An exercise in color

DSCF1002I have been visiting the paint department in our local Home Depot frequently lately, and thought of a color exercise for us to do. Paint chips are wonderful things. In order to have a vision for working with color, not just painting your walls in color, many times you need to have colors that inspire you. Paint chips are a treasure trove of wonderful colors to dream on.

my colors

Go to your local paint store and browse through paint chips that are uniform in size, and pick a random 20 or so that you are attracted to. Let these be a variety of colors you like to create with. There are no right and wrong answers here, and your choices are uniquely your own. So for me I was thinking wool to hook rugs, or bead colors in jewelry or fibers to drum card and spin into yarn. When you get home, fan them out so that you can see them all in a small space to compare them. Notice how many of them are light, or did you choose more dark colors? Are they bright or muted? Are there any neutrals?

DSCF1012Now the next exercise is to arrange them in value order. This means that you are simply noticing which color is the lightest, and then the next lightest, then a bit darker, and so on until you get to the color which is the darkest. It is kind of tricky because you have to block out the actual color, seeing beyond it to its relative lightness or darkness.

DSCF1012To help you see what I mean, here is the same photo in black and white. Now the actual values of each color are revealed. As you can see, some of mine are a bit out-of-order. Seeing value is something that you grow better and better at the more you  notice it.

DSCF1013Next, take your colors and arrange them by color family. It is helpful to have a color wheel to refer to. I started with yellow, and put together all of the colors that were yellow dominant. I say dominant, because most colors are mixtures, and have all the colors of the rainbow in them. But one color tends to dominate, and with practice you can learn to see it. From yellow I went to orange, red, purple, blue, blue-green, and green. I added blue-green to mine, because I had several kinds of blue, but you can group all of your blues together. I arranged each color from the darkest to the lightest.


I wanted to point out that neutral colors lean toward a color, too. This dark brown called Burl had a definite purple cast to it, so it went with the purples.

DSCF1001Now create your own color wheel with your colors. I may have moved some of my colors around a bit here.

DSCF1009 We are not going for perfection, but to give us more experiences with working with color. Getting familiar with it, growing to notice more things about colors.

DSCF1010Finally, I layed my colors out on a rug to see what I could learn, and see that my color choices go very nicely with my rug colors. I am using my favorite colors as I create. That is why I love what I do, I love the colors I work with, and I love looking at my finished work.

DSCF1014Did you learn any thing new about your own color journey? Feel free to share with us here in a comment.

Use your paint chips as a handy reference anytime you need color ideas or a quick color pick-me-up. You might consider making your color chips into something. Maybe a journal or tags that you put together like swatches on a string. Consider using one or two of your choices as room colors or to paint a piece of furniture, a cabinet, or a mirror frame. Order a quart of paint and play! You are on your way to learning more about color and your relationship to color.

Remember, it is a journey, not a destination to arrive at. There is enough beauty and mystery about color to take us through a lifetime!


My wish: for you to be surrounded by your colors today! ~ Karen


18 thoughts on “An exercise in color

  1. What a fabulous color exercise, Karen! I can’t wait to go to get my “chips!” I’m going to pass this on to my daughter, as well. You are truly inspirational!!


  2. Karen, fabulous, fabulous, lesson about color and value!! So excited about it that I skipped ahead to thank you. Now back to reading about it more closely and then on to my paint chips for more play.


  3. This is great! I struggle sooooo with understanding color. I will be at Home Depot as son as they open! Thank you so much!!!!


  4. Karen, I’ve used paint chips before, in a small way. But never to this extent–what a fun lesson! Will have to pull out my old paint chips and add more to them for more play.


  5. karen great job what an inspiration really so easy on a mon. morn. 28 degrees out winter is still here and i think more snow is coming weds. morn. still thinking spring and have seen redwinged black birds. will go to hommdepot to get paint chips and have some fun. thanks stay warm!! linda kraus


  6. Wonderful example of playing with colour. Something that my hooking group has noticed, too, is that we trend to dress in the same colours we are using in our projects We all have a preferred colour palette that we are naturally drawn to, as illustrated by your example here. Thanks for presenting another way of looking at it.


    • Wow, this dressing in the same colours as you’re working on is the same in my knitting group! Many times, I notice the knitting project & then I see they have dressed in that same colour.


  7. thanks Karen for a great lesson in colour! If it wasn’t so snowy, I would be up & out to my fave hardware to scoop up some paint samples. At the moment, I’m wanting to decide on a colour for painting my hallway. This exercice will be great to use for choosing.


  8. Karen–this is a wonderful exercise–I have been collecting paint samples lately and this gives me direction on how to organize them–thank you so much


  9. Thanks, Karen. I have gathered paint chips for years but never knew what to do with them! I’m also taking watercolor painting lessons to help me understand color better – with the painting, it’s almost like I can make a rug every day, watercolor goes so much faster than wool.


  10. Karen,
    Just catching up on your blogs. Color is what I struggle with so this will be fun to do with the paint chips.
    Your studio is just lovely!


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