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Monday, 7 February 2011

Colour Juxtaposition

The effects of colour juxtaposition on the look of a textile piece is an important concept which I take into account in my work. Both Itten and Albers discuss it in their books.
When two colours are placed together, each one is affected by the other one, because of their afterimages.  (See my post of Tuesday 25th January, about Colour and  Simultaneous Contrast, where I talk about afterimages and how to see them).
When pairing one and the same colour with a variety of different colours, the different colour of each of the afterimages will affect your perception of those colours.

In the image below, I have placed small rectangles of the same light lavender colour fabric in the centre of rectangles of fabrics of other, strong, saturated colours.  I have used fabric rather than painted paper.  And I have used commercial plain colour fabrics, not hand-dyed fabrics where the colours change in different areas.

Each lavender square look slightly different in each case. Some look brighter, some look duller, some look darker.  Have a good look and make a note of what you see:
-  If I hadn't told you that the lavender pieces are all of the same colour, could you honestly say that they are actually of  exactly the same colour?  or would you think they are slightly different?  or would you just wonder and be doubtful?

- What are the differences in tone and value you can see between the different colour combinations?

- Try to look intently, for a few seconds, at only one rectangle at a time - cover the others.  You might see a third colour forming near where the two colours meet.  That's an effect of the afterimages.

What is happening is that your brain is producing the afterimages of the colours you are looking at, and superimposing them on the other colour/s.  The afterimage is always a faint version of the complementary colour. 

So each colour will be tinged by the afterimage of the other colour.  This is visible on the lavender more than on the other colours, because it is lighter and closer to neutral, and because you can compare.  The strong background colours are also affected by the afterimage of the lavender, but here you are not able to make comparisons.

Here is another example of how the surrounding colour/s affect a colour.

Look at the two brown fabric squares.  One is on yellow fabric, the other one is on blue fabric.  They are separated by two fabric strips, one orange and one navy.  It is obvious to me that the square on the left side is darker than the square on the right hand side.  That is what most people see.

Would you say that the brown squares have been cut from two different brown fabrics?  Well, they have not.  They are exactly the same piece of fabric, and the colour difference arise from the background they are placed on top of, and the colours they are next too.

To prove it, here is a photo of the brown strip on its yellow and blue background, but with the central two strips removed.  You can see it is just one fabric!   However, if you carefully look at the two ends of the strip, you should still be able to see, albeit more faintly, the colour differences produced by the way their backgrounds and their afterimages affect the look of the brown.  It will become more noticeable if you place your hand vertically in front of the screen, so that it blocks the centre of the image, where the two strips were before.

Similar examples to these are used in classes on colour theory and some of you, readers, may have come across them before.  But what I ask you to do, is not to treat them as 'theory' but as real effects, which you should consider in your practice.  Do go back to auditioning fabrics and intuition when you choose colours for your work - that's absolutely fine to do, I do it too - but keep these concepts in the back of your mind, until they become automatic and intuitive - and take them into account when you make your colour choices.

Till next time!  Thanks for visiting!



  1. Thank you so much Alicia for taking the time to upload this information - it is really interesting and helpful.

  2. Nice examples. It is always surprising.

  3. Thank you! I find everything about colour totally fascinating.