A few years ago, I took a class with Brandon Mably that completely changed the way I thought about colour. It was an intense 2-day course which challenged us to think about how we see and use colour from the minute we arrived in the morning, until we left at the end of the day. Brandon had us doing a lot of crazy things to shake up our brains, from throwing all our balls of yarn into the center of the floor and mixing them all up, to free-knitting swatches that contained 10… 15… 20 different colours. It was a great weekend (and if you ever get a chance to take Brandon’s Design in Colour class, I highly recommend it).
And there’s one technique that he taught that has translated particularly well from knitting to dyeing. He suggested that we use artwork that we love — paintings that really spoke to us — and use the colours as inspiration. If those colours work in the painting, then they would work in our knitting too. He walked around the room and let us choose from a stack of fine-art postcards and greeting cards, whichever painting called out to each of us the most.
The thing about using this technique is that you suddenly realise how many colours you don’t see, even as they are right in front of your eyes. When you first look at a painting, you may see what you think of as a “yellow painting”…
But when you take the time to really immerse yourself into the colour, you suddenly see so much more — little spots of red that jump out at you, the grays that fade into the background, subtle greens that you didn’t even notice. They all work together — these colours that you never would have thought of putting side-by-side — and they create a depth and complexity that pulls you back again and again.
Just realising that really began to set us free in that class, and we dove into the pile of yarn in the middle of the floor. Using our cards as a guide, everyone’s knitting exploded into wild colour — combinations of shades far more daring than we would have tried before.
And then Brandon showed us a something else that I hadn’t noticed: different areas of the the same painting contain their own micro-colourways, and give off completely different moods from what you felt when you first saw the painting. So if you take a painting that you think of as mostly sunny and yellow, and cover part of it up, you might find an area that’s completely different… that’s moody and blue…
And when you switch your hands around again, the whole mood changes back to the sunny and yellow you saw before. Or maybe to a different section, and a different colourway and mood. Here are little colourways that you can pull out for inspiration in your knitting, and that I use in my dyeing — a whole world of colourways in one painting, just waiting to inspire you, if you stop and look closely enough! And once you start seeing them, you really can’t wait to start using them yourself… to start knitting as though you’re painting.
(When I lived in the UK, fine art cards like this one from Woodmansterne were available in any card shop for just a couple of pounds. But here in the US, I don’t regularly see cards like this — the shelves seem to filled with the standard assortment of greetings cards with nice-but-not-overly-interesting artwork. I’d love to find a good supplier of art cards like this one to inspire me… Can anyone suggest where I might find something similar here in America?)