Color: A Balancing Act

Color: A Balancing Act

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We have all had the experience of sensory overload..as well as sensory deprivation.  We may experience overload when entering an environment filled with loud sounds, bright colors, an array of patterns,  and a variety of textures…to say nothing of what we may be sniffing, tasting or touching there.

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We may experience sense of deprivation when a space is too quiet, neutral, bland, uninteresting, and feels just plain boring.  We know something is “wrong”, but we may not be able to put our finger on it, literally speaking, especially if there is a dearth of textures, colors, patterns, and other visual stimuli.

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Although our tolerance for visual complexity and variety, as well as unity and coherency varies from person to person, we do expect, and maybe even need, our senses to be stimulated to some extent at all times. Perhaps we are experiencing this through dreams while we are sleeping!

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Not surprisingly, even our health and physical well-being can be affected by exposure to over or under-stimulation. Extreme unity, or monotony, can result in restlessness, irritation, a lowered ability to concentrate, wandering attention, and an overly strong emotional response.  Extreme complexity/variety can result in higher blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension.  Not a good thing, as we can probably all agree.

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Knowing this, our job as color consultants/designers becomes charged with even greater purpose and meaning…how to create environments of balance (which doesn’t mean symmetry or the sum of equal parts, which might become monotonous), which support both our physical and our emotional well-being, as well as the function of the spaces themselves, and even our life’s purpose!

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Before we get either too lofty, or too weighty about all this, lets look at some color designs and palettes that achieve balance in a variety of different ways. I hope to continue to investigate, explore and disseminate the subject of color balance in further posts. Have fun!

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A nearly monochrome palette relieved by creamy white trim can be stately and restful, especially when enlivened by a multitude of decorative detail.

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Even a deep, rich, dominating hue such as a  burgundy purple can be set off by accents of an even deeper value. The dramatic shift to white in the trim frames a building that the owner wanted to simplify and streamline, while still acknowledging  its details.

B4A slight amplification in field color from the original,

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 makes this building more satisfying to look at, as it is more “complex”(contains more color) . The addition of a dark accent color on the window sashes, and a more intense door color add variety, which also increases complexity, and protects against visual monotony.

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The temptation to “go color crazy” on this magnificent Queen Anne Victorian could have created so much complexity, that our attention may have been distracted from actually seeing and enjoying its beautiful period details, such as the shift in shingle pattern, decorative insets, and dentils.

clay_cInstead, by limiting the colors to a set of resonant neutrals (field color, field color 200% formula and off white trim color), and adding accents in earthy hues of complimentary sage green and brick-red with just a touch of gold leaf,

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we are not so overstimulated by too much variety, and can actually take in and enjoy the details, colors and shapes that integrate to create a unified whole.

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The complex but neutral beige body color, and white trim are punctuated by a rich red service door, a singular detail on this building, which has very little embellishment, or even trim.

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As the owner wanted to reduce the possibility of visual complexity, subtle interest is brought in by the use of a slightly darker and more intense foundation color, which grounds and visually supports the structure. Thus both over and under-stimulation are avoided, and we experience enough visual simulation to provide a pleasing experience physically and emotionally.

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The size, style,, “stateliness” and foliage around a structure can influence color design choices, as well as how much its body is broken up  by its trim. Here the deep blue-green color of the house body is significantly relieved by the crisp white trim and garage door, as well as bright green foliage, which becomes a color accent or counterpoint to the dominating blue and white. As the building reads  tall and thin, our eye is drawn upward to the sky, which completes the picture. Not seen here is the warm brown accent color used on the planters in both the entry way and back patio, which provide  contrast to the blue and green, and complete the triad of blue, green and brown “nature’ colors.

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A unified palette can make a building stand out…even if it doesn’t contain an extreme shift in accent color. Our richly hued “old  burgundy” beauty commands the street view here.  All  the more regal for being contained and restrained in color variety, the palette is retrained yet fun, making a statement without overwhelming our senses. The building itself serves as an accent for a block dominated by pale, nondescript and rather unimaginative hues.  Maybe, stimulated, but not overstimulated by our royal example, the neighbors will be inspired to follow suite and add more local color!

If You are feeling either over, or under-stimulated in your environment, try experimenting with adding or subtracting color, pattern, texture,  changing the value (light to dark), or intensity/saturation (brightness) of the colors, changing your accent color to the compliment of the dominant color in the space, or if there is no dominant color, creating one.

You may just find yourself feeling better on all fronts!

Until next time…wishing you balance, variation, complexity, unity and coherence in your Life!

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Muz-ing on our Color Choices

Muz-ing on our Color Choices

Each month, usually the third Sunday of the month, at 4:15 PST, I have the honor, and the responsibility, of visiting the inspiring and informative Artistically Speaking Talk Show, brainchild of the extraordinary Rebecca E. Parsons, as the Color Muze…and then translating our colorFULL “muzes” into a monthly articles for Rebecca’s online magazine, “Cre8tive Compass“.

The bottom line is…how do we make our color choices?  Why do we choose the colors that we do…and what can help us make the most gratifying color choices for any particular purpose?

From what we take in,

to what we  live in,

to what we put on.

How does color affect us, and how can we cre8te color effects?  Are we talking paint effects, or the effect of light?  How does color make us FEEL emotionally, (what are our color associations?) or   physically (through our senses), or  spiritually, and on an energetic level?

What is actually happening in our brains when we “see” color?  And…what is up with that Color Wheel, anyway?

Analogous colors, complementary colors, warm and cool colors, tertiary colors…what do all of these terms mean, and how can YOU use color theory in Your own precious Life?

So…check us out!  Rebecca broadcasts live every Sunday night, beginning at 3:30 PST…and the Color Muze visits most third Sundays of the month, at approximately 4:15pm, PST.  You will hear marvelous and inspiring interviews with artists, entrepreneurs, crafters, bloggers and bakers, and enough bite-sized pieces of color info to make a meal!

As always…feel free to call in to the Show, make a comment here,  on the Cre8tive Compass site, or either of our Facebook pages.

We love to hear from you.

Remember, we are all cre8ting our own rainbow of this thing called Life…together!

Color Ground

Color Ground
The colors we clothe our buildings in, and the materials we use to build them can have a significant effect on how solid, safe, and grounded they appear.  And, I  might add, in addition to paint color, let’s not forget that the wood, brick, stone, concrete, metal and other natural and industrial materials we build with, have color too.  Add to this the by turns rapturous, earthy, luminous, bold, sublime, and subtle colors of nature, and you have a complex picture of the elements that go into making where we live, work and play picture perfect..or not.

In general, darker, richer, deeper, more saturated, brighter, warmer and more intense colors appear heavier, and thus may seem to “pull downward” towards the, in most cases, ground!  Placing them above a lighter, airier, softer, cooler,  paler, duller, less saturated colors may give the impression of pressing or pushing down upon something less substantial, creating a sense of pressure, ungroundedness, or even danger.  Who wants to feel like the heavier-looking second story might come crashing down through its weaker-looking support, or foundation?

The building above is grounded not only by its strong, dark burgundy red garage door, but also by the heavy foliage and hedge shrubbery which nearly obscures its foundation (the lower part of the structure upon which the rest of the building rests). The cream-colored concrete, red roof tile and strongly patterned brick provide contrast and a  variety of color and materials, but, particularly because of the grounding effect of the dark green, highly textural foliage, do not seem too heavy for the foundation to bear.

The UMG (Universal Music Group) office building in Santa Monica, CA is grounded by a strong, deep, earthy brick-red, which seems to support the pale pink upper above, though the entire structure is punctuated by a multitude of windows. Palms, parkway and other landscaping in front also support this grounded effect.

A similar outcome is achieved by juxtaposing a more saturated hue of reddish pink stucco foundation with the softer and paler ocher-colored wood siding above.  Lush vegetation sporting luxuriant red and pink flowers trailing over a natural wood fence add to its heavier, grounding effect

These interior gymnasium walls are grounded by the deep blue protective covering at their base. Given the wild shapes and over-sized   lines, shapes and patterns used in the room’s design, the consistency and “reliability” of the blue may also serve to keep young athletes players focused and grounded as they play.

Here is the outside of the same building, swathed in corrugated stripes.   Notice that the stripe closest to the ground is darker blue, and the one at the top, lighter.

This fun and fascinating building combines all manner of materials, from wood siding, to brick, to concrete,

and even verdigris decorative details above the door. The mass of flowering vegetation in front,  while nearly obscuring parts of the facade,  add to the fancy of the place, while connecting it to the earth, the  ground.  In moody weather, the mix of weathered materials and enveloping foliage may lend an air of mystery and perhaps even magic to the place.

Here, an artist’s self-styled, whimsical touch creates grounding through the application of  bright color, repeated shapes, and sense of a garden planted  at the base of the house. The playful, optimistic feeling  is further enhanced by the use of complementary colors  yellow and purple.

The largest sphere in this extraordinary mural seems to be sitting right on the sidewalk!  It could be coming right out at us, the viewer, but at least the building doesn’t look like it is about to leave the ground!  The tiled trompe l’oeil technique is used to great visual and grounding, effect here.

When we walk past this extraordinary building in LA’s Venice Canal District, our eye is drawn past the foliage, across the manicured back yard, and over the amazing sunken pool under the blue-framed overhang, through the space between the orange posts, to the electric apple green accent wall behind them. Brighter, more vibrant, and more saturated than the natural greens , and applied blue and orange surrounding it, this wall looks  strong enough to carry this unusual structure’s  visual weight.

This wild building on Wilshire in Santa Monica is one of my favorites.  An eclectic mix of materials, hues and shapes, it seems break all the “rules”, yet somehow, it works!  This could be due to a counteracting balancing effect of the mix of elements. The undulating curve of the upper wood facade/detail is counterbalanced by the strong concrete support/column next to it, even though the wood is a strong color, and an even stronger visual element. Our eye is drawn upward from the glass, and warm blue and green (reflecting sea, sky and grass?) colors behind it to that grand sweep of wood,

which is also supported by the metal detail/support that follows its shape and movement below.  The whole building feels like a

huge kinetic wave, appropriate architecture for a beach town on the edge of the Pacific. The foliage, and its concrete base below also add grounding.  Amazing!  Fidelity, you got it going on, architecturally!

The “Bagel Nosh”  in Santa Monica, hosts a marvelous display of mouth-watering treats. Where does our eye go right to here?  No, there isn’t a spotlight on the center of the case.  That’s just the natural color of these bright golden-yellow jalapeno-flavored bagels. The strong, rich, saturated color just grabs our attention, and holds it there…it’s up to you to decide whether the taste of these treats warrants their attention-grabbing status.

  We walk upon the ground,  perhaps that is why our  shoes are often brown and black…colors of the earth.  We usually want to feel grounded when we tread upon the earth, a firm foundation, a solid base.  But, maybe not all the time.  Perhaps sometimes we want to whirl, twirl, leap, float, and feel  “ten feet off the ground”.  Don’t we long to take risks, to take  flight, as much as we long to be safe, secure, and grounded?  When you want to feel fun, fantastical, floating, and fabulous, try on a glittery, glowing, or gossamer pair of footwear, and see if it helps your grounded spirit to soar!

What buildings, architecture, food or footwear have YOU experienced lately that feel grounded or the opposite?

If you feel so inclined, please share about them with us here.

We love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all trying to ground ourselves  yet take flight within this thing called Life, together.

Stay grounded, but don’t be afraid to fly!

Is Your Color Centrifugal or Centripetal?

Is Your Color Centrifugal or Centripetal?

Recently, during our Color Muze segment, on Artistically Speaking Radio, we discussed the fascinating phenomenon of centrifugal and centripetal action and complexity, as color designer and expert Frank Mahnke, of the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers,  terms it.

The concept of  centrifugal and centripetal action and complexity in this context,  is related to using color to create a mood, to support the function of a space. In essence, we create moods through use of color (and pattern), and we can support (or not) the function of a space by the colors and patterns we use in it.

Centrifugal action, derived from the Latin centrum, meaning “center”, and fugere, meaning “to flee”, does just that: directs our attention out and away from the center, or, our inward center, and towards the environment.  Warm color, with high luminosity, (” emitting or reflecting usually steady, suffused, or glowing light “), has a centrifugal effect, and can help to create bright, cheerful, animated environments, conducive to activity, and conviviality, such as Living and Dining Rooms!

Centripetal action, by contrast, from the Latin centrum “center” and petere “to seek, is associated with  inward direction, and can relate to contemplation and concentration. Cooler and softer colors, with less luminosity can produce a centripetal effect, which can in turn increase the ability to focus and perform demanding intellectual or visual work.  Or, relax, sleep or bathe!

Strong color contrasts will create excitement in a room,

while less contrast will feel more calming, as in “tone-on-tone” pattern.

The contrast of a dark and cool color, with a light and bright one can create animation and excitement in a space through contrast, while the colors themselves express restraint and dignity,

creating a fitting  (pun intended) mood for a sophisticated retail space.

Less color contrast, yet high warmth and luminosity, can create a contained aliveness,

“apropos”  for an entryway that is meant to be both welcoming and elegant, calming and warm.

By contrast, strong pattern and related colors can perk up even a small space,

without overpowering it, and distracting from its function!

In summary, when choosing colors for an environment, the function of that environment should be taken into consideration, and color’s ability to focus our attention inward or outward used to its full potential.  The warmth or coolness, luminosity, strength (or chromaticity) of a color, the contrasts between colors, and the use of pattern will have a significant effect on the perceived mood of any space, and thus on our ability to use that  space, and function in it to highest capacity.

Centrifugal and centripetal action and complexity is another example of the inherent power and effect of color, and how we can harness it to support and improve our lives.

Take a look around at YOUR color schemes.

Is Your Color Centrifugal or Centripetal?

If you so choose, please share about it with us here.

We Love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all trying to get centered in this thing called Life, together.


Cacophony to Calm…Compensating with Color

 Cacophony to Calm…Compensating with Color

Can color “theory” heal?   If healing means balancing, compensating, and otherwise enhancing the quality of a space, object, light source, or even our bodies, then I believe it can.

Our April 17, 2011 Color Muze  on Artistically Speaking Talk Show, “muzed” about how color can be used to adjust our perception of sound, or the lack of it, and thus balance or “heal” an environment through our sense of seeing, and its potential effect on our sense of hearing.  This is an aspect of the phenomenon of “Synesthesia”, or “Unity of the Senses”, as IACC-NA (International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers-North America)  lecturer, Frank H. Mahnke, terms it.  The idea being  that our perception of color can associate with our perception of another sense, such as hearing.

Warm colors (from red to yellow-green on the color wheel), associate with loudness.


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Cool colors (from green to red-violet on the color wheel) associate with quietness.

This is reflected in our language, the way we talk about our environment, or even our feelings, in terms of color. I am not sure I have ever heard anyone refer to a quiet (or cool) red, though anything is possible!  On the contrary, I remember my mother describing feelings of anger as “Seeing red.”

By comparison, people may speak of a  quieting their emotions when they enter a room in which a “cool” blue predominates.

It is interesting to view the two together…(albeit different hues and values of red and blue).

Thus if we wish to compensate for noise problems in a space, we can add more “cooling” colors such as  blues, blue greens, perhaps even a cool blue-violet. Warm to hot colors such a saturated reds, and “hot” oranges or yellows will tend to exacerbate our sense of being in a noisy environment, which can be significant in any setting where concentration is important.

To relieve a “too-quiet” or tomb-like atmosphere in a room, and add energy, warmer (and lighter) colors may be applied, such as yellow-green, golden-yellow, reds, oranges or “hot” purples (red-violets).

It is fascinating, and fun to see the sound associations the Henrich Frieling, Director of the Institute of Color Psychology assigns to a range of colors:

Red– loud, trumpet

Pink – soft, delicate

Orange – loud, major key

Brown – dark, deep minor key

Gold-Yellow – fanfare, major key

Yellow – shrill, major key

Yellow-Green – high-pitched, minor key

Green – muffled when dull, shrill when saturated

Green-Blue – soft

Blue – distant, flute to violin

Ultramarine – dark, deep, more minor key

Violet – sad, deep, minor key

Light-Purple – weak, restrained

Crimson – powerful, stately

It really begs the question…what might a musician, singer, or music therapist have to say about this?  What about Sharry Edwards, pioneer in the study of Human BioAcoustic Biology…might she have a “color link” to her work and theories on healing the body through sound?

Perhaps a subject for another post…

Have you used color to compensate for too much noise, or not enough sound in your own or other spaces? Have you felt the effect of color healing in regards to your, or your Clients’ auditory environment?  What is YOUR experience with Synesthesia, in regards to the relationship of sight to sound, the visual to the audible?

If you feel so inspired, please share your insights with us here.  We love to hear from you.

Remember, we are all seeking the balance in this thing called Life, together.

Here’s wishing you healing wherever you need it most, in your Life right here, right now.  Cheers!


Synesthesia: Sense and Sensibility Part Two

Synesthesia: Sense and Sensibility Part Two

Our February 13th “Color Muze” segment on Artistically Speaking Talk Show, focused on the fascinating concept and phenomenon of “Synesthesia”, or “Unity of the Senses. I learned about Synesthesia through my color seminars at the IACC-NA (The International Association of Colour Consultants and Designers North America) from Mr. Frank Mahnke, President of the  IACC-NA and the Director of the IACC Education/Accreditation Programs conducted worldwide. Mr. Mahnke lectures on the  psycho-physiological effects of color, light and the human reaction to the built environment, as well as the role of color as information and communication in the field of marketing.  In other words… Color Rocks the Big One…our Perception.

In my first Seminar with the IACC-NA, I learned about how colors (the visual) can provoke associations with our other senses, (smell, touch/the tactile, hearing and taste), as well as affect our perception of weight, volume, size and texture.  In the words of Mr. Mahnke , “It seems that the centers for processing sensory information are linked with each other, leading to crosstalk between the senses.” If this is true, and it would seem from the evidence of our senses that it is, then the concept of Synesthesia is an important consideration in any and every color decision we make, with potentially profound consequences emotionally, physically, aesthetically, and even spiritually.   How does our perception of Color make us Feel?

We tend to talk about color in terms of the visual; “Oh, that red bedroom is so bright!”, or “That’s a very pale shade of lilac.” But, if we tune into our own phraseology, we may just as often hear ourselves speaking about color in terms of our other four senses, the auditory, (hearing), olfactory, (smell),  gustatory, (taste), and the tactile (touch).  “Oh, that red is just so loud!” “What a sour green!”, “Such a sweet pink room!“, “I love that soft blue.”

Let’s awaken all our senses by taking a closer look, and tuning into what we feel, and how we respond to color.

What do colors sound like?

Warm colors such as yellows and oranges tend to feel loud to us, and can potentially make a space feel “noisy”.  According toHeinrich Frieling, Director of the Institute of Color Psychology, we associate gold-yellow with major keys, and orange with loudness and major keys. Cooler colors such as blue on the other hand, tend to feel quieter and more distant, with darker-hued spaces seeming to  further muffle sounds.

What do colors feel like?

What texture does a particular color “feel” like it has?  It’s not surprising that yellow tends to “feel” smooth. When we consider yellow’s associations, this makes sense.  Have we ever felt a ray of rough or scratchy sunlight?  Looking at yellow’s opposite or complement, purple, we can get a sense of velvet.  Would this have anything to do with our association of purple with royalty, and the images of purple velvet which we may associate with royal robes?

What do colors smell like?

The  chroma, saturation, lightness, and brightness of a particular color  can affect its sensory associations. Under Frieling, the Institute of Color Psychology has asserted that the color brown is associated with a musky, or roast taste.  We may even use the word “browning” in lieu of the word “roasting”, or to describe part of the roasting process.  However, green-blue may elicit fresh to salty associations, while the hue “blue” is essentially odorless. Add to this the nature associations we have to brown in all its aspects (think “earthy”), green-blue (sea) and just “blue” (sky), and the sensory meanings can become clear. Different blue and brown combinations will give different effects, making us think with our noses, as well as our eyes.

What do colors Taste like?

Taste and smell are closely related, and tend to hold the same or similar color associations. Red is sweet and strong, as long as it contains no yellow, and doesn’t cross over into the realm of orange, which may not be so sweet, despite our associations with the fruit.  Perhaps the holiday of Valentine’s Day has played upon this “red as sweet” association, with its emphasis on red-wrapped boxes of chocolate, and other sweets.  I would add the term “rich” into the mix, my association with Valentine’s Day chocolate, if its worth its salt- er, sugar.  Green, and yellow-green by contrast (red and green being complementary colors, and opposite each other on the color wheel) associate with sour, with yellow-green veering to the tangy, and green, to the juicy.  Consider green apples, kiwis, limes, fried green tomatoes (well, maybe not fried…tomatoes ARE fruits though!)  Green to yellow-green hues can make our mouths water and our lips pucker just by thinking about them!

Thinking about it.  In a way, that is the point.. isn’t it?  Because, as we know, as scientists, colorists, designers and artists know, however subliminally, that color IS a matter of perception.  Color exists in our brains. As Frank Mahnke says, “There is no doubt that a unity exists from one sense to another.  Perception is not just a mosaic of separate sense stimulations.  In certain aspects of psychology…the entire organism is looked upon as a whole.”

All of our senses play into the impressions we receive, the internal images we carry, and the ideas we form. resulting in how we feel.  How we feel affects how we behave, and vice versa. When we understand, or perceive of color that way, we realize how amazingly,  incredibly important and powerful  it is.  Color really does Rocks the Big One…our Perception. And as some would say, “perception is reality”.  What do You think?

If you feel so inspired, share YOUR sense and sensibility with us here.  We love to hear from you.  Remember, we are all experiencing this thing called Life, together.

Newsflash: for another yummy look at the phenomenon of Synesthesia, please check out Elizabeth Brown’s Colorific blog post on the same subject.