Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Color theory - The Munsell System

This quilt was quite stunning but I wonder what the result would be if a little of red's opposite, teal and it's discords, yellow-green and blue-purple had been added......

Artquiltmaker and I went to the San Francisco Quilt Guild show on Saturday at the Concourse in San Francisco.  The venue was great as there was plenty of room and it did not feel overcrowded.  The quilts, for the most part, were really nice.  Lots of inspiration.  It was also the first show I've been to in forever.  We had a very good time.
This is a better example of the Munsell System.  Teal as dominant, red, its opposite and yellow and purple the discords.

But one of the things that always happens when we go look at quilts together is our differences in seeing color.  I, of course, am sure that my color vision is the correct one and Artquiltmaker feels the same way!  I have often discussed with her the Munsell System color theory. That is the system I use when I think about color for my quilts or drawings.  She suggested I discuss the theory here so those interested could learn the system and perhaps integrate it into their work.

I first learned about this system about ten years ago from the book "Harley Brown's eternal truths for every artist" (no caps after the name in the title!).  The Munsell System was developed between 1898 and 1905 by Professor Albert H. Munsell, an artist.  It is a 'rational' and 'scientific' approach to color. He updated and significantly improved his 1905 publication in 1929 and the system was  again updated by the Optical Society of America in the 1940s.  The system is still used today in forensics, dentistry and the brewing of beer as well as developing colors for fabric and yarn.  The Munsell system is used by the U.S. Bureau of Standards.

The difference between the Munsell System and the three primary system is in the relationship between colors.  The Munsell System uses five 'principal' colors (red, yellow, green, blue, and purple). As the principal colors are closer on the color wheel to each other and because there are more of them, it shifts the color complements. The Munsell System uses the term 'opposites' instead of complement.  In the Munsell System red and teal are opposites, yellow and purple-blue are opposites, green and violet are opposites, blue and orange are opposites and purple and yellow-green are opposites

 The theory continues with the color distribution of a composition, whether it is a quilt, painting or your choice of an outfit to wear to the races!  With the Munsell System every successful composition has a dominant value - making it either warm or cool.  The composition could be left monochromatic - only one color - but will be more interesting with the addition of a modest amount of the dominant color's opposite.

The last component of the Munsell System is the use of discords.  Discords are located on the Munsell System color wheel by skipping one color each side of that color's opposite.  For instance, if our principal color is red, the opposite is teal. To the right of teal is green - skip it - and go to yellow-green for the first discord.  To the immediate left of teal is blue - skip blue - and go to blue-purple for the second discord.   Use BOTH discords subtly and in EQUAL amounts, grouped near the center of interest, if possible.

To draw your own Munsell System color wheel, draw or trace a circle.  Put red at 12 o'clock, teal at six o'clock.  Place the other four warm colors, orange, yellow, yellow-green and green, spaced equally to the right of and between red and teal.  To the left place the remaining four cool colors, violet, purple, blue-purple and blue spaced equally between red and teal.

In summary, the Munsell System color wheel has ten colors.  The five principal colors are red, yellow, green, blue and purple. The five opposites of the principal colors are orange, yellow-green, teal, blue-purple, and violet.  In a Munsell System composition  one uses a dominant color, its complement and its two discords.  This is a very simplified description of the Munsell System but sufficient for use in quilting and drawing.  Once you learn it and it becomes intuitive, you will notice excellent results in your color choices.  More detailed accounts of this system are available by searching the web.

For an illustration of the Munsell System color wheel go to this link .


Jaye said...

Nice intro post. I'd like to see your drawing of a Munsell color wheel. I don't think that is teal at the 6pm on the Adobe site. That looks more like turquoise to me. Teal has more green, at least to my eyes.

Susan said...

Thanks, Mary. I shall try to absorb all you are telling me. I went to the Adobe site, but it was intimidating!

MRs. K.