My Colors

The second reason why I love Randy's work is I love his clear, crisp, honest, straight forward, but sophisticated American colors. And I call them American colors.

Colors are subjective, and for example, my mother thinks Randy's colors are Asian. In fact, he was at one point influenced by the wonderful Japanese weaver and dyer (and Mom's hero,) Shimura Fukumi, so maybe his colors are Japanese/Asian. I can also see different artists and paintings in his different cloths, and naturally Randy's colors change from warp to warp, over time, depending on the weave structures or the intended end-use of his textiles, and ultimately, his whim. I have no clue what kind of impressions his textiles give you, because that depends on where you've been, what you've seen, and what you like. And I don't intend to oversimplify and say, "Randall Darwall uses American colors." No way. But it's the way I see his work.

I lived in Minneapolis, a colorful part of the Midwest of the USA for 10 years off and on, and in Tucson for a year when I was a child. I lived in Auckland, New Zealand, a sub-tropical paradise, for two years, and have been in Nelson coming up to ten years. The rest of the time I lived in Yokohama, Japan, very heavily polluted but with distinctive seasons, and more importantly, seasons and colors deeply embedded in the everyday language and thinking, as cultural codes. So I daresay I have lived in three distinct color cultures.

Now I'm getting deep into an extremely subjective territory, it's like walking on stilts in a swamp after heavy rain, but I'll give it a try.

If you look at traditional (say, pre-1970's) kimono, most design patterns have meanings and names, and are associated with specific season or occasion and color. For example, chrysanthemums are mainly yellow or gold or white, though small mums can come multi-colored. Certain patterns should be worn only during certain months, (regardless of what the weather is really like,) which means the design can dictate the fiber: goldfish; summer; casual cotton, or even silk, but probably not wool. Certain patterns are associated with occasions, e.g. the decorative cart, crane or turtles are good luck, and are worn at weddings, and out of respect for the occasion, the fiber is silk (or synthetics nowadays) but almost never cotton. If you are a fan of Haiku poetry, you'll know about the use of "kigo" or seasonal clues; you get the gist. (Though I understand it's not compulsory in Western Haiku. )

So we grow up with these subconscious interconnection of patterns, seasons/occasions, colors, and fiber, (codes, really) and we need to keep these in mind when, say, putting a set of kimono and accessories together to wear to your sister's wedding. Traditionally a different set of priorities came into play when determining color combinations; one can easily end up with horribly mismatched (in my modern day opinion) colors and over-the-top combination of patterns, embroidery, textures, (ditto). Thank goodness the cut of the garment is simple.

Again, traditional Japanese colors, other that the special-occasion gold, orange red, purple, white and black, are often not saturated but tints (hue + white) or shades (hue + black) of various values, partly because of the available natural dye material, partly because of the overcast weather we often get, but also because these nuanced colors are considered personable, ergo desirable. So, muddy colors, bad combinations, too much cultural baggage, for me. (Modern colors are another story for another day.)

I don't have a firm enough grasp of New Zealand color schemes, but I do see more warm (the yellowy, compared to the bluey) colors, based frequently on nature, and lots of shades. I'm starting to appreciate oranges and yellow-greens in the last few years, especially in combination with purples, but the underlying color schemes are a mystery to me, and again, the in-betweeness (to me) of the colors, the muddiness, I find unattractive.

Now to American colors. I realize the US is a big country and there are different climates, cultures and people, so what I think of as American colors are not the only colors or schemes present in that country. Not at all. (And among other things, Internet shopping takes away the traditional national borders, I know!) But what I see, in contrast to MY Japanese and New Zealand experiences, are what I describe as "clear and crisp" colors and combinations. In some instances, they are true to the original value of the given hue, and they may be more intense/saturated. But more importantly, I think I unconsciously understand why they are put together, and am naturally sympathetic, and that's why they are "honest and straight forward" to me. I simply love them.

As regards sophisticated, well, I learned in class that the narrow range of values over a wide range of hues make it so; that I can explain.

Randy made me feel at home with colors, and I want to investigate colors and dye my own yarns. But there is ALWAYS more to Darwall textiles, and I'm going to have many more "A ha!" moments in the decades to come.

But for now, I need to stop looking back and start my apprenticeship.


  1. Its interesting Meg, that one of my samples from the workshop on a very bold warp of navy, blues, greens and one red band which I wefted with red, orange and gold/yellow in Ms and Ws looks very Indian. Peter thinks its very impressive, reminds us of our trip a couple of years ago especially to Udaipur city. I must admit that in reality I was using up the yarn left on my shuttles. Is there a lesson here.

  2. I had to laugh. That happens, doesn't it? It's like my Indian-looking dish towel with bright orange and red warp and dirty yellow weft from my ugly box - the most delicate color-mixing I've ever done!

  3. I like to read your writing, Meg. I can see so clearly what you're saying, yet I'd never really thought about color as being a part of culture. Now I know that there are colors out there that are considered healing by some cultures and I'm looking around me now -- in the Minnesota Fall -- to see what colors I have in my area. Over the next several weeks I'll be traveling -- first to Phoenix in Arizona for work and then, for vacation, to North Carolina's Outer Banks. I'm trying to imagine what pallets I'll see when I get there...

    Thanks for the new way of thinking!

  4. Starbyte, I am definitely influenced by the Minnsota Fall, and in fact, the seasons in Minnesota. In the winter, it's not all blah-white either - new snow, dirty snow, and whatever colors being enhanced by the snow. And of course when it's warmer, Minnesota bursts into flowers and leaves color. I think THOSE clear colors are embedded are coded in my DNA, even if I haven't been there in a whhhhiiiillllleeee.

    Phoenix is totally different, and if the air is dry, even that can influence colors, and though I don't know much about NC, being by the sea gives you steady change in water/moisture, reflections, wind.... You really should consider getting back into either photography or painting, I think.

    Anyway, thanks for reading the LONG blather, and I hope you have a great time during both trips, and when reentry in Minnesota.


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