Fascinating Color: Carrier of Beauty and Meaning in Fiber Art - Betty Vera

February 22, 2003

Betty Vera

Betty Vera
Betty Vera
Photo: Janet Ducote

Every weaver deals in color, even black and white is working with color. Color provides a framework. The three primary colors - red, yellow, blue- are primary because you can use any combination of these to get all the other colors but you cannot mix to get these three. So basically we use these three colors and black and white in all artistic creations.

Betty has used color wheels in her work. From the book," Color and Fiber" she once dyed yarns to match the colors that are in there. Then she wove samples with the yarn. There are many books on color; most of them are based on the primaries and then the secondaries and tertiaries derived from them. One color wheel is based on the primaries used by artists. Another color wheel based on the limitations of the printing process is useful if you are doing photography or computer work. These wheels also show you the complementary or opposite colors. Also available is a gray value scale i.e. a card showing the values from black to white. Betty pointed out that what will read well on a computer screen needs adjusting when the colors are printed out. In photographing varilux bulbs will best act like daylight, incandescent bulbs tend to yellow out your work. For taking pictures you can use the CMYK color wheel and the gray card.

Betty said that when we begin to weave it is a natural tendency to choose colors that we like; colors that are related to our cultural, ethnic, environmental background as well as our own personal likes and dislikes. Usually we want to stay within what feels safe and comfortable. Now if we want to try new and different things, it is possible to start in another way. You might choose a color, purely at random, and then look at the analogous (close) colors or at the opposites and then experiment. Analogous colors are, for example, red, yellow and orange.

After this introduction to new ways of designing and thinking about color combinations, Betty showed slides. The slides were not all of fiber art; as Betty described each one we were exposed to an in-depth study of color relationships, of endless possibilities that are offered to the creative person who has
the courage to step out of their usual and comfortable patterns of color design. For example the photograph of an installation art by W. Lee in Washington, D.C. which was all bright yellow with a band of red on the bottom had a certain meditative quality; people came to look at it and it got rid
of idle conversation. The soft yellow of the pollen seeds was very sunny, very relaxing and very soothing.

Betty Vera
Kathy Vermilye and the Block
Double Weave Warp
Photo: Janet Ducote

The next slide was of a Japanese Shibori textile, monochromatic in shades of blue; the rhythmic repetition of shapes combined with the gradual variations in color made a beautiful textile. Similarly, a monochromatic of reds from the Southwest was very intense. A totally different effect was shown by a picture of a parrot whose wings were of the three primary colors. A quilt of work clothes with red, yellow and blue; because the blue is a cool color, the red and yellow seem more intense by contrast. What is surprising is that there are many different ways to unify a piece; you can grade through
gradually using a series of analogous colors or you can just mix in a hint of color in a solid portion that you have used elsewhere in the piece and it comes together. Another way is to use neutrals like black or white in subtle ways. Another way to enliven a piece is to use a little bit of a contrasting
color. Betty showed us some of her beautiful tapestries, very saturated colors and a little bit of each color in every part.

For those of us who were not able to attend, Betty talked about the color workshop that she had given the week before. The intention was to give each person the opportunity to set aside what you know about color and usually do and try something entirely new. Everyone was given a different threading
suggestion prior to the workshop with instructions for picking colors. Then during the weaving there were many chances to change and try other patterns and colors. This experience then included seeing the impact of the weft on the warp. Some warps are greatly influenced by the weft; others are very strong and the weft doesn't have much influence. For some people it was a chance to weave with a color that has always been difficult for that person to weave with. Venturing into new territory is scary at the beginning; you can use colors that form a triad or colors that are complimentary or
one that you usually think of as being the worst color. Surprises will come. Use different colors for the warp and the weft. You will begin to see how one color affects another; light colors will diminish others, dark shades will bring out other colors.

Then we made a circle and did show and tell. Individuals had brought pieces that they thought were or were not successful. They were discussed, suggestions made. For studying color you can go to a paint store, get free paint chips and play with them. This suggestion was made because color wheels can be very expensive.

I wondered when I got back home how many other people who attended this lecture were asking themselves questions like; do I use the same color schemes over and over? What are the colors that I usually use? What colors would I like to experiment with? Thank you, Betty.

--Sara Briggs

And here follows a note from Betty about the previous writeup. It clarifies what Sara wrote.

Hi, Sara-

I'm writing to thank you for the wonderful and enthusiastic report on my color talk for the guild. However, a couple of points I made were evidently misunderstood and did not get expressed correctly in the article, and I'd like to correct them in the next newsletter so as not to mislead people.

  1. With regard to photography, I had said that the lighting and film used need to be correctly matched for color balance. (That is, daylight film is used for photographing in natural light out of doors, and tungsten film is made for use with tungsten photo lights indoors.) My reference to Verilux bulbs (which simulate sunny daylight) did not relate to photography, but to lighting under which colors and textiles are viewed in interiors-for display or in everyday living.
  2. The CMYK color wheel per se is not used for photography, but Kodak makes a color (and value scale) strip with those colors that photographers place on the wall next to the artwork being photographed, and which later serves as a guide for color matching in printing.
  3. The name of the sculptor/installation artist featured at the Hirschorn Museum in Washington, DC, and whose golden sculpture made of dandelion pollen I showed a slide of is the German artist Wolfgang Laib--sorry I didn't think to spell the name when I mentioned it, as he is not all that well known to people here in this country.

Thanks so much for including these corrections in the newsletter. You did an amazing job of covering all the issues we touched on in the color program.

Thanks again!

Betty Vera