Value Added - Using Value to Lead the Eye16
Today as part of the Value Added Quiltalong, I'm going to talk about how we can use value to direct the eye. I've put together some (hopefully clear) diagrams which will be followed by practical examples with patchwork and fabric. I'll follow that up with some stash exercises to help you better understand your own fabric. This will be new to some of you, and a great refresher for those who've worked with color and value before.
We are talking about value which is a confusing term. As a former graphic programmer and 3D effects artist (yes, that really was my job many moons ago), I know that value can be ambiguous and complex to wrap your head around. For the sake of simplicity, I'll be talking about value in terms of lightness. We'll be looking at things in relative steps and asking basic questions like 'is A lighter than B?'
When we consider value and shades from light to dark (or vice versa), we are looking at gradients of lightness. There are an infinite number of lightness levels, but I think it's easier to wrap your head around small steps.
A basic graphic design principle is that when the color components of an image are the same, our eyes will stagnate and the image appears flat.
By adding random variation, the viewer's eyes tend to jump around all over the place. Your eyes aren't quite sure where to settle. This can be effective when you want your project to have a chaotic or high-energy mood.
Graphic designers (and patchworkers!) often need to calm that chaos. One tool they rely for do so is gradients. If you've used a modern paint or design program like Photoshop, Gimp, Inkscape or Illustrator; you've undoubtedly encountered gradients before.
Gradients have a magic property in that they can lead our eyes. Our human brains naturally want to follow uninterrupted stepped patterns. In the case of hue (chroma or 'color'), people naturally gravitate towards the order of the spectrum or a rainbow. In the case of value, our eyes like to follow the steps from light to dark or dark to light.
Weaving the Strands by Joanna of ShapeMoth perfectly illustrates how value can be used to move your eye across the quilt. By using shades of aqua ordered from from dark to light, Joanna has brought to a dynamic energy to the quilt. Can you believe this was just her second quilt?!
|Weaving the Strands, Joanna of ShapeMoth, shared via Flickr|
Below are some terrific examples of quilts that use graduated values to wonderful effect which were found on flickr. [Please click through for more details and let the creators know how wonderful their projects are!] Notice how your eye moves along the quilts from dark to light and then back again.
|Carol Taylor's, Pittsford NY, Dispersion shared via Flickr|
|Maryline Colluoid Robert, Continuum shared via Flickr|
Gradients or graduated steps come in a number of shapes. The most recognizable are linear (in a straight line) and radial (emanating from a central point).
Radial gradients can be quite effective for designers.
Linda Rotz Miller's T-Turquoised Squared is an excellent example of inward radiating values. Her carefully selected values pull the viewers eye to the center of the quilt.
|T-Turquoise Squared by Linda Rotz Miller|
Linda's quilt also illustrates the emotional side of a carefully crafted values quilt. By leading our eye to single location, we feel as if we are bring brought into the project. We are held tight and protected by the dark sides. Though this is a large quilt, the central light point gives a feeling intimacy.
On a much smaller scale, I was asked to construct freestyle log cabin for a quilt bee a few years ago. If you look past the white break lines, you'll see that the fabrics have been added so they radiate from light to dark. In this way, the eye is clearly directed to the center. It would make a great way to showcase special fabric, embroidery or quilting.
|Beehive Log Cabin for Mel|
Amy's tip: Value gradients can applied at large to a whole quilt or within single blocks.
When the values radiate outwards from dark to light, they give a sense of scale making a quilt seem grander than expected. Emotionally, the design feels like they are opening up. It's a great way to make a quilt that "bursts" with life.
Amy's tip: if you are using multiple borders or sashing strips on a project, try to think about the value of the fabrics you are adding. Think about what emotion you are trying to convey. By considering fabric value and carefully ordering your borders and sashing strips, you can change the overall feel of your quilt.
We are going to make little gradients in our fabric stacks. Whether you are sorting your entire stash or starting a new project, this exercise will help you think more about your fabric choices and their value contribution. It will help you understand the range of values that you are working with and should hopefully quickly illustrate if you have well-balanced mix of fabrics for your project.
The following photos include fabrics from my stash. Many of the photos are accompanied by a de-saturated version of the image. This is a simplistic approach to looking at value which should work great for most patchwork quilters. The de-saturated images are there to help you visual value in the absence of colour.*
The next brief section is for the nerds at heart. My guess is that this will appeal to .06% of the readers. For the rest of your, dash over to your stash and grab a pile a fabric in roughly the same hue. I've grabbed my Christmas pile which is mostly red. Grey is another good colour choice to start with. Don't overwhelm yourself! Start small with 10-20 fabrics.
[[ ...*brief nerd section
As I mentioned at the beginning, the term value is ambiguous. Color can be represented in so many ways - HSV, HSL, the Munsell colour system, RGB, LAB, CMYK and more; as my hastily made image illustrates poorly.
The Munsell system is clearly the best because the plexiglass Munsell trees are awesome. Just kidding, but they are awesome! Who wouldn't want one? I like that the Munsell system accounts for the fact certain colors are naturally perceived as brighter than others. For example, yellow naturally seems brighter than blue. We could ramble for hours about the difference between technical color and perceived color. We could ramble on about the visible spectrum and what it means for color models. For the sake of the general audience, I'm keeping this discussion of value very light. I do know that the working color system of the software will impact how the colors behave and that simply desaturating an image isn't technically accurate. I understand that light can be refracted, reflected, absorbed and digested. I know we have rods and cones and a whole lot of magic beyond our eyeballs. Put your nerd brain on a brief hiatus. We're making quilts. We aren't putting rockets on Mars. Let's just run with it. =)
...end nerd section]]
Now back to our fabric piles. Hopefully you have 10-20 fabrics that we want to sort.
Because my stack is my christmas pile, it's pretty homogeneous There aren't are many pinks or dark reds. No matter, as we're looking at the perceived value of each fabric relative to the others in the pile. We want to think about the overall impression of a fabric. Does it read as a light or dark?
Trying to sort a large stack at once can be daunting. I find it hard to stare at 20 fabrics, then pick the lightest. Then the next lightest. Instead, I like to break the group down into smaller consumable bits. Generally I make three piles - dark, light and medium.
Some fabrics have complex designs which means one section maybe very dark and another very very light. Take a best guess and remember no one will fail you in fabric sorting.
Sort each of your smaller piles from lightest to darkest.
Now merge those pieces back together into a single stack. Sometimes when you do this, you may need to move some of your fabrics up or down the pile. Take your best guess.
This exercise takes a lot of practice to master. As my pictures show, I still get it wrong. Generally speaking though, I now have a value sorted red stack. If I were making a red value quilt, I'd be ready to go!
Most people can do a good job sorting a single hue. Given a red stack, they could put it fairly correctly in value order. Given a blue stack, they'd be good at separating navy from sky. Things get much more difficult when you try to sort a stack of mixed colors.
Once I'm comfortable that I've sorted each of the individual hue, I carefully merge the piles back together. It's much easier since the lights are already at the top of each hue pile.
I'll be honest. This is quite challenging and you're likely to get some fabrics in the wrong order. I do. That's okay. Keep at it. This is a learned skill that can take your patchwork and design to the next level. I dove in and sorted small piles with the remainder of my fat quarter stash.
Then I joined them all up! Oh how pretty! I've got gradients that make my eyes swing left and right. Can you see how the shelves dance across from light to dark to light, over and over?
I could merge them all for one giant gradient. That's tempting! Don't feel daunted that you need to do this exercise with your whole stash. It's a fun one to do when you start a project, and just perfect if you are joining in the value quiltalong!
Let's go check our your fabric and let's get those eyes moving!
Thank you for coming along for the value quilting lesson. If you try out the exercise with your fabrics, we'd love to see a photo in the Flickr group. Be sure to visit Rachel tomorrow to learn about other ways you can use value in quilts.