1.3 Colour palettes

Identify a palette of no more than three colours that could work in combination. Remember that black and white are also colours. Pick colours that work well together, provide some contrast and can be used as dark, mid and light tones.
Use this palette to illustrate five domestic items beginning with the same letter of the  alphabet.

I am fascinated by the different visual and mood effects of colour and how these interact with size and spatial position in the frame. This is something I had explored earlier in painting and photography courses.

All else being equal, ‘warm’ colours (yellow to red) come forward and cool colours (green to purple) recede because of association with aerial perspective where distant objects turn blue and less contrasty towards the horizon. But it is possible to completely subvert this through using particular colour combinations and contrasts, tonal variations and size and positioning in the frame. Red can become a flaming sun at the back with a cool blue stream at the front. Large areas of light warm colours behind darker cooler ones make the cool colours come forward.

The ways in which different painting traditions have made colours sing and move through exploiting different types of perceptual after effects are fascinating. I am also very interested in the different cultural and emotional meanings different colours may have for different people. Merely changing one colour can give a completely different effect.

See Colour Theory post

I revisited a number of artists who have experimented with colour and shape, and followed up on suggestions of my tutor in finalisation of this post.

David Hockney

Gary Hume

Will Scott

Patrick Caulfield

Michael Craig-Martin

I did not quite understand the task instructions – whether the items were to all begin with the same letter of the alphabet, or the items should begin with the same letter of the alphabet as the colours. I assumed the latter and so tried a number of permutations and combinations.


Series 1 using light, dark and midtones of three colours.

For the three colours I chose:

  • purple: pan and pot
  • blue: bottle and bowl
  • orange: orange

I also used a different shade of one of these colours for the background. I experimented with positioning and size of the objects to see what effect colour has on relative size and position.

  1. With even spacing on a white background the bowl at the bottom (because of position?) and the orange (warm colour) look closest.
  2. Putting a yellow or red background makes the orange recede and the darker objects come forward.
  3. The olive and blue backgrounds make the orange come forward again.
  4. I find the images on row 2 the most conventionally pleasing in terms of composition. The greatest depth is in the first image where although the orange at the front seems to recede on the orange background, it is large enough to stilkl come forward. The blue bottle at the back against the orange background seems the furthest away of the series
  5. Row 3 with the small orange at the front and the large pot at the back is chaotic and unbalanced, the greatest feeling of balanced is the fourth image with the mid tome purple where the tonal values are closer together for all the objects around this middle tone background.
  6. Row 4 putting the warm colour of the orange at the back beings all the objects closer together. Again the greatest feeling of balance is where the background colour is a middle tone (blue in this case) to link together the other objects around it.

The same images bit the 2pt black line have a more cartoon-line fee. Putting in the black line for all the objects gives them a greater sense of linkage and belonging together.

Series 2 using 1 light, 1 medium and 1 dark colour

Omitting the shading gives the objects much more abstraction. Particularly the ones in rows 2 and 3 where the objects overlap. The  in row 2 are fairly balanced and conventionally pleasing, particularly the first three. The last image in row 2 on the purple background where the symmetry has been broken I find quite interesting in the shapes produced. The last row is chaotic – but I could experiment more here to make more interesting tensions and negative shapes.

Series 3 using 2 colours only

Removing the orange makes more of a question about the background.  The image becomes even more abstract. Here I use the round orange as a blue ball. In some of the images the purple pan and pot are pink.

The final set have two colours only, taking further the abstraction. I find these very interesting in the shapes they suggest eg the handle of the pan across the front of the ball suggests a cloud over the moon. The cropping of the image as the featured image gives another set of possibilities.

All these series raise even more possibilities for experimentation – using different crops and using the same types of shape with different sets of colours to look at effects on balance/tension/ambiguity within the image. Considering also the dimension of emotional impact and how to produce different moods simply through changing the colour – and whether or not these effects are common ‘hardwiring’ across cultures or culturally specific.


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