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Color: The Element Artists Love to Hate

As a digital artist, you have something traditional artists don’t: clickable access to a plethora of colors. While non-digital artists have to engage in trial by error using finite amounts of art supplies, you can easily change the color scheme of a design with a few clicks. Your access to this tool is a tremendous asset, but it can also pull you down into a common artistic trap.

That dangerous trap is the tendency to become attached to a few go-to color themes. While you can vary the tone of the colors, the same color palette can become over-utilized as you design.

If it is interesting and eye-catching, the palette may go over well with a client the first few projects. However, if the client desires to go in a different direction, seeing the same hues will quickly lead to burnout for both you and your client as you struggle to adjust your drafts to meet client expectations.

Your Evolution as an Artist

Woman of African ethnicity on orange-red background.As you evolve as an artist, it is perfectly acceptable to have a few go-to palettes that you gravitate towards, but it is equally important that you never stop experimenting with colors.

Some color combinations that you typically wouldn’t have seen in advertising a few years ago are making a big impact. For example, imagine cork board and kraft paper. Designers in years past would never have even considered using these matte, neutral tones as the centerpiece of a design. However, with the hipster movement, the desire to go back to natural products has resulted in these colors surging to the forefront of design. The color didn’t change—the audience did.

Uncommon Color Combinations

The path to utilizing uncommon color combinations is one that takes time and that will develop the more that you experiment with it. Artists usually have strong feelings about colors, much more so than than the average non-artist. Expanding your craft will require you to get up close and personal with colors that spawn a negative reaction and that do not engage your creative spark.

As you experiment with color, you are likely to come to a stumbling block typical to artists: color aversion. One way to become less averse to a color that you do not particularly like is to do a social media color story challenge.

Social Media Color Story Challenge

Block of photos in an orange color paletteThrough social media, you can invest a small amount of effort to test the impact of these color combinations. By featuring them in a post, you can gauge the reaction of your audience. As you experiment, keep the content fairly standard. This will help you assess the color palette, rather than the subject matter, as the variable affecting the number of likes that your post receives.

The concept of a social media color story is simple. Instagram is the preferred platform. To get started:

  1. Choose a color. Identify the color you presently dislike the most. If you already have a robust Instagram following, you may want to warn your audience that you are engaging in an experiment.
  2. Set a time frame. Next, depending on the frequency with which you typically post, you can set a time frame for your challenge.
  3. Create a palette-inspired image block. Create a series of nine images—a three-by-three block—using a palette made up of various shades of the color you dislike. Aside from the color selection, don’t treat these photos any differently than what you normally post.
  4. Add some tags. Hashtag the photo series with a qualifier such as #ColorChallenge #WhichDoYouLikeBest #OneDayColorChallenge

For example, if you do not particularly like a shade of the color green and you typically post food photos, continue to do so. This time, though, shift the focus of your photo from the lovely piece of salmon to the the spinach side dish. If you normally post nature photographs of birds and flowers, turn your attention away from these subjects and towards the grass or other examples of greenery.

Play with the tone and hue of the shot so that each of your none photographs clearly conveys the color you are focusing on, but in a manner that will allow you to experiment with different shades. Not only will you be challenged to train your eyes on items around you that do not normally catch your attention, but also you will have to work harder creatively to frame a shot that still captures your typical aesthetic—but is in a color you dislike.

When the challenge is over, you may not have fallen in love with the color. That is okay and is even the expected outcome. However, you will have worked with the color more you had before, You’ll also have become more familiar with the way the color is found in your environment. This can inspire you to add the color as an accent with other colors you do enjoy. Because you are more comfortable with the color, you’ll be able to do so in a way that is pleasing and harmonious.

The goal isn’t to find yourself a new favorite color; instead, the goal is to help you become more comfortable with a color you tend to avoid.

Connect with Other Artists

Artistic woman with goldfish swimming out of shirtAnother action you can take on to become more familiar with a color you dislike is to connect with another artist, or even a consumer, about the reasons that a particular color appeals to them. For instance, if the color orange is not among your favorites, but your roommate’s cousin buys a new orange accent chair, ask the cousin to share the reasons for the color choice.

Sometimes colors appeal to people solely for the aesthetic. But, at other times, the reason can relate to other factors that they associate with color choices. Nostalgia and sentimentality are often primary drivers. The orange chair owner may remember a similarly-hued chair in her grandmother’s home; or the color may represent her favorite sports team.

Color isn’t solely about art; sometimes it is about emotion and memory. There are even times when artists will intersperse the favorite color of a loved one in their creations, simply because it evokes a deeper and meaningful impact when they view it.

As you embark on future design endeavors, embrace the wide range of colors available to you and be mindful of your visceral reaction. The stronger the reaction—whether positive or negative—the deeper the dive into exploring all the possibilities that particular color can bring.