the floral romance as I love gardening. Haha, see what you have done? I know I will enjoy them. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I used to get stuck on blue everytime I creating, but I have started doing something awesome, I have my private board on pinterest for the things I like, which includes painting and natural photoshoots or any beautiful things I like (No beads, No jewelry designs, not any supplies, but everything else that is beautiful). These pictures help me selecting my new color combos and styles for various designs.


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