The Colours in My Eyes

Colour: whether you work in neon or pastels, is integral to an artists practice. Even, or rather especially, the choice to forego colour altogether is vitally important. One glance at my portfolio's splash page will tell you that I tend to lean in the opposite direction: I am instinctively attracted to vibrant colours.

I like the sharp contrast you get when you use yellow/orange with pink, red or turquoise, and I like deep purple or burgundy for darker backgrounds. I sometimes feel like I'm at war with photoshop; trying to make my colours vibrant but not too light or neon; pushing lightness down and saturation up to its limit, and shifting hue 2 or 3 points to the left or right; trying to find the balance I'm instinctively aiming for, when colours 'feel' right to me.

 (a selection of colours pulled from a range of my work, to demonstrate my average palette choices.)

(a selection of colours pulled from a range of my work, to demonstrate my average palette choices.)


I haven't arrived at my 'signature' colour palette deliberately; it has been a mostly subconscious affair. There simply came a point a few of years ago when I realised that almost all of my work (going back to before university even) fell within the same range of colours; that my illustrations were dominated by purple, turquoise or blue, and pink. At first I fought against it. I thought that having a common colour palette would limit my illustrations and I deliberately tried to create new images that fell outside this colour range, didn't work! No matter my original intention, when it came to adding colour to my work pastels and natural tones just felt wrong. Despite my efforts, I only really succeeded in adding bright yellows and oranges to my regular colour palette for contrast (a happy addition of course)! 

Eventually I came to the obvious conclusion: that having a personal colour palette is not a bad thing. In fact, I think that the connecting colours in my illustrations are one of the most recognisable stylistic aspects of my work. It is an integral part of my personal visual language; my illustrative personality. 

This exploration of my own colour palette has led me to pay more attention to the way other illustrators use colour in their work, and to confirm for myself that common colour palettes (or lack of colour altogether) are a key part of many creative identities. I assume that most are aware of their colour-related tendencies and wonder how many of them made conscious choices, and how many of them have just instinctively leaned towards certain colours like me?

I also wonder a lot about peoples varying experiences of colour; the strange subjectiveness of it.

Why is it that I have an all-or nothing approach to colour, when others clearly show a preference for pastels or even (heaven forbid) khaki? 

Why do some people feel compelled to rarely use colour at all, or for all of their work to be neon?

Each persons emotional response to colour seems to be different, regardless of whether they have the same cultural and social background or not.

This was really hammered home for me during a class exercise on colour during my first year at university (oh so long ago). We each had to mix colours and use brush strokes or shapes which embodied our response to specific emotions. In our group discussion at the end, one of my classmates revealed to us that he had a particular form of synaesthesia which caused him to experience his emotions as colours. Interestingly, in almost all respects his visualisations did not match up to our traditional cultural assignments for emotional colour relationships (red for anger, green for calm, etcetera). In fact, even among the rest of the class - whose interpretations were more traditional - specific associations for emotion varied, and even when the general colour chosen was the same, the tone often varied wildly from very dark, through pastel, bright, and neon.

  (a quick colour/shape association exercise of my own to demonstrate.)

(a quick colour/shape association exercise of my own to demonstrate.)


What I've learned from these experiences is that colour is a fundamentally personal, individual experience. It is intriguing to know that every person who looks at my illustrations may be experiencing them in a slightly different way: that each person I pass in the street is seeing a world just a little bit different from mine. 

I find the way different people are drawn to different colours fascinating and I would like to learn more about the psychology behind it, and think of interesting ways I might be able to apply these ideas, as well as a deeper understanding of general colour theory to my work. I hope to be able to report back to you soon with my results!

Keep drawing and keep thinking!