Element of Design – More about Color

Way back in 2013, I wrote about Color, the Element of Design. At the end I promised to write more, specifically about the concept of Contrasting Discords, and I said that I would bring up some exercises using color. Since then we have been through several Pantone Colors of the Year, leading up to this year (2018) being Ultra Violet.

What are Contrasting Discords?

This has to do with how the tonal value of hues, and tints and sometimes shades, are used together. The contrasting aspect has to do with the use of complimentary colors rather than analogous, and the discord has to do with upending expectations. In a discord the expected tonal values are reversed. You can see the tonal values by converting a color image to greyscale (not as simple as it sounds but you get the general idea). By the way, here is a great photography site that talks about shooting with black and white film, and has some images of how colors look on film. In the olden days, production designers and costume designers had charts that showed how colors would look on black and white film stock.

Let us take two ordinary colors together – Blue and Yellow. Typically, yellow is perceived as having a high tonal value – that is if you were to be asked what color is paler, most likely you would say Yellow. Blue, in its saturated state, would be generally perceived as darker.

However, a discord occurs when the usual values are reversed. For example, combining a rich goldenrod yellow with a pale Baby Blue (the tint). The name “discord” doesn’t mean that the result is unpleasant. In her classic book, “The Fashion Design Manual“, Pamela Stecker says, “discord adds excitement to a colour scheme, but must be used carefully so as not to overpower the design.” She also gives us the phrase “Reverse Discord” when instead of tints, the surprise is a shade. Like so much to do with color, it is all about combining colors together. These appear in nature and look perfectly beautiful.

Play with Color

Here are some Apps:

Instakuler – with a cute chameleon logo – allows you to convert elements any photo into a color scheme with the names of the colors and the HEX, RGB and other numbers for exact color matching. There is a little dot that you can move around the photo to get your color gradients, then a button that gives you the whole pallete of colors in the image. I took a photo of my finger pad and got a beautiful selection of warm grey and putty colors, that were invisible to my eye. Justine Leconte shows you how to use it to define your skin tones so that you know which colors to avoid in clothing, and also has a whole video collection about color.

Color Lab – a photo app that converts your photos to greyscale, and then allows you to swipe parts to give them back their color. The free version does have ads for games, and you can purchase other functions, but it is fun to play with.

Pocket Palette lets you use sliders to manipulate colors, so that you can create a palette, then click on the eye and get their HEX numbers.

Canva.com – this is a graphic design program that allows you to create images and logos, with standard sizes for most online and social media needs available. So far, I have been perfectly content with the free level, only rarely buying a particular element for one dollar. If you were doing major graphic work the pro level might be useful to you. It has a small learning curve. Other people like Gimp and some other sites, but I haven’t tried those yet, and I guess I have become enamored of Canva. You can use it to play with color blocks in the More Colors (the little plus sign) which has a color wheel and slider function. I made the example color blocks on Canva.

Life-Styled by Stacey Garcia – a free online design magazine with a monthly color feature. April’s is all about Fuchsia.

Fun with color:

There are hundreds of coloring books available for adults these days, including wonderful mandalas. You can have fun making some with discords as part of the scheme. Try comparing the effect of using the discordant element as a background, or as a detail. I’ve made a simple mandala for you to print and color in if you like. (Below)

Try converting a photo to lines with a photo filter, then using a paint app to make several different versions in different color ways. Think Andy Warhol, but also try images of plants, animals or structures.

Scrapbook papers come in all colors and innumerable patterns. They can be great to make collages with – not just scrapbook layouts and cards. And they can be used to consider color swatch books. What colors do you usually wear? Make some swatches of those. Would you like to make some changes in your wardrobe? Play with color swatches ahead of shopping to consider some unusual combinations. No garments in the colors you want? Try Rit dye. (But that’s another project!)

Simple mandala. Please download, print and color.