Color and Design

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).

This was my knitwear design that caused such a negative response in the Fashion Director.

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.

Color Wheel

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!

10 thoughts on “Color and Design

  1. I just love this! What a wonderful meditation on color. I wanted to smack that editor! But you have gone so far beyond that moment.

    How are you? I am doing fine, very busy with writing, political work, some family things (my step mom has been struggling, but doing pretty OK). And I had a wonderful weekend visit with Amanda. That has taken a lot of work on both our sides to get to, as I am sure you can imagine.

    I send you love, and look forward to the time when we can see each other again.

    xxx Alexandra


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I considered going into interior design at one point and took some night classes. One of my first assignments was to create a story board for a room. I don’t recall the actual details. I had some bright coloured print on a black background that I used to make myself a duvet cover. I used that as my base, I didn’t get a very good evaluation. Then I realized the instructor preferred very monochromatic muted colours. Did better playing her colours but didn’t enjoy having to give up my twist.

    I’m glad you let your voice be heard and do what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always too bad when the instructor’s likes and dislikes take precedence over good teaching. Color is SO subjective. I don’t love yellow, but I can certainly appreciate when others use it and the ways in which they use it. XX


  3. Ariane..when I was reading your story I literally had a flashback of being at FIT and being called out in the same way! I remember the feeling…those comments can shut you down…if she could flash forwards and see you now! Really enjoying your writings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know what the fashion director was seeing, but clearly it wasn’t the vibrant ensemble you had created. I seldom buy fashion magazines because I had no need to look “editorial ” as I went about my professional life. Much of what I’d see in such magazines was the visual equivaof cacophony. I love your color sense and rationale.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Ariane,
    I have posted two comments on You Tube, but they have never shown up—I hope it’s OK to comment here.
    I finished River Rocks Pouch on Monday–what a delight is was to stitch along with you. Your pattern was top-notch–loved having the active links to check out the stitches–well written with lots of photos. I opted to work with my stash, so my pouch is a different colour. I have received so many oohs and awws over it. Thank you for a wonderful distraction during these times of hunkering down at home.
    Re: your last You Tube post–I am so frustrated when I hear of others using your (and other designers) intellectual property and claiming it for their own. I’m hoping to continue to follow your design/stitching journey, but as I am a bit of dinosaur and not on Facebook, Instagram, etc., I’m hoping that there will be some way for me to continue. I believe that there should be remuneration for all of the work you put into your patterns and videos. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have planned for future projects.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bernice – I’m so glad to hear from you! Thank you so much for this lovely message. I’m so glad the pouch turned out well! I wish I could see it!!! But more importantly I’m just thrilled that you are happy with it. 💕


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