Feb. 21 2014
Design Ideas

As a young child, I was quiet and had a strong creative interior. Often while my siblings were out playing, I was inside making things. These structures were not well executed, but the colors were my focal point. When I was eight, my mother took me to art classes at Carnegie Mellon. I loved this. I had tremendous freedom. I began to focus my eye on the relationships of light, hue and tone.

moroccan door
My high school years were academically uneven, but I thrived in studies involving art history and the arts. I began to understand the value of composition, the placement of colors next to one another. Complementary and binary combinations became part of the vocabulary of my palette. I wanted to explore bold fluorescent colors—yellows, lime greens, hot pinks, oranges and bright blues—colors were expressive of the radical changes of the sixties.

By the time I went to college in the seventies, I had worked in Scandinavia, and my palette had been layered over with grays over blues, oxides over reds, and umbers over yellows. These tones are reflective of the history and weather of the northern region, and the colors would come alive with the longer days of light in the summer months and grow more somber with the approach of the winter solstice.

In the meantime, beige had arrived in our home as my mother’s homage to designer Billy Baldwin. The volume of bold colors now quieted to a minimal canvas of tone-on-tone creamy beiges that were modulated by the surrounding light during the course of the day. When I arrived at art school on the West Coast in the early seventies, I found that the bold colors of the sixties were still very popular; I found my interest became melding bold into fresh tones, less aggressive, and more adaptable to complementing different environments.

That period of education was a gift. I came to understand that my relationship to color was very personal and that I would not follow color trends. Forms became clearer, and a love for natural fibers became evident: Weaving, painting and printing all became gateways to exploring color. Vision is always instructive, especially on our farm on the prairie: a sunrise that begins with a bold wash of salmon across the horizon; the chamois tones of the Bluestem grasses; the creams, heathers, grays and chocolate tones of our sheeps’ fleece; the Aqualon pink light that reflects on the trees as the sun is setting.

Floret in Platinum/Charcoal, White/Blue and Moroccan Olive on Linen

This serene palette represents a sense of place. I think we are often drawn to certain colors because they evoke a feeling and have a relationship to one’s environment. Blues, beiges, pinks, reds, oranges, grays and greens: These can be translucent layers of tones creating a single color and, in that building of color, creating depth.

I travel a great deal and am often stimulated by new fan decks of colors, all influenced by the light, culture and history in which they are viewed. Majorelle blue from the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech is my current favorite. It is rich, dense and bold. Yves Saint Laurent juxtaposed its intensity with different tones of green provided by the plant material of the gardens: citrine, jade, lichen, silver and asparagus against the lemon and bright orange of the clay pots, all set against the natural clay of the ground.

After 40 years of blending, melding and studying the relationship of light to color, I
visited the Beyeler Museum outside Basel in Switzerland, a small building designed by Renzo Piano that seems to float in water. Just inside the gallery, glass panels stretch from floor to ceiling. On the walls were two large paintings of water lilies by Monet. It was far beyond ordinary. What were those colors? How much came to me from Monet himself, how much from Piano, how much from the light of Switzerland?

©Elizabeth Eakins, February 2014