Exploring the Color Orange

“Compositions matter. Artfully arranged, anything can become a thing of beauty.”
designer Barbara Barry, House Beautiful, January 2013 p.79

Another photographer composed this picture demonstrating the range of colors in the orange family as they move into yellow. The composition of this photograph is worth studying. Note the neutral background and the play of shadows on the foreground subject.

The umbrella photo recalls my introduction to the variety of “color wheels” humans have created. I was under the illusion that there was only one color wheel—the one I was introduced to as a child with red, blue and yellow as the primary colors. As a quilter, I was finally made aware that the color wheel is merely a way to interpret the spectrum of light perceived by human eyes. A color wheel is like a language of color. Different groups can create and adopt different color wheels! Wow, what a revelation for me.

The Ives color wheel used by computers seems more accurate and accessible to me. The primary colors in the Ives wheel are: magenta, yellow and turquoise! One consequence of using this wheel is that orange is directly opposite of turquoise. That makes turquoise the complement of orange!! This explains to me why the terracotta roofs and pots look perfect against the blue doors and blue sky of the Mediterranean.

In studying the this photo, I notice all the curves. Starting with the arch and including all the shapely clay pots as well as the curved edges of the flagstone entry. The multiple curve shapes contrast with the square shapes of the door and elements of the building. The strong contrasts of light in the photo are central to the intrigue portrayed here!


Natural building materials of stone, brick and wood always benefit from accents of color and textures.

Here I’ve focused my camera on the display of island-grown oranges and tomatoes—artfully arranged! I took this photo of a taverna located near the Dictean Cave with a spectacular view overlooking the Lasithi plateau in central Crete, Greece. The artist who created this arrangement certainly caught my eye! The repeated dots of orange in a variety of positions demands our attention.

Orange is the only color whose name also describes a fruit! And not just any fruit, but a citrus fruit with a distinctive tangy and sweet flavor. To my mind the color orange offers similar qualities to our sense of sight! Orange can range from a warm subtle terracottta color to a bright screaming orange of traffic cones.

My desire to explore the possibilities of orange in my quilts and in my own wardrobe began a few years before my one woman quilt show at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in 2008. I know that because during that show I offered a workshop on using orange in our quilts. I believe that my interest in using orange was sparked, in part, by association with LoVina Payton, a prolific quilter in our quilt guild for years.

Another photographer exploring Crete discovered this simple and dramatic display. Here the textures of the different size baskets with the green accents of the orange leaves demands our attention. Notice how the one boat-shaped basket draws your eye. It is unusual, in a composition, to place the heaviest objects on the upper shelf.

Pleasing the Human Eye

Have you noticed how the human eye is pleased by moving across related colors? Because the vibration of orange is a strong sensation it is often better used as an accent color or as “punctuation”—my word for small amounts of a zinger color. Here are two examples with a range of related colors.

Both photographs above yield a smooth transition of colors. Yet there is enough variety in the complex fabric or in the leaves to keep our eye engaged! As quilters, this is a major challenge for us. We strive to keep the viewer’s attention. Revealing a too-regular and easily discernable pattern can be boring. Life is full of contrasts in shape, size, color and especially light. Our eyes desire engagement. My eyes appreciate the chance to fully explore both these photos each time I’ve encountered them. That’s why I’ve included them here.

Everyday artistry was obvious everywhere I looked in the small fishing village of Mochlos located on the north east shore of Crete. The Hotel Mochlos welcomed us with this arched entrance painted a warm terracotta contrasting with the natural stone, the green potted plants and a dash of brilliant blue. After long days on the tour bus I felt welcomed home.

My last examples of the versatility of orange all come from the natural world.


Butterfly weed thriving in our front garden here in Arkansas attracts the Pipe Vine Swallowtail butterfly clothed in dramatic black with iridescent blue shadings. Orange and black will always be a dramatic combination.

Orange Bougainvillea is a more unusual color than the magenta variety which is my favorite. This photo, too, was taken in Mochlos in the fall of 2017. The vibrant orange flowers remind me of growing up in Miami Springs, Florida in the 1950s because the neighbors who lived across the street from us had an out-of-control orange bougainvillea vine like this rambling over their garage. Here the backdrop of the blue sky adds to the appeal.

The early morning sunrise in Mochlos displays the subtle orange of dawn reflecting on the sea. Anyone who admires a sunrise or sunset knows that the colors merge and change quickly. I managed to capture the morning glow as the sun appeared from behind the mountain beyond the crescent shaped beach of the village.

Is it red or is it orange? Perhaps some of both as the colors merge and shift in the morning light. When I choose fabric I watch for a fabric that contains what I’ve called inner light. Below is an example.

The print with the shades of orange and peach is a perfect example of one print with a variety of colors and shades which keep the eye moving and engaged in seeing the pattern presented by the quilter.

“Grape Clusters” is an original design which started with the center embroidered piece worked on a fine quality linen that I discovered years ago at a thrift shop. Once I added my creativity with the framing borders, it became a TimeSpan quilt. I plan to finish this top for the small quilt auction at our guild show in early April.

This sunrise photo looks across the narrow channel to the islet of Mochlos where archaeologists continue to discover 4,000 year old artifacts from the early inhabitants of Crete. The peach sky and the variety of gray colors of the clouds and water present a peaceful scene. Perhaps peach and gray might be the starting point of your next quilt?

If you have examples of quilts or photos with an interesting orange theme or orange accents, send me a photo. Once I receive several items from you all, I will do another post using your photos and any explanations or comments you send me.

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7 Responses to Exploring the Color Orange

  1. Carla Gay says:

    What a wonderful exploration of the color orange you have shared! Enjoyed it!

    • Paula says:

      Carla, Thanks for your enthusiastic emailing of photos for the next installment on “Exploring Orange”. Your additions will add more possibilities for us to explore. I’m glad you thought to include other mediums like the stained glass window photo you sent.

  2. Suzanne Kittrell says:

    Love this article on Orange. Looking forward to more of your writing.

    • Paula says:

      Orange moves from the palest peach shade to warm terracotta, to a strong pumpkin color to the vibrant orange of a sunset. This gives me much ground to cover. Then I learned that terracotta literally means “baked earth”. That explains why there are differing shades of terracotta pots. So now I wonder, how is brown related to orange? Often they can look good together. Orange and earth colors would seem to be connected, yes?

  3. Great blog! I have never heard of an alternate color wheel. I will have to look it up. I am so glad you are blogging again. It inspires me to think about gearing up again myself. It’s funny that you mentioned Lovina. When you mentioned focusing on orange, I immediately thought of her. I have a couple of quilt tops that I can email you. I am definitely a warm color girl! It also reminds me that my love of tye-dye involves the juxtaposition of those complimentary colors!
    Kathy

    • Paula says:

      Kathy, I think you will be drawn to the color combination of the Ives color wheel! Those of us who come to guild and who congregate at quilt events and who pull together quilt shows, we are constantly “educating our eye” about color, texture, line, zingers, value (light, medium, dark) and much more. We are building a community who shares insights and inspirations with one another. LoVina, with her enthusiasm for life, was an inspiration for all of us. She lived up to that quote from Betty White in QNM: “Respect your gift. Not everyone can or wants to make a quilt. If your gift is to do so, then by all means make quilts.” LoVina did share her gifts widely!

      • Fascinating! I looked up Ives. I will explore this more. My 3 sons, Dad and 2 uncles were or are color blind. My eldest found info that suggested that daughters of color blind males(who actually carry the gene) might be technochromats(see more color) He is trying to find a way to test his girls. It is a rare condition, but it could be there are more, they just don’t know it.

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