Even more than design, I think that the chosen colors are the most important element that makes a yarn mandala beautiful. In my own, not so humble, opinion, I think that my own mandalas stand out from others largely because of the beauty of the colors. Recently I was asked how I choose my colors, and, not wanting to give a overly simple answer, I’ve come to write this post. I hope I can empower perhaps a few weavers to enrich their own mandals colors, colors that have the potential to still the mind, and enliven the heart.
When I first started making serious numbers of Ojos de Dios mandalas for sale, in the late 1960′s, I was living near the Joshua Tree National Park in the California Mojave Desert, and the colors I worked with then, and continue to work with today, are largely based on the colors of that area, and of our great American Southwest in general. I don’t in any way mean to imply that Southwest colors are needed to create the most beautiful of yarn mandalas, but rather I mean to encourage weavers to find their own places of nature that inspire, and that have enriched and enhanced the weavers own sense of beauty.
So, first and foremost, I say choose colors of the beauty of nature. Secondly, I’m sure it’s useful to study the color wheel, and to search the internet for information on color harmonies. I downloaded an ap for my ipod touch, called Coloursphere, which I found to be fun and interesting, and that confirmed several color combinations that I use. However I’ve never actually used the ap when it comes time to pick colors for one of my mandalas. I can see, however, that such tools can be useful, and I encourage anyone to try color wheel picked color combinations for themselves.
It’s important, though, beyond color wheel combinations, to recognize and harmonize different classes of colors, namely: earth tones, jewel tones, primary colors, and pastels. Myself, I use a combinations of earth tones highlighted with a few jewel tones very often in my work. Others find it useful to stick with one of these groups altogether in any form of artwork. Myself, I mix of these color groups often, but stay aware of the effect created. When I mix earth tones and jewel tones, for instance, I’m thinking of a desert scene, with earth beauty highlighted by either Native American jewelry, or perhaps some lucky rock hound, or miner, discovering a vein of turquoise or nuggets of emeralds or sapphires. Such an image might inspire me through a whole series of mandalas.
In my early days of ojo weaving, I used to sit by a particular rock that had several colors of lichens growing on it. I wish I had a photo of that rock to share here, and hope before too long to return to Joshua Tree, find that rock, and get a good photo of it. Meanwhile, here is a montage of three photos I downloaded fromr a Google image search for “Joshua National Park lichens”.
Other desert colors that influenced me then, and continue to find their way into my current work, are desert wildflowers, and some of the spectacular desert sunsets and sunrises. The most common color in my work over the years, though, comes from none of these, but rather from the Native American “Sky stone,” turqouise. Often, also, I’ll add in same colors that Native American artisans put into turquoise jewlery: coral and silver.
Here’s a photo of yarn colors based on nearly all the colors I’ve seen of desert lichens, except for shades of grey. For years I hardly, if ever, put grey into my work, although now, thinking as much of silver as of grey lichens, I’ve taken to using greys much more.
In the last year of so, I’ve started using a lot of sage green colors in my work. Add these, and turquoise, and you have the basis of a great many of my mandalas.
Also, I include white, or off-white, in almost 100% of my pieces.
Another inspiration to my work is the yarn colors themselves. I find that in the yarns I buy there are many really beautiful colors that inspire me to weave them into my mandalas. So where do I get these yarns? Well, online, of course! More specifically, I buy mostly two types of yarn, from three different online yarn shops: Yarn of the Andes, and yarn from Turkey that is exclusive to Yarnmarket.com. These so called Calendon Hills yarns are the most beautiful yarns I know of that are available commercially, and they come in a pretty good selection of colors too. You can find the HERE.
Yarn from the Andes, which are somewhat cheaper, and still very good, and with many more color choices, I buy at
this KnitPicks page for the best all wool yarn prices that I know of. There is a fairly common all wool yarn from the Andes called Cascade 220, which comes in a really huge selection of colors. I usually buy at a West coast shop which carries most, if not all, of the colors, called Abundant Yarns Online. You can find its Cascade 220 page HERE. One thing I really like about Abundant Yarns, besides the huge color selection, is that they will wind the skeins up into balls for you if you request that with you order.
There is one big advantage at being such an active weaver as I am, in that I go ahead and invest in a LOT of yarn, and at any one time I keep at least 50 colors in stock to choose from. So, here’s how I go about, in the most immediate sense, choosing colors for a planed yarn mandala. I go over to my supply of yarns, which is usually spread out enough that I can see most of the colors, or at least all my current favorite colors easily, and start picking out a few favorites. I may or may not have a theme in my mind as I do this, but I’ll show you an example here of my latest ojo, ButterFly World, where I was sticking with yarns I had worked with recently, which used both my usual Southwest desert colors, and colors that reminded me of butterfly wings. I already had most of the colors already in three small baskets that I work from, but proceeded to toss out a few colors, and add in a few others. This is typical of the way I work with both colors and design: slowly perfecting something I’ve already worked on. While working, especially when working with this many colors, I set three baskets, pictured here, where I can easily reach them while I work.
Often the colors I’ve selected, though, are not my final choices, and I’ll go back to my main supply and add in another color, or toss out a color which I decide doesn’t fit into what I’m working on. It’s all a very contemplative work, with not only deciding which colors to use, but which colors fit in next to other colors, which colors I what to be a basic theme and repeat often or in larger blocks of color; and which colors I want to be only a few strands as highlights.
The final result created from the yarns shown in these three baskets is perhaps the most complex color combination I’ve ever done, Butterfly World, but I also think it’s one of my most beautiful mandalas.
I have to admit though, I found it somewhat mentally exhausting to compose with this huge number of colors, and currently am working on an ojo with only FIVE colors. My advise to beginners of this art: Stick with a few colors until you are sure you’ve gotten something beautiful before expanding into anything as wild and complex as Butterfly World. This many colors gone wrong, and color clashes, and something overly busy, can ruin an otherwise perfectly OK design.
I hope this helps or perhaps inspires anyone seeking to create a yarn mandala in choosing your own unique color patterns. Creating this kind of beauty can certainly carry over to beautifying not only other artistic projects, but can help us to learn to see the beautiful in colors all around us in our everyday lives.
Peace and Love always,