Tagged Color Theory

The beauty of neutral

As the season and sunlight slips away, nature plays its visual tricks of on us. The chemistry of color takes hold and the natural world around us becomes neutralized. But we don’t really notice the loss of color though, because when neutral is played against itself, subtle becomes vibrant and all the negative descriptions of neutral dullness no longer make sense. Why is that?

When all colors grouped together are in the same relative clarity, the individual tonations in each show up.

Neutral on neutral; janebalshaw.com

Display a neutralized color against a fully saturated color and it will fade.  Interestingly, the brown above is the same brown as shown below.

Color on neutral; janebalshaw.com


Nature knows this trickery; in this season of brownish colors, berries are faded orange and those who turn truly crimson red only do so when they present in the pallete of intense winter contrast. Green leaves fade in autumn only because they fade transparent showing off the layers of singular colors always present, eventually loosing them to death and browning.


Autumn leaf color formula; janebalshaw.com

Another cause for thought; everything in its time, everything in its season…  Beauty is relative.

But what makes a color neutral? The dictionary defines it as “a color that does not alter its surroundings including our emotions.” From a painters point of view, neutral is a color that contains many pigments, technically called a complex color unlike color-wheel colors that only contain 2 pigments.

rusty truck color formula; janebalshaw.com

dried leaves color formula; janebalshaw.com

As an artist I have found this study of neutral to be endlessly fascinating.   Which pigment goes into a color in turn decides what other colors look great next to it.  What is the perfect beige to paint the wall behind your new burgundy sofa, which off-white is best to set into your quilt block and which shade of nude lipstick is best on your complexion.  Once you understand neutral then the world of color opens up.

I am teaching a class on this subject at the end of October this year 2017.  Follow this link to my workshop page to read more about it.

Neutrals; janebalshaw.com

How to wear those difficult spring colors!


spring color strip; janebalshaw.comFashion colors change from season to season, and now even within each season change several times!  As a result in any one given shopping spree we are likely to encounter racks of color that we either dislike or have a hard time wearing.  But if we really need a new garment and are forced to purchase something-anything or perhaps we are feeling a bit adventurous, trying a new color can be fun.

In the stores right now is a range of tropical inspired colors that many of us detest.  Yellow, orange and green are the hardest colors to wear and they seem to dominate the most fashionable racks right now.  Here are my suggestions on how to wear these various shades.

Yellow is a happy color but most people are afraid of it.  Everyone has a shade that they can wear effectively and the secret to wearing it is how you combine it with other colors to soften the effect.  Accessories and make-up are what do this.

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Green is an inspiring color that settles our mood yet many people are afraid that it will dull their complexion.  The key is how you frame your face with accessory color.  Wearing cooler tones of make-up and accessories are pretty important when wearing warm greens rather than trying to match it directly.  Conversely, earthy greens, like one shown here, actually become a form of neutral which makes it much more wearable.

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Denim blue is not really considered a hard color to wear but it takes some strategy to wear it and not appear as tho we are doing farm chores.  The look this season is wearing denim head to toe; this is the key to donning it as street wear.  Hues of denim vary and we each have a shade that looks best on us.

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If you would like help accessorizing your spring wardrobe purchases, I would be happy to help during your free-of-charge spring Artist’s Update Make-up Session.

If you would like help determining exactly which shades of color are best worn by you, consider my Personal Color Analysis.

Jane jbalshaw@comcast.net


Impressionist-painted quilts

I find the nuances of color & light to be endlessly fascinating. The impressions that combinations make can fool the eye and trick the senses into believing something is, when it is not. Like a world inside a world, shape and content formed by color alone without the added benefit of line is what the Impressionist painters of long ago discovered. And it is this color science that has captured my attention in my recent textile artwork.

From my own observation, my eye tells me that shape formed through the impressionist style is characterized by the harmony and dissonance of various color combinations. When laid next to each other, colors that are more opposite to each other on the color wheel create a deeper delineation visually producing more shape. Colors that are closer to each other on the color wheel will visually blend more together producing a softer effect.

Since all my work begins with painted fabric, for the longest time I have been trying to figure out how to express what I saw in my mind’s eye; a quilted piece in an abstract Impressionist style. Hitting upon a floral motif recently has allowed me to play with this color theory, attempt water-color and give a nod to Claude Monet, my go-to guy for inspiration.

Here is my process: I soak a piece of PDF cotton with water, ring it out a little or a lot (a little produces more pastel work, a lot keeps colors more saturated) then spread it out taut on my painting board. I then paint with a round tipped brush using loose squiggly motions leaving white space in between each “flower” allowing for the color to bleed outward to connect them and leaving greater space in between where I come back to paint the green leaf background. I vary the back ground colors, some tonally closer to the flower color to blend in and some more opposite the flower colors to make them pop out. I blend my own paints. I use Jacquard textile colorless extender base and Createx pure pigments to tint it.



I then let the painted cloth completely dry flat on the board then peel it off to heat set the finished work with a very hot iron. If I want to reinforce the water-colorey pastel blur then I wash it and dry in dryer. If I want a more crisp look then I use simply use as-is.

When I quilt, I choose thread colors to reinforce the afore-mentioned color principles, quilting with thread colors that will add more or less shape. I like the flowers to pop and the leaves to set back in so I have been quilting the flowers with Complimentary or analagous threads while the leaves are mostly quilted with monochromatic threads.




Initially, when analyzing each individual step, the work seemed too loose or not defined enough.  However, in the end I feel it all comes together into a vibrant impression of flowers.  What do you think?



Come see these works plus many more at my Open Studio, Sat/Sun November 5th and 6th, 2016 9-5.  12 Cogswell Hill Road; Canterbury, NH 03224  Read more about it here…

Invisible make-up; revisiting color theory

Make-up at it’s best should not show. Unless we choose to apply cosmetic color as an artistic statement we want it to feel texturally light with invisible color that blends in.  Right?  A mistake is made, however, in thinking that to achieve this make-up needs to be very sheer or rubbed in. In fact invisibility is only achieved if the color is directly related to the hues present in our skin. Correct imperfections with total coverage or simply highlight what is there, it all becomes invisible when the hues are correct.

Like the clothing fashion that they are designed to accessorize with, cosmetic trends go in and out of style and so does our concept of beauty. Sculpted & illuminated cheek bones, plumped & highlighted lips, defined & darkened brows are the current trends—a throw-back to the “glamorous” 1980’s. But whether we choose to embrace these recurring changes or simply choose our own timeless Personal Style*, the concept of invisibility surpasses all trends and is the difference between authentic beauty or painted surrealism. 

Make-up becomes invisible when the hues are correct.



As I wrote in my last blog post, solid color theory points to the fact that humans, as part of nature’s spectrum, are toned predominately with either a red, yellow or blue cast. The face is shaped with applied color most naturally when the hue of the cosmetic shares the same cast as the skin. This sounds obvious but it can be challenging. Cosmetics are manufactured, as I said above, to coordinate with clothing color trends. In any given season, there will be a predominance of one or two casts based on fashion leaving a group of people out. Each cosmetic company will specialize in their interpretation of color usually focusing on one palette or another.  The true make-up artist driven colors will fare best for most people as a full range of color is offered in all palettes.

From my own collection of colors here are some photos to help you understand “neutral color” as I define it.  Neutrality is what occurs naturally in you; your hair, your skin, your eyes and what color your cheeks become when they flush.


The RED neutral palette



The YELLOW neutral palette


The BLUE neutral palette


RED neutral eye color. What looks bright all alone tones down on the correct skin color.


YELLOW neutral eye color. The paper the color it is applied to is not yellow enough so the color remains looking bright.


BLUE neutral eye colors.

If you are curious about your own coloring click through to see all the services I offer.

*Personal style always dictates the way that color is applied to the face.  Invisibility can still make a statement tho, like Nora with her peacock feathered hair piece.  Make-up was artfully applied in shades of purple, mauve and green to coordinate while still working within her natural range of color.



Fall color and you

fall-color-janebalshaw-comAutumns in New England are famous for its trees full of colorful leaves so in this vibrant upcoming season I want to reintroduce you to the concept of seeing yourself as a palette of color, tinged with tones made inherent by the same science as trees.  Just as leaf-green is not its green without the red underlying pigment, our skin tones are made up layers that give us our ultimate coloring.

The concept of identifying our personal coloring so that we can therefore wear color on our body to achieve harmony, was first established in the 1940s by Suzanne Caygill, a U.S. fashion designer.

Human beings, the highest order of nature, carry information about their personality and style in their own natural coloration — the pigments in their skin, hair and eyes — and these colors are related to the color harmonies in nature. Suzanne Caygill

Her observations of nature led her to create a color theory based on the 4 seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall, selecting clothing colors for her clients through detailed analysis and individualized palettes. This 4 season color theory was streamlined by subsequent fashion consultants lumping all populations into 4 select palettes, two warm and two cool.


In the 1980’s at the height of the 4-season-frenzy I was working as a make-up artist blending custom color to match the skin. I began to see errors in this limited seasonal approach; many people did not neatly fit into those 4 categories. Even myself with my black hair and then pale skin diagnosed as a “winter” was more flattered in a peachy pink nude lipstick rather than one that was cast fuchsia. I had, and still do have, a golden flush to my skin. And although I had dramatic tonal contrast between my hair color and my skin color, there was a place medium tones based on the medium depth of my eye color.

Based on these observations in seeing hundreds of faces I happen to notice a common denominator outside of the traditional 4 season theory. Rather than noticing just warm or cool (because this is subjective anyway) I noticed, like a painter would, that human coloring had an inherent cast of the three Primary Colors either red, yellow or blue. Just like the natural world around us, blends of these hues make all other colors – warm and cool – and when grouped together using their predominant cast and mathematical sequencing, natural harmony is achieved. Read more about my theory here…

When colors are chosen which are in mathematical balance or harmony with the unique ‘geometry’ of an individual, the overall visual effect is one of beauty and health.

Color harmony is an absolute science. Just like good visual design or great flavor in food, combining components that are related and that emphasis each other is most pleasing to our eyes. Conversely, there is shock value – such as dissonance in music or neon color – that some people would say is interesting but no one would describe these as harmonious. Color that rolls in and out of a picture blending with subtle, almost unnoticeable detail is what comforts our nervous system because we inherently recognize this balance that is found in nature all around us.

To many, the thought of fussing about what we adorn our bodies with is devoid of value. Clothing is simply protection from the elements, and when you compare ourselves to less fortunate populations who have next to nothing it can seem crass. But given the choice….why not emphasize our individual beauty, specially crafted by nature rather than take away from it? It can be as simple as choosing one garment on a rack vs the other hanging right next to it, choosing hair color tones slightly to one direction rather than the other or realizing that you can wear make-up without looking like you do. The resulting visible harmony is immediately comforting and has value when what you see in the mirror reflects the appearance of restful health.  This is the power of color harmony.


Skin that is thin and has its natural blood supply close to its surface will let the red color of this oxygenated hemoglobin shine through tingeing the complexion with a reddish appearance. The melanin pigment in the skin has a brown cast and the keratin in the skin is yellowish so, depending on how much of these are present, a translucent skin can can be a dark red color or a pale rosy color. Genetics will determine how little or how much color is in the skin and how thin our skin will be. This color balance between the yellow-brown melanin/keratin combination and the cool red cast of blood is what creates a the full spectrum of red complexions from dark russet to lively rose to pale peach.

Interestingly, this sheer red quality runs through to the hair and eyes as well. Just like leaves in autumn that when much of their green pigment is gone the underlying red tone becomes visible, on a RED person, hair will be varying shades of red-brown either light or dark. Eye colors will coincide making brown eyes more chestnut-brown, blue eyes will be more periwinkle purple-blue and green eyes will go towards teal jade.

red undertones final


Skin that is thicker and therefore more opaque will retain the yellow-brown property in the skin given by the mix of melanin and keratin. The red tones of the under-lying blood flow are not as visible as in thinner skins so the complexion retains a more golden hue. The greater the concentration of keratin in a thicker skin, the more golden it will appear. A pale opaque skin that is freckled (with spots of melanin) will appear more golden brown than its counterpart that does not have freckles and of course darker thick skins will be quite golden. True yellow based complexions are in the minority of the world’s population as most skins are not as thick; although a keratin heavy diet will artificially pigment a skin with yellow.

Interestingly, this golden quality runs through to the hair and eyes as well. On a YELLOW person, hair color will maintain a golden quality; even black hair will be a brownish black (yellow added to black = brown), brown hair will be russet or acorn and blond hair will be golden straw to fire engine red. Eyes will coincide making brown eyes more leather brown, blue eyes more turquoise and green eyes more lime jade.YELLOW UNDERTONES


Skin that has its blood supply lower in the tissue will lose much of its red warmth. A medium-thick skin will showcase its surface yellow-brown when plenty of keratin and melanin are present. Looking down into the depths of the skin on the most thin types, the natural shadows that are cast lend a cool tone to the skin. In paler thin skins where little melanin, less keratin and little blood supply is apparent, skin tones will appear almost beige resulting in the “china doll” bisque coloring, while the deepest of these skin tones will appear like chocolate. Given the weather extremes in most of the world around the equator or at the poles that determine skin protective qualities, this type of skin is most common where blood vessels are protected deeply in the tissue. The varying genetics in this broad population make skin tones more diverse in this BLUE category than in others.

Interestingly, this cool quality runs through to the hair and eyes as well. On a BLUE person, hair will remain free of any red color creating jet blacks, bark browns and sandy taupes. Eye color will coincide as well making browns eyes looking black or chocolate, blue eyes grayish navy and greens going more to the hazel teal shades.

blue final #2

It seems that as a society we are trending again towards this color awareness.  Gone are the days of the limited color palettes as a new generation of colorists are embracing the unique differences in human beings.  This is good color theory. Thanks for listening and let me hear your thoughts!

Read about my Personal Color Analysis service here.

PLEASE NOTE: Most of my clients are women so I write in the feminine but men can embrace this color concept too, at the very least for making wardrobe choices easy.


Color and iconography

Entrance gardens; janebalshaw.com

Color has a visceral effect on us and, when repetitively combined with shape, can powerfully imprint our memories. As an art form I find this an endlessly fascinating method of creative expression. Think about it; Stop Sign red or a white apple or golden arches…Iconography in our daily life trains us, reminds us – even sells us – and therefore creates emotion.

When I started up my aesthetics business again after having retired from it years before, I used symbolic hues to reinforce the principles of my color theory. To represent the three color groups I chose a yellow skin tone peach, a red hued pinkish skin tone and a blue based cherry skin tone for my interior/exterior design as well as my graphic design.

I laid the floor in the aesthetics studio and painted the entrance hallway stair treads with these colors.Floor and stairs; janebalshaw studiosI made quilts for the walls in these colors…Circles quilt; janebalshaw.com. All rights reserved.IMG_3530And I created a logo for my skincare products….

Combined with the circle shape, this color combination has been a subtle nod  what I do, and now has evolved to become how people find me in my rural surroundings.

In preparing for my open studio a couple week-ends ago I decided at long last to hang a larger road sign at the back of our property along a well-traveled rural state route. I should have done it years ago but being timid combined with the promise of a very complicated process made it all daunting.  I finally took the challenge.

I designed the sign myself then purchased the light weight Alupanel sign board and vinyl lettering from my local sign company, Advantage Signs (they have been incredible to work with!)  I applied the lettering then I painted my own circle logo using artist’s acrylic paint sanding the board first then sealing it with a water-based clear polyurethane.

The sign itself was huge and because it needed to be hung from a tree I hired an arborist to hang it for me.

IMG_3432And, while this sign has presence, many people still miss the turn to my studios so I used iconography to direct them further. The town I live in says “only one sign per business” so symbols were the only way to direct people here.  I positioned the circles and color all along the route leading right up to the studio doors.

IMG_3418 (1)IMG_3534IMG_3468IMG_3470IMG_3472IMG_3461

Creativity happens when you least expect it.  Let me know how you feel about this post!

Entrance gardens; janebalshaw.com

Artist’s gallery design; paint choices – part 3


Ted Ney of North Cove Design

Ted Ney of North Cove Design

With cabinet designs firmly under construction next came the fun part of creating that backdrop to showcase the work of the League of NH Craftsmen in their new space.  As much fun as it would have been to go crazy with fixture design (I am an artist after all) restrain is always needed when showcasing artwork to let the back drop be just that; a supporting role to highlight and magnify the work of others.

On one of our later visits to the space we were surprised to see that the decorative ceiling painting in entire space had extended down into our own open-air retail space.  The warm wood-tones of natural maple fixtures combined with this ceiling color [Sherwin Williams “Secure Blue”] gave me the jumping off point to choose final colors.  Another opportunity to remain zen, we were told the ceiling color was “Atmospheric Blue” that we based our gradation on then had to change on the spot.DSC_0089photo.JPG ceiling with beams

With the upper part of our wall being the dark blue and having the need for it to be a neutral where our artisans wares were to be placed, I decided on a gradation in the style of the ceiling.  “Secure Blue” fading to “Atmospheric Blue” fading into California Paints “Waterloo” then ending with “Stucco Tan”, each color smudged into its previous.DSC06403 color gradation of paint

Rule of thumb; when artwork of varying colors, textures and intensities are to be displayed together, the backdrop needs to be a “neutral” color that contains redness, yellowness AND blueness.  What we think of as neutral color—like gray for example—may not truly be neutral & can be detracting if it is not balanced with all 3 hues.  If you mix red, yellow and blue together you get brown; so think beige and tans for truly neutral.

The volunteer painting crew L to R: Prudy Gagne, the League’s Finance Director and Catherine Green, the League’s Standards & Education Manager.  Terri Wiltse, the League’s Operations Manager & Fair Director is taking the picture and was ALWAYS behind the scenes through this entire project!

photo.JPG painting crewSketch wall paintingCatherine—who is also an artist—doing the delicate job of blending all colors one into another to create the gradation down the wall to end with our perfect neutral.  I missed out on all the painting because I was moving into a new home this week.photo.JPG Catherines painting

Also happening during this time period:

  • Terri worked with Big Jim’s to have a specialized door designed to fit into the unusually large opening to the space.
  • The committee worked with Advantage Signs to design a sign for the exterior of the space utilizing an artisan-made wrought-iron hanging post recycled from the Concord League gallery.

Next post will show setting up the shop!