Asking a designer what his favourite colour is is a bit like asking a composer what his favourite sound is. A good designer will deftly orchestrate his colour notes in an arrangement that is both pleasing to the eye and inspiring to the senses. Much as a flatted note may sound dull or lifeless on its own, when partnered with other tones, it can bring depth, richness and contrast to a piece of music.
Nobody understood that better than the masters of impressionist painting. These virtuosi skillfully combined disparate colors to create effects that were larger than the individual values. They understood the interaction of color, and how color adjacency impacts the way we perceive hue, value and intensity.
These concepts were brilliantly presented in Joseph Alber’s 1963 publication, “The Interaction of Color”. I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the exercises he used to illustrate just how our eyes and brain interpret colour. Albers helped me never to consider colour application outside of the context where it will ultimately be applied. This is why today I often suggest that people painting a room create a large sample board that they can move around the room to see the colour in all lights and next to each of the furnishings in the space.
Sometimes I find it hard to bring clients out of their comfort zone, to consider the use of a colour or even a fabric that they don’t love. It takes a leap of faith on the part of the client. But if they can step back and wrap their heads around the overall effect and the context of all of the contributing elements in the scheme, the project can develop in a direction with greater depth and complexity than it would with a “Garanimals” approach to design.