Color Help for Your Jewelry Making, Bead Weaving, Knitting, or Whatever Your Pleasure

You know how beads look so amazing in their packaging – whether it’s inside tubes, hanging on hanks, or even in plastic zip-top bags? You know that feeling of needing to have all those colors and all those colors in each of their finishes? And you know how happy you feel when you line them up at home or in your studio space, or get them into the perfect container so they’re ready when you are? And then the thrill you experience when you can finally sit down and start working with your stash? It’s the best, right?
seed beads in all the colors and finishes we loveWell, how about the feeling when your weaving your beads and then they don’t look so special any more, and your bead weaving is not so spectacular or as pretty as the beads were on the wall. Where did you go wrong? What happened? Is it the thread? Maybe. Is it the lighting? Could be.

Maybe the beads just don’t work well together…enter Mary Tafoya who has generously offered us some insight on this very issue, a tidbit in addition to all she has put into her Hands on Color Theory a Workshop for Artisans and Crafty Souls workshop. Take it away, Mary, and thank you!

Bead Color Shift: It Happens
Designing with seed beads can be tricky. Beadworkers find out early on that these tiny glass beauties seem to change colors in unexpected ways, depending on which colors surround them. Not only that, two different beads of the same hue seem to absorb and reflect light differently, depending on whether they’re transparent or opaque. Combine these tribulations with the unpredictable reflective effects of bead surface finishes, and it’s a wonder we can create readable designs at all. A quick lesson in how “color shift” happens, and how to work with it, will help you bring more clarity and readability to your designs.

First, adopt the practice of creating sample swatches of your chosen colors before diving into a big project. The only way to know how your colors will behave together is to work up a large enough sample to see them in action.

Next, refer to these color theory tips when tweaking your color choices:

1. Grayish neutral beads are prone to color shift, especially when surrounded by strong, saturated colors. They tend to take on the complement, or opposite, of the color beside them. For example, a gray swatch will turn greenish when surrounded by red.

To avoid color shift in neutral areas, tone down the colors around them and/or give the neutral areas more space in the design.

2. Complementary colors are also prone to color shift. Most of the time, complements intensify each other. Greens make reds look redder, and reds make greens look greener, provided they have enough space in the design. But if you mix small areas of complements together in a large field of color, they will neutralize each other and turn muddy.

green beads intensify red beads; red beads intensify green beads

To avoid color shift among complements, simplify the design and give each color more space, or separate them with a neutral color such as black or white.

green beads and read beads with a neutral bead worked in to create a better color experience

3. Color shift isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can use it to your advantage to enhance your palette. To brighten a dull purple, for example, surround it with hues of yellow, its complement.  To tone down a large, bright orange area, neutralize it with a few turquoise blue beads.

You can even use color shift deliberately to create new hues in your beadwork, as Seurat did in his pointillist paintings. He used small areas of pure colors to create even more hues. You could, for example, combine several shades of the complements blue and orange to create an extended range of skin tones and browns that are not available as bead colors.

Circus Slideshow, by Georges Seurat, pointilism example

Circus Slideshow, by George Seurat

Making swatches and analyzing your choices does take extra time, but once you’ve done that, minor adjustments to your palette colors will be sufficient to create a clear and predictable design, and the time investment will be worth it. Eventually, you’ll get so familiar with your customary palettes you won’t need to make samples any more.

For more color theory tips, join Mary for her Color Theory workshop. Mary’s course is about color, not just color for beads, so all you learn will be applicable to whatever medium you work in – seed beads, polymer clay, glass, knitting, anything! What Mary teaches will help all of who are color challenged or those who are ready to push past their safety zone. I know I’ll be tuning in for this one, with my colored pencils in hand – see you there!

Yours creatively,

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