How it all starts with Color.
In the framework of Geneva Design Days (Nov. 2023), the new capsule collection Nathalie Chapuis & L’UPCYCLERIE, made from textile leftovers, was presented in the beautiful shop of rue des Bains. An evening was organized around the theme of Color, where I had the chance to discuss my artistic path to create colorful patterns and my inspiration sources. An interactive exchange about a central theme, key in the collection construction from L’UPCYCLERIE.
Color is a central theme in what I do, and yet I’ve never really given the subject much thought because it’s so instinctive. Since 2019, I’ve been developing the idea that artistic input is a vital tool in the process of differentiating and creating unique places. Self-taught in this field – I studied Political Science and worked for ten years in finance – I never learned the rules in an art school, so I have a purely intuitive approach to color, which is nourished above all by experience.
Color is a theme that is both universal (everyone knows what red, yellow and blue are) and yet everyone’s perception of color is totally subjective. Here’s how I perceive color.
Sources of inspiration.
I came to pattern design through painting. Trained by the same teacher since the age of 5, my passion for painting began by copying classic oil painters, Renoir in particular. I especially loved the multitudes of shades with clever names (Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine, Zinc White, etc.) that could be reworked ad infinitum thanks to the long drying time of oil paint.
At 23, after 6 months in Nashville, Tennessee, a city that had become a great source of inspiration, I moved to NYC. I discovered MoMa. I was already very attracted to the aesthetics of the 1960s-1970s, my student room decorated in the Austin Powers total look.
I was fascinated by Pop Art, especially by artists whose central theme was color: Rosenquist, Liechtenstein, Warhol, Robert Indiana.
I started making my own painting compositions, with very eclectic elements, imagining stagings on stretched canvases, creating cushions with very colorful cut-out fabrics, and engaging messages inscribed on them. I later discovered Poliakoff, Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Paul Klee, whose chromatic research, harmonies and textures I greatly admire.
As time went by, I drew on a wide variety of sources, in everyday life and through different cultural vectors, and most of the time, my discoveries came about by chance.
A book on the color of insects (published by Papier Tigre), vintage vinyl sleeves, a magazine on 60s fashion, 19th century tapestry pattern journals I found in an attic. I love eclecticism above all: synthesizing vintage floral wallpaper, the reflection of mountains in the lake, and an 80s punk album.
Colors in the pattern
When I design a pattern, I always have the vision of the finished design in mind as a starting point. I define the style of the collection beforehand. For example, in “Escape”, I wanted to use very Pop Art tones. In the Nature Graphique collection, on the other hand, I wanted softer, more nature-like tones. I experiment with patterns, practicing different tones until I find the perfect match, which cannot be altered without diminishing the visual quality. Depending on contrasts and colors, the result can be very different. I have a natural penchant for certain color schemes: blue/violet, ochre and green. Depending on customer requests, I explore different, more unusual combinations, which take the motif into visual realities very different from the starting point. I like this kind of challenge.
Sometimes it’s the colors that draw the pattern and create the contours.
In the motif “Where are the cows” or “Blue flowers”, depending on which element your eye focuses on, you don’t see the same thing. It’s interesting to play on this aspect to create fantasy and give free rein to the viewer’s imagination.
Inherent in the concept of pattern is the notion of repetition, which leads us to the parameter of rhythm. Often, alternating colors set the tempo. I don’t follow any special paradigm such as warm/cool colors, light/dark. On the other hand, there is a question of proportion: the dominant color determines the mood of the motif, and the design can be totally different depending on the order and the colors used.
The colors in the pattern are closely linked to the manufacturing techniques used. In the case of woven fabrics, these colors may be those of the threads. In printing techniques, they come from the ink.
When I wanted to make my first fabrics, I turned to digital printing. The advantage of digital printing is that it can be used for small quantities, on a variety of substrates.
It does, however, require a certain technical skill: the colors on the screen are not the same as those that come out of the printer. Within the same house, each support will have a different rendering. In the concept of immersive design, the challenge is to have the same hue on fabric, wallpaper or carpet, which correspond to 3 different suppliers. Color systems such as Pantone and RAL can be used to designate the expected rendering of the final color, but the method is specific to each manufacturer. The creation of pre-printed color charts enables the customer to know in advance what the rendering will look like, to choose colors directly or at least to have a starting point in the choice of colors.
Colors in space
Let’s rewind: even before choosing colors, motifs and substrates, the vision of the final setting is essential, and remains the common thread. It’s the source of the variations in décor elements. Here, it’s not just a question of pigment: variations in intensity and light are an integral part of color perception.
Wall color is not independent of the rest. It dialogues with the landscape, the color and texture of materials, furniture, as well as sounds and smells.
All the elements that appeal to our senses contribute to the overall impression. First and foremost, our gaze encompasses all these elements to analyze how we feel when we’re in a place. The concept of immersive design proposes to stage motifs in a monumental way, focusing attention on walls and floors as the primary supports. Colors play a key role, as they are what attract the eye. There’s a kind of two-way street, from our gaze to the color, which defines the character of a place (“it’s blue, yellow, red”), and in turn the way the color impacts the visitor’s emotions.
Colors also carry symbolism, consciously or unconsciously, referring us to the memory of sensations and our imagination. In this respect, Fengh Chui offers a very interesting theory, with the idea that the orientation of a room corresponds to a category of colors, guaranteeing well-being and harmony.
Last but not least, color is also a binder. In a place with many disparate elements, or in a poorly organized space, color is an effective tool that gives unity and coherence to the whole. To come back to the motif, you can put different motifs in the same room, with a chromatic link, in the style of the 17th century, and the decor will be all the richer for it!
When it comes to color, the question of “good taste” arises quite naturally. Pink and red don’t mix, nor do navy blue and black.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as good taste or bad taste. Firstly, because these are very prescriptive concepts, and color is above all a personal experience, it’s different for everyone, and it’s also very cultural.
Secondly, it’s the overall harmony that counts: a “beautiful” color can be destroyed by a discordant decor, or vice versa.
However, if we consider that bad taste is the slight stray from an established order, or the small detail that disturbs, then I think it has a certain virtue: it’s perhaps in the shift of tone, in the subtle dissonance, that something a little intoxicating lurks, creating the attraction for the unusual and making you want to drown in a décor.