When I was working as a contributing editor at Elle Magazine, the Fashion Director called me out loudly in front of the entire staff. She asked me if I was color blind, not in a concerned way, but as an accusation meant to humiliate, and demonstrate just how awful she thought my sense of color was. I cannot remember my response, but I do remember how it felt. It was the first time anyone had criticized my sense of color. Thankfully I can look back on that experience and smile, as I’m pretty secure in my ability to play with colors in pleasing ways (at least they are pleasing to me).
Color is one of the most powerful ways in which we can convey emotions. But color can be tricky. A few people I know are synesthetes. In other words their senses are entangled. Colors can have sound or taste, letters can have colors or smell, etc. And while I am not a synesthete, I do feel that colors have personalities and when placed next to each other they can fight or become best friends, at least this is how it seems to me.
An example of this is my River Rocks Pouch where I have a slate blue background with some beige neutrals. There’s a kind of meditative quality to the colors I chose and the shapes compliment that, with no hard edges. There’s movement and a flow to the design and everyone is getting along. On the other side of the pouch, I added some color, but the colors compliment both the background of slate and light blues, and the beige neutrals of the river rocks. Everyone’s happy. It’s a community of like minded souls co-existing together, even if a couple of them are drama queens.
However, if I decided to mix things up and instead chose a grey background, I would have to rework all the other colors I was using, because beige and grey often don’t get along. There’s something about the yellow in the beige and the blue in the grey that can oppose each other. When I then add the colors that all worked so nicely against my slate and light blue, it’s as though everyone begins to disagree. Someone starts yelling and others soon follow. The whole thing turns into a brawl.
When I was at Parsons School of Design, I had to take a number of color theory classes, which laid the groundwork for all design, no matter what the medium. Each of us was given a color wheel, and that wheel was our road map. When in doubt, I’d pull out the color wheel. It helps to also have a basic understanding of the psychology of colors, but that is far more subjective. What is most important is learning what speaks to you and having some understanding as to why.
Even so, every now and again I design something and the colors are off, just a little. While I was designing, I didn’t pick up on the fact that there was some bickering going on. It can be subtle, but as a result, my design doesn’t fill me with a sense of calm. Sometimes I won’t realize this until the project is finished and I won’t feel the kind of joy I feel when everyone is behaving nicely. It’s like going to a dinner party and a couple of the guests clearly dislike each other. You just hope they’ll be seated at opposite ends of the table. It’s the same with color. Keep those that fight at opposite ends of the table and everything and everyone will be far more enjoyable!