This week's blog was written by polymer clay artist Laurel Swetnam of Sequels.
One of the most appealing qualities of polymer clay as an art medium is the fact that artists can mix any color under the sun from three primaries, black, white and maybe a touch of metallic pearl or gold for sparkle. Although I drool over tools as much of as any artist, I love the simplicity of being able to mix all the colors of the rainbow from 5 blocks of clay. Since my monkey brain gets in the way of traditional meditation, I turn to color mixing when a dose of tranquility is needed.
Here are the primaries in Kato Clay, my preferred brand, and a handful of the dozens of colors on my worktable that I’ve mixed from those primaries.
I’ve always loved the art of combining colors and, of course, try to remember how to recreate favorite colors I’ve created. In July, however, I learned that there is so much more to color theory and systematic color mixing.
Along with 11 other professional polymer clay artists, I recently attended a 6 day workshop called “Color Intensive” taught by two color wizards, Lindly Haunani and Maggie Maggio. Maggie and Lindly are both experienced teachers in demand all over the world as well as renowned polymer artists. Their shared passion for color generated their collaborative book Color Inspirations (2009), which is a classic in the field for polymer artists. Maggie calls her approach to teaching “21st century color”; the red-yellow-blue primary system we learned as children has ceded to magenta-cyan-zinc yellow primaries. During the class each participant learned a bit about the science of color, then dived into a systematic approach to color mixing, learning how to create an individualized color palette that reflects the artist’s voice and that hangs together beautifully.
We started by mixing color scales from each primary pair (strings of beads on the left), then tweaked one color by creating a “pivot” deck by adding muds. Muds in this case are mixtures of the three primaries, plus possibly a little black and white. I mixed several variations of mud for the colors I was considering, and then chose one particular mixture to be my “mixing mud”, a warm brown (more yellow, less blue and magenta). My pivot color was a yellow orange (on the top of the tiles on the right below). The result was luscious variations on my original hue created by adding various qualities of my mud along with pinches of yellow, blue, magenta, black and white. Because I learned a systematic way to vary the pivot tile color, I can catalog and recreate my colors in the future. It’s way more effective that writing down color recipes.
Here’s the coolest part. Once you have created your mud for a palette, adding just a pinch to any other mixed color unifies the aesthetic. Here’s a photo of a pair of earrings and a necklace made with a lot of the variations in my orange pivot deck, plus a few more darks and lights for contrast. Mud magic!