Let’s stop lying to ourselves - we’ve all been there! Choosing the right colors for your design or artwork can be a real pain when you are just starting out.
Many Colourlovers actually started learning about color looking through other users’ palettes and trying to see how they match and mix them.
A good piece of advice I can give you as beginner color users is to take a look at some of the pieces your favorite artists have produced. How do they use color? How do they emphasize what’s important and what’s not? How do they create contrast? Do they use a particular color throughout their work in the same way? What message does that send about their art?
Whether we talk about designing, illustration, painting, photography, craft or any kind of art form that involves using color, what’s important to consider is the meaning of each of the colors in the color palette we chose for our art piece?
Colors have more to them then just to make our work look pretty. Besides making it come to life, they also send a message to our audience.
First, let’s understand the basics.
Primary colors are red, blue and yellow. All the other colors derive from these three.
We get secondary colors – orange, green and purple as a combination of two primary colors.
The first on the list is purity. A pure color is the one that hasn’t been mixed with any other color, therefore its intensity remains original. A good example is the primary color blue. If it’s mixed with a bit of red, it loses purity as its intensity changes.
Hue is dependent of the dominant wavelength and it is independent of color intensity. When choosing color for a specific artwork, you might need a certain color to be a hue closer to green rather than yellow.
Shade (tone) and tint are in effect terms defining two opposite processes. When we want a stronger tone of green, we add more gray to it. A quieter version of the same green will have a higher purity, meaning less gray added to it.
When creating a tint of green, we will add white to it. The more white we add, the lighter the color becomes. Primary or secondary colors amalgamated with white create pastel colors.
Lightness or value is a property that tells us about the amount of black or white mixed with the chosen hue. It is represented on the scale 0-100%. Green with 100% lightness is pure. Green with 50% lightness is darker.
Today we’ll learn about color and the cultural connotations certain colors have. I chose a couple of often underrepresented colors to analyze. For more colors and meanings, take a look at the book “The Designer’s Dictionary of Color” to comprehend color theory on a much deeper level.
This color awakens a sense of happiness without being intrusive. Depending on how we use it, in some combinations it can seem washed out and pale. On the other hand, when using butter we minimize the risk of unfavorable cultural implications.
Most nations relate butter to happiness, optimism, the feeling of general positivity. Its soft character makes it a good color choice for branding institution or trying to invoke a feeling of domestic bliss.
Other names: Lemon, Vanilla, Cream.
One of the successful applications of butter was using it for the color of post-it notes in 1974.
How would you use this color?
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Nor green nor yellow, this color got its name after a French liqueur that is produced in a monastery close to Grenoble. This color screams creativity, boldness, youth. It shouldn’t be used as a green that presents nature as it’s more aggressive.
Other names: citrus, lime, yellow-green.
Cultural connotations can be positive and negative. Positive ones are growth, prosperity and travel. The negative ones are sickness and envy.
Which colors would you match chartreuse with?
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The word coral stems from old Latin word “corallum”. It’s a color often associated to femininity, the tropics, softness, courtship. In the culture of the Caribbean countries, it is regarded as a carefree, festive color. It is seen as a friendly color, and a tidbit more sensual than pink.
In the cultures of the East it symbolizes life force and longevity.
Marilyn Monroe used to wear a coral lipstick. It was contradictory with the rest of her black outfit. These colors were selected on purpose to send a message of her dual personality: simultaneously sensual and innocent.
Other names: salmon, shell pink, watermelon.
Have you ever used coral? If so, which colors did you match it with?
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Mint is a color that resides on a playful border between blue and green. Mint recalls of life, nature, financial prosperity. It’s associated with growth, youth, innocence, and beginnings. It is a cool color that has to be carefully sent to print. A slightly bit more of yellow can turn it into a turquoise, and not enough yellow can turn it into light blue.
It’s often used for brands related to spiritual pursuits or holistic healing.
It has to be carefully combined with other colors in the palette in order to avoid it looking too cold.
Other names: pale green, aquamarine.
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If red conveys a feeling of energy, scarlet conveys feelings of danger and passion. As a color, it's attention-grabber. It can be used more successfully than red alongside a color such as blue as it is less probable it will resonate and create a contrast that's unpleasant to look at.
It was used in times of Old Romans as a color that informed of one's prestige. Catholic cardinals often wore it.
Nowadays, as a color it often relates to education and knowledge, but also adultery.
Other names: Burgundy, brick.
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And last but not least - peach. Color peach reminds us of the fruit. It's regarded as warm and soft. It has been associated with the goddess Venus.
When selecting our nuance of peach, we need to be careful not to add too much yellow because that might remind of jaundice.
It is used in branding of a couple of prestigious restaurants around Europe, one of them being Sant Ambroeus in Milan.
Other names: Apricot, melon, shell.
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New year, new colors. Even though we love colors, sometimes we catch ourselves repeatedly using all the same combinations for our designs, and for our crafts. This short guide can help you understand more color choices and how and when to use them. Stop making excuses.
What color will you choose to include in your designs?
About the author:
Ana Maksimovic is the community manager and editor at Colorlovers. Part-time traveler and part-time web and graphic designer, she loves working with sustainable brands. She supports circular economy and good businesses and writes about social entrepreneurship. She is passionate about photography and nature - a never-ending source of inspiration.