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December 25, 2012

The Easy Contrast Palette

Merry Christmas!
Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you enjoy your present.

I find that the best way to think myself out of a rut or a dry spell is to put myself in a box. Not a literal, honest-to-god box -- that would be sort of creepy and uncomfortable -- but a metaphorical one, where the number of colours that are at my disposal are limited. But even if I'm not struggling at the torch, this is still a fun exercise that teaches me a lot every time I do it. I have come up with multiple ways of quickly choosing a colour palette, and I am going to share one of them with you in this post. 

Working with a limited palette of colours forces you to learn new things and think about your glass in a different way than you have been accustomed to. Some people find the idea of this sort of thing very frustrating and difficult, and others are excited by the challenge, but whatever category you fit into I hope that you give this a shot. 

Please keep in mind, though, that it won't work if you don't stick with the palette you create. Before you start you need to pledge to work with the colours you select for a minimum of ten consecutive torching sessions -- preferably more than ten.

This particular palette is focused on contrast - both colour contrast and light/dark contrast.

Colour Focus
The first decision you are going to have to make is what the 'core' colour family of your palette is going to be. Since this colour family will be, percentage-wise, a fairly large part of your total palette, I would choose a colour family that you like a lot. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you could instead choose a colour family that you almost never use with the goal of developing some appreciation for it by the end of this exercise.

I'm referring to the following list of 'colour families':
  • Reds
  • Oranges
  • Yellows
  • Chartreuses
  • Greens
  • Teals
  • Turquoises
  • Blues
  • Indigos
  • Purples
  • Pinks

This is a somewhat altered version of the standard colour wheel, and it sort of reflects how I think about colour. It contains primary colours, secondary colours and colours traditionally regarded as tertiary colours. It is green/blue/purple-heavy and red/orange/yellow-light. I've also inserted both teal and turquoise between green and blue. I am not really in a position to argue with decades upon decades of colour theory, but for the purposes of designing with colour in glass, I prefer to think of my colours this way.

Step 1 :: Choose Your First Four (4) Glass Colours
Choose one colour grouping from the list/image above and within that grouping, try to achieve some hue variation - for instance, if you have chosen a starting family of 'Blues', try to now choose some blues that tend towards indigo, some that don't lean much at all and some that are more on the turquoise side, but are still essentially blue. Ensure you have a mix of opaque, semi-opaque and/or transparent colours and a mixture of lightness and darkness.

For example, if you had chosen 'Blues' as your palette's starting point,  you could select:
  • CiM Leaky Pen (dark, transparent, turquoise-leaning)
  • CiM Zachary (light, opaque, indigo-leaning)
  • EFF Medium Blue Transparent (light/medium, transparent, mid-blue)
  • CiM Sapphire (medium, transparent, mid-blue)
  • EFF Dark Blue Transparent (medium, transparent, mid-blue)
  • EFF Earth (medium, opaque, blue, with streaks of turquoise)
  • LAU Steel Blue (dark, opaque, turquoise-leaning)
  • EFF Pale Blue Transparent (light, transparent, mid-blue)
... or any number of other possible combinations.

Step 2 :: Choose a Complimentary Colour
Look at the colour wheel, above (or below, if you chose Blues), and choose one of the colour families that is directly across from your starting colour on the colour wheel. Because my colour wheel has an unfortunate number of slots in it (11), you will come up with two possible choices. For example, if your starting family was Blues, you are now confronted with a decision between Oranges and Yellows. Don't worry about it too much, just pick one. Or, if the decision makes you uncomfortable, make your next selections on the border (e.g. Orangey Yellows).

Now that you've chosen, you are going to need to pick two glass colours that fit inside that new colour family. Again, you want to make sure that your overall palette stays sort of balanced between light, dark, opaque, transparent, etc.

For example, if you chose 'Oranges' you could have selected:
  • CiM Peachy Keen (light, transparent, yellow-leaning)
  • EFF Coral La Mesa (dark, opaque, red-leaning)
- or,if you chose yellows, you could have selected:
  • EFF Yellow Ochre (medium, opaque, orange-leaning)
  • EFF Kelp (light, transparent, chartreuse-leaning)
... or any number of other possible combinations.

Step 3 :: Choose Two (2) Accent Colours
Now, look at the colour wheel again, and choose the two colour groupings that fall between the two you've already chosen. Again, this is art and not science and there are no wrong choices, but my colour wheel is lopsided so there is going to be one clear choice, and then one sort of ambiguous one.

If you've stayed with me so far and are working with Oranges and Blues, you will now need to find yourself some Greens and some Pinkish Purples / Puplish Pinks. You are going to choose two glass colours fitting into each colour family. Again, you want a good mix of hue, saturation and lightness in your colour choices here, so you could go with:
  • CiM Dirty Martini (light, opaque, teal-leaning)
  • EFF Sage Green (dark, transparent, chartreuse-leaning)
  • EFF Sedona (medium, opaque, purplish pink)
  • EFF Pale Amethyst (light, transparent, pinkish purple)
- or - 
  • CiM Commando (medium, opaque, teal-leaning)
  • EFF Pale Emerald (light, transparent, mid-green)
  • EFF Dark Lavender (light, transparent, pinkish purple)
  • EFF Evil Devitrifying Purple (medium, opaque, pinkish purple)
... or any number of other possible combinations.

Step 4 :: Choose Four (4) Neutrals / Non-Colours
Finally, you are allowed to select four colours that don't really fit into any of the colour wheel slots.  You can choose any four browns, greys, blacks, ivories or whites. Again, you want to make sure you have a decent mix of hue, saturation and lightness in these colours. This palette is all about contrast.

For example, you could go with:
  • CiM Marshmallow (light, semi-opaque)
  • EFF Oliva Nera (dark, transparent)
  • EFF Black Metallic (dark, opaque and FUN)
  • EFF Ivoryish (light/medium, opaque)
- or -

  • EFF Ivory (light, opaque)
  • EFF Light Brown Transparent (light, transparent)
  • EFF Black (dark, transparent)
  • CiM Adamantium (dark, opaque)

So, you've created a palette...

It might look like this one:
  • CiM Leaky Pen
  • CiM Zachary
  • EFF Medium Blue
  • CiM Sapphire
  • CiM Peachy Keen
  • EFF Coral La Mesa
  • CiM Dirty Martini
  • EFF Sage
  • EFF Sedona
  • EFF Pale Amethyst
  • CiM Marshmallow
  • EFF Oliva Nera
  • EFF Black Metallic
  • EFF Ivoryish

No cheating. You can use goldstone, dichro and assorted metals (e.g. silver, gold, brass, paladium, copper) with these colours, and you can use Clear. That is the extent of the variation you are permitted. If you have a favourite colour that you feel you can't live without (e.g. Ivory, Dark Ivory, Copper Green, Opal Yellow, White, Black, EDP or Intense Black) you should have structured your palette to include it. If you need to, go back and fix it now.

Use your new palette for at least ten sessions. The first few sessions can be hard -- you may feel sort of stuck and uncomfortable with experimenting, and maybe no good beads will come out initially. The key is to be persistent, and work through those problems instead of abandoning ship. Usually for me, around the third or fourth session, something starts to click and I start having brand new, exciting ideas for what to make. I hope you do, too!

If you feel tempted to change colours before you hit your tenth session, suppress it. The rule I enforce for myself is that if I am that undisciplined, I need to pay for it. The clock resets on my palette and I'd better like that new colour I snuck in, because I have to use it (and the others) the next ten times I torch. The only exception I make is if I actually run out of something and I'd have to spend money to comply with my strict rules. In that case, I let myself find an alternative that can slide into the palette in its place (same hue, lightness).

I hope that you enjoy this exercise. 


  1. Melanie, this is such a wonderful gift, thank you! I can't wait to give it a go. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  2. You're welcome, Janel, and Merry Christmas to you too! Please let me know how you make out with it!

  3. Hi Melanie! I really enjoyed your lesson above, and I never thought about making the pallet like yours. I am going to give it a whack! Thanks so much for sharing and I can't wait to get started!

    Andrea Simeral-Boyer