A Quiet-Voiced Palette: Neutrals

When we use the word ‘neutral’ about color we usually mean something is ‘achromatic’ or “black, gray, or white.” Artists have long applied neutrals in a variety of ways using the black/gray/white spectrum. Brown, though not technically a neutral, often finds a home in the neutral family as we perceive many of its shades as lacking color. In Becky McNeill’s article, Challenging Neutrals: Rebel Without a Hue she teaches about how modern quilters have been and can use neutrals in their quilts. 

Lazy Sunday Afternoon by Becky McNeill

Traditionally, neutrals have most often been used as a background fabric. Many quilters today still use them as a canvas for brighter colors, and to provide contrast. But many modern quilters have also expanded the regular use of neutrals into the sole palette of quilt compositions. 

McNeill asks, “What happens when we challenge this idea that neutrals should fade into the background? Why can’t neutrals be the star? Or why can’t we use colors as our filler fabrics and neutrals for our blocks? Or even try using a color for a neutral? Can purple be the new black? Or is yellow the new gray? How many ways can we find to get neutrals out of the shadows and into the spotlight? What other stories could neutrals tell if we only gave them the chance to speak?”

We love how McNeill flipped the traditional use of neutrals as the background, to the fabric she chose for the quilt blocks in her quilt First Snowfall. The dark blue background color creates contrast and allows for the ‘snowflakes’ float.

First Snowfall by Becky McNeill

In her quilt Transient, McNeill shows how using an unexpected color as the background fabric in place of a more traditional neutral, elevates the composition and makes it more dynamic.

Transient by Becky McNeill

Pushing beyond the expected and acceptable rules of color theory opens up a new frontier in quilt design. You can learn more about how to quilt as a Rebel by reading Becky McNeill’s entire series, Rebel Without a Hue, in the following issues of Curated Quilts:

Issue no. 16: Stripes = Part 1: Rebel Without a Hue: Challenging Color Theory

Issue no. 17: Polygon = Part 2: Rebel Without a Hue: Challenging Value

Issue no. 18: Collaborate = Part 3: Rebel Without a Hue: Challenging Tints, Tones, and Shades 

Issue no. 19: Red = Part 4:  Rebel Without a Hue: Challenging Neutrals

Issue no. 20: Utility = Part 5: Rebel Without a Hue: Challenging Our Limits with Fabric Pulls

Becky McNeill is a self-taught, modern quilt artist living and working in Corning, New York. As part of the modern quilt movement her improvisational designs and vibrant color palettes create bold geometric patterns and abstract, pixelated compositions. Her works often carry aspirational social messages that challenge the viewer to strive for a higher ideal in keeping with the values she holds most dear: nurturing, connecting, and protecting. 

By Brittany Bowen Burton

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