Pet Portrait Quilts: Choosing a Dynamic Color Palette

Pet portrait of a dog using complementary colors.
In this pet portrait of a dog, Lea McComas uses complementary colors to create her composition.

Portrait quilts, especially pet portraits, make some of the most intriguing art and memory quilts. You can make them using a variety of techniques including appliqué, piecing, or thread painting.  They can be realistic, abstract, or somewhere in between. Make them as small as a postcard or as large as your heart desires.

Whatever size or the method you choose to make your pet portrait, color is the foundation of your composition. Let’s explore the many options the color wheel has to offer!

In her new online course Pet Portrait Memory Quilts, Lea McComas teaches us how to use the color wheel when contemplating different color schemes for our art quilts. Here is a handful of the methods she shares that will be helpful to know next time you’re designing a quilt.

If you’d like to focus on just one color, your composition will be monochromatic. Achieve depth in your image by using a range of values within that singular section of the color wheel.

For a complimentary color scheme, you’d choose two colors across from each other on the color wheel.  The opposite colors, for example, blue and orange play off of each other and make for dynamic quilt designs.

Example of a triad color combinations.
The color wheel on the left illustrates a split complement and the wheel on the right shows an equal triad color palette.

Integrate three different colors into your pet portrait composition by using a triad. There are a couple different ways to determine which colors will be included in a triad color scheme. The first is called a split complement, which means you choose one color and instead of using its complementary color, you use the complement’s next door neighbors. For more variation within your color choice, you can use an equal triad where the colors are equally spaced on the color wheel.

Mccomas-tetrad-blog
The left image is an example of a triad featuring complementary pairs and the image on the right illustrates an equal triad.

If you have more colors in the reference photo you are using as inspiration for your pet portrait, you can try a tetrad color scheme which uses four colors. Similar to a split complement, the first tetrad variation called complementary pairs. This option utilizes complementary colors close to each other on the color wheel, with just one color between the pairs. Alternatively, you can have an equal tetrad which employs complementary colors equally spaced around the wheel, with two colors between the pairs.

Not feeling inspired by the complementary color combinations? That’s quite alright, you have other options!

Lea McComas uses analogous color schemes for these two pet portraits
The warm analogous color palette of “Hot Chick” creates energy, while the cool analogous color palette of “Cool Chick” results in serenity.

An analogous run is one color and its next door neighbors on the color wheel. Their closeness on the wheel means they play well with each other.  Lea likes to expand her analogous run from the traditional three colors to five colors.  In Lea’s examples, Hot Chick uses an analogous run of warm colors to create a lively and energetic pet portrait. When she takes the same design and uses an analogous run of cool colors she achieves a pet portrait that is soothing and serene. Both are dynamic quilt designs!

Last, but certainly not least are neutrals which are perfect if you want to try a subtle color scheme. These grays and beiges can be hard to find using the color wheel, but they can make for a soothing and calming composition. When used in combination, the cool grays recede into the background and the warm beiges have a tendency to pull forward. Sometimes a neutral color scheme can be a little bit boring so adding a pop of color, or an accent, can go a long way to making a neutral pet portrait more interesting. Or, try taking the accent even further by surrounding your neutral pet portrait with a bold colored background.

Along with her helpful hints on navigating the color wheel, Lea also demonstrates everything you’ll need to know to create vibrant art quilts of your pets. She starts by teaching what makes a good photo when looking for pet portrait inspiration and then explains how to edit the image. Learn to make a pattern from your photo and how to cut out the fabric and assemble your pieces with fusible appliqué.

Register for your seat in Lea’s online course Pet Portrait Memory Quilts today to learn on your own schedule in the comfort of your home.

Happy quilting!

Brenna's Signature

P.S. Color choice is an integral part of creating, whether you’re choosing fabrics for a modern quilt or an artistic pet portrait. How do you choose your color combinations? Leave a comment below to share your methods.

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