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The Leaning Toner Part II

If you’ve not read Part I: The Leaning Toner, please do, as this article extends the ideas within. You may also find a more recent article, “How to Cheat and Not Get Caught: The 90/10 Rule” useful, as well as the earlier “When The Tonal Lines Blur“ for more background reading.

The first important idea I want you to grasp before you read on is this: our best tone is built on colours which are ideally placed for us in all three dimensions of colour space: hue (warm, cool or neutral), chroma (bright or soft) and value (light or dark)In short the colours found in each of the 12-tones harmonise because they are closely connected in a three dimensional way.  Specific swatches from other tones may come close in any of these dimensions, though, and we often look pretty good in these “close-enough” approximations that aren’t our absolute best.  The correct colour from the correct tone will always look better by comparison.

Keep in mind, too, that when wearing colour we may be responding positively or negatively to the colour itself rather than the effect it has on the wearer. A good analyst spends much time and effort overcoming such personal bias (yes we all have them) in order that they are not swayed by personal taste.  There are complex and very individual psychological reasons for this tendency toward bias, but we can often love a colour even if it’s not ideal on us as long as it’s not actively bad (and sometimes even if it is, which is why compliments sometimes tell us the wrong thing). Further, we can sometimes discount or even like the effects of disharmony – a blanching or a blurring of our face, akin to overexposure or soft focus. Conversely, we might have our own reasons to dislike a colour that in everyone else’s perception works well. These things all influence the reality of how we perceive and use our palette, and also how we react to colours that we may “borrow” from elsewhere.

And so to our topic: can you “lean” to the cool or warm side of a tone and, by implication, to an adjoining or related tone? Can you be a True Autumn who “leans” dark, or a Light Spring who “leans” to Light Summer? Can you be a True Summer who “leans” to True Winter, or Soft Summer? It’s a common question, and the subject of a lot of debate on consumer colour forums.

As we’ve already implied, personal preference matters a lot, and it’s difficult to overstate how much it bears on this question.  Anyone can feel drawn to or not-so-wild-about particular swatches on their palette.  I am personally not a big fan of pink, yes it is in my BW palette, but 9/10 I choose not to wear it.  It is a personal choice, and different clients will use the palette differently for this reason alone.

Soft Summer, for example, is cool and neutral, but this nuanced and very common tone is a very broad church when it comes to how it gets worn. Some clients may like the “cool” angle and graze closer to True Summer and the winters, some may like the warmer neutrality that sits closer to the warm tones in colour space, while others may like their darks and get some serious Dark Winter or Dark Autumn envy – these clients will usually prefer the corporate palette, which focuses on the tonal extremes rather than the centre. As discussed in “The Leaning Toner Part I” and briefly reviewed above, many things come to bear on this, including, sometimes, a preference for the effects of disharmony itself.

It is easy to over-interpret these preferences within a palette, especially as they may change over time or with the effect the client wants to create, or as they work with prevailing trends and whatever is going on in the shops. A selection of hues preferred within the palette may also reflect personal style: a client may be looking for a corporate suiting and shirting look versus an earthy feel, say, to the extent that you can within a given palette.

“Leaning within your tone” is often just another way of expressing the idea of having a “second best tone”. Many may find it challenging to decide if one or another version of a given hue is better in isolation, and when these hues or swatches are much liked and can be identified on another palette, it is again tempting to draw broad conclusions. Be wary of reading too much into this sampling process, however, for as we have seen, the tones interlock in complex ways in colour space and the reality of what lies adjacent to your favourite swatches is often not as simple as it may seem.

Remember, we are looking for your tonal centre. Your best. Your palette represents this in physical form, a swatch book of the localities within colour space that best related to your colouring, and the complete set of hues on the fringes of a single Tone’s palette will never be encompassed by a single second tone, because colour space as represented by the Munsell solid is a 3D patchwork of adjoining parts of other tone’s “maps”. Think about a marble cake made with three or even four different batters, swirled into each other. It is possible to identify distinct patches of chocolate, for example, but these will be variously bordered by vanilla, strawberry and (we’re assuming a very fancy cake, here) caramel. What flavour does the chocolate sit next to? Well, that depends where you look, and the tones interlock in this sort of complex fashion, though with more inherent order than the completely random swirls of our cake.

In truth, then, if we DID try to express the ‘next best’ options for any individual we’d have to go into a great deal more detail than is useful, helpful, or easy to grasp for someone without a really good working knowledge of colour space and the Tones as a group. “I lean Bright/Warm/Soft/True” doesn’t begin to cover it when the pragmatic reality often looks more like “Well, I can get away with Bright Spring’s teal and purple as well as Soft Autumns warmer greens, and Dark Autumn’s warmer accents are pretty good too. Not as good as my True Autumn palette, they all wear me a bit if I’m honest, but it’s a fun change and a bit of a holiday and I’ve got all that in my wardrobe, too, and it gets me out the door.”

Such compromises and off-piste-palette adventures are most often arrived at by eye, using the colour education that a good draping and an accurate palette should give you. When you understand what works, and why, you can then spot what works pretty well in lieu.
Can you BE a “cooler” or “darker” Soft Summer or a “brighter” Dark Autumn (for example), though? Should we subdivide the palettes further, and/or merge them with parts of other palettes to account for these frequent questions?

In theory, there is nothing to stop us dividing the palettes or organising them in new ways – as we’ve already noted, many clients use a “capsule” palette from within their Tone. And as for merging parts of the tones, anything goes, out there in the real world, and people frequently do exactly that – but this is not useful in terms of the mission here, in Personal Colour Analysis, which is to achieve a practical and readily identifiable gamut of colour harmony for the client that will enable them to build a wardrobe of tonally related pieces. You either end up with something too restricted to be helpful to most clients, effectively cutting them off from half their options, or, if you try to push out the fringes and incorporate swathes of other tones, pushing them towards something ever closer to the disharmony and chaos that we come to PCA to avoid, a wardrobe of less-than optimal pieces which are best when combined with specific other pieces but which won’t be harmonious with others not of thethe same home Tone.

TCI has spent a LOT of time playing with the boundaries, looking for extensions to the palettes both Classic and Corporate. The cubes especially enable very free assortment and experiment, as the individual swatches allow unlimited scope to combine and ad-lib between palettes. It is strikingly difficult to find “new” hues for the existing Tones, because Kathryn Kalisz’s original work was so comprehensive and her parameters so well controlled. Try to combine true warm or cool with neutrals and the result jumps out at you as inharmonious, at least to my eye. She organized her system as she did after long contemplation and with very good reason.

Finally, analysts are sometimes asked if a given client’s reactions to the draping sequence itself suggests the diagnosis of a “runner up” season or “undercurrent”, but this is not what the process is designed to do and the comparisons made during the algorithm are just that, comparisons testing for parameters in respect of the three characteristics of colour in organized fashion rather than a hue-by-hue elimination process tied to individual tones (which would be very tedious and time consuming, fatigue the eye and require very controlled and considered hue selection for every tone to enable an analyst a chance at arriving at an accurate result). Clients are usually fascinated by this process and will examine their own observations for patterns and insights, because that’s what the human mind is designed to do, indeed tries to force us to do – to look for the general in the particular, as this helps us make useful sense of a complex world – but again, colour space and the tonal structures are complex and it is generally not helpful to read too much into any one drape in isolation.

And so here at TCI we don’t think the concept of leaning adds anything meaningful to our understanding. You have a best Tone, and you will have preferences within it, and your best colour space (your Tone) is bordered by other options, which will relate to multiple other Tones. Colour space is inherently interesting, you are even more interesting than that, and a solid understanding of your own palette through repeated exposure and use will let you intuit where your limits are and how you can cross them if you wish. All that said some clients do like to formally organise their “cheats” around a second palette for ease and wardrobe economy, especially if a certain tonal look is expected of them at work.


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