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Exclusive Excerpt from The Color Lab

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Excerpt from Chapter 2: Hue, Color Families, and the Color Wheel

My Experience with Hue

When I first started hooking, I only wanted to use colors I liked. Why not? This seemed right; pulling all those loops took a lot of time, so can't I at the very least be looking at some pretty colors? I think that was okay; I had a lot to think about learning to pull even loops and learning fine shading. About two months and three rugs in, I could see I had a tendency toward blue and away from orange. Now this is no surprise to me, because I have seen that same polarization time and time again. Most of the people I've worked with in my career have the same syndrome. They will love one color but revile its opposite.

If we don't address this leaning in ourselves, we will make pretty uniform creations. There will be no spark, no joyful excitement. They might be middle-of-the-road "decorator" pieces, no different than something we might buy that is mass produced.

When I started teaching, I had to work with all kinds of color themes. I strongly wanted people to use the colors that sparked them. I had designed and made clothes for a living, and I know how important color choices are to help clients feel fully themselves.

I needed wool to supply my rug-hooking students, and even more importantly, I needed to satisfy the rug being made. For instance, if a rug was all blue and cool colors with just a smattering of yellow-green (olive) to warm it up, it didn't quite reach the gorgeousness that throwing a little red-orange (coral) in or a smattering of orange (spiced pumpkin) or some yellow-orange (amber) would bring.

It was through helping my students achieve their goals for great rugs and the exploration for good, better, best solutions for problems in their rugs that really hones my hue awareness. I found sorting my wool and keeping it in color-wheel order helped. I could find the color I needed quickly. This order is also easier on the eye than a riot of jumbled hues in my studio.

I also spent a great deal of time working a paint-by-number website (yes, paint-by-number!). I know that's a dirty catchphrase in hooking, but if you look carefully at any paint-by-number kit, the color use is fantastic. There is depth, there is contrast, and there is color intelligence at work with only nine or so colors. If more colors are needed, you mix new ones from the colors present in the kit. The shapes to fill are excellent, and it is all straightforward. This is the way I think about making portraits: shapes to fill with the right hue. If only we could paint with wool like a paint-by-number kit works!

It was by using Segplay on that I saw how important dull colors were, how pivotal it was to use opposites—lights, darks, warms, and cools—and most importantly, how many colors it can take to render even a single-color object, like an orange. I like looking at where highlights are placed and how shadows are colored and shaped. I nearly fainted with happiness to see the colors at work between these two. I love seeing how a little "do nothing" color becomes the cord that ties everything together. It helped me tremendously to understand that in a great piece of color work, what I like isn't even part of the equation. Perhaps you can find a similar app or program that will let you play in this informative way.

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My wool shelves. I store my wool in a very orderly system. I have my wool in hue sections, and then sorted out by value: dark on the bottom, light on top. The top shelf holds my smaller pieces, sorted by value. It's a wonderful filing system that lets me find what I need quickly and soothes my soul every time I see it.

Segplay graphic, a tool I use to help me decipher a color plan.


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