Assignment 4 – Analysing colour, texture and proportion

Visual sources – their colour, texture, proportion, pattern, composition – can spark ideas for raw materials and structures in creating textile structures. In this exercise I needed to choose sources of inspiration, looking particularly at colour and texture. I then needed to analyse the colours carefully and match them using paints or crayons. Finally I needed to select yarns trying to match texture and surface qualities of the source in addition to colour, and make a winding onto cards to interpret those qualities.

A calendar photo by Frans Lanting was my first source. Just some of the challenges:

* My recent sketchbook work (here) had been working with watercolours,  colour mixing and combinations based on Jeanne Dobie’s book Making Color Sing: practical lessons in color and design. Based on this I approached the exercise with a certain level of confidence which turned out to be entirely misplaced! It took me a couple of long sessions to admit that watercolours were not the right choice of medium for this exercise, and to make the move to gouache.

* Light source. The course notes recommend good daylight – not possible for me in practice. I consoled myself with the thought that Sydney winter daylight is different to London summer daylight, so matches wouldn’t necessarily translate well. I have a couple of lamps with what are meant to be “daylight” fluorescents, so  they had to be good enough.

* The colour in this photo is really complex and there is a lot of optical colour mixing happening when you look at it. Selecting and matching a specific, individual colour was difficult and even misleading overall.

* I started working with words, jotting down an initial analysis of the colours, then remembered I’m trying to work more visually and intuitively. Doing a quick sketch and focusing on smaller areas helped.

I am pleased with my results for both colour and texture. The plant area uses yarns with angora and mohair components, as well as a fancy acrylic bobble effect, providing the texture. These were alternated with other yarns (cottolin, a wool/nylon sock yarn, and anonymous secondhand cone ends), which adjusted colour.

In the background greenery I used a couple of old handspun experiments, one a green mohair, the other a blend of green wools plus a pale purple silk – not a colour I found in the photo, but it is subtle enough to enhance the flickering light effect without impacting on colour. These gave an underlying element of texture and some 2 ply wools gave additional colour and depth.

For the sky, relatively smooth cottolins (a cotton/linen blend) echo the smooth colour transition across the top. I used four different blues and in a larger work would be able to smooth the move from colour to colour. In the winding the limited number of wraps led to more abrupt changes.

My second source was a photo of Saddle bags in sumak technique, c 1880 from the southern Caucasus. The colour in this photo is more distinct, less blended, although there is still a lot of variation at the detail level (for example, how many reds???). I continued with the gouache paints, with reasonable results (looking at the photo now, I’m not convinced by that mustard yellow – it looks better in person).

I mostly used Bendigo Mills 2 ply wool in the wrapping. I assume the original Saddle bags used wool, and certainly it can combine a subdued lustre, depth and variation in colour, in a basically flat field. I had to supplement with a couple of other wools and wool blends to get the colour range.

The wrapping doesn’t have good proportions. I wanted to create a structure based on narrower dividing stripes (the navy outline and black/white chequerboard) and wider stripes of varied colour combinations. The main colours of the individual medallions are not clear enough in the yarn wrapping. I tried again in a computer simulation, but it still isn’t right.

The final example is based on a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, “Woman in a hat”. I saw the original in the Mad Square exhibition at the Art Gallery last year. It was in the first room of the exhibition, and I remember spending some time with it each time I visited – partly I admit because some other images in the early rooms were very challenging, but mainly because of the complex, riveting, unusual, beautiful colour. Unfortunately I remember the emotion more clearly than the colour detail. Darn.

There a four general blocks of colour – skin/face/hands; dress and hat; chair or bed; wall. On the wrapping I think I’ve given a bit too much space to the wall. The face/skin area is also over-represented, but I found there were a few colours I need to include (eg the blue shadows) which was difficult to scale.

Most of the yarn on the dress and hat is 20/2 silk. I thought the smooth glow was a good textural match. For the bed/chair I used a wider variety of yarns in order to get colour matches. There is silk, plus rayon, a bamboo yarn and a soysilk. I haven’t actually used these in the past – they’ve been sitting in the stash, waiting for the right project. The wall is mainly silks, plus a viscose/cotton mix which brings in some texture which I think works. The colour is too light, which I have tried to modify by wrapping it with darker colours.

The course notes suggest developing this exercise into regular sketchbook work, and I think that would be of benefit for me. I found the process a struggle, although I am moderately satisfied with my results.


Dobie, J. (1986) Making Color Sing: practical lessons in color and design New York: Watson-Guptill Publications

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