Assessment of color may seem to be the purview of artists. It is true that coloration is vital to the success of an artist, but color affects all of us...in both our personal and professional living. I’m fortunate to have had the liberty of working with a gifted artist on the award-winning evocative book covers of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries. [check out examples of Yasamine June's superb work.] You may not have regular access to such a professional, so I offer the following concepts to help professionals and the general public maximize the effectiveness of their use of color, with particular notes for authors.
When viewed under varied lighting, a color sample's tone (intensity of color) or shade (how bright a color is) is perceived. Another aspect of color perception lies in the effects of color layering. And, while a designer may adhere to the few colors designated as "web safe," variations in monitor settings prevent absolute uniformity in how myriad viewers will experience color on a website. Even in hardcopy printing, variations occur because of batches of ink and toner, the moisture content of paper, and production executed on innumerable types and conditions of equipment.
~ Lighting. The intensity and type of lighting affects one’s perception of tone[intensity of color] and shade [a mixture of black with color which determines how bright the color is].
~ Layering. The layering of color also affects our view of it. For instance, putting a red color on an ivory background will produce a color that has hints of orange.
~ Tint. The tint of a color is determined by the amount of white it may have, which lightens the color.
To help you consider more than your personal preferences in color, let’s explore classical and traditional interpretations of basic colors and shades. In my latest Hawaiian mystery, Murders of Conveyance, the cover features my usual frame with the carved gold of Hawaiian heirloom jewelry and the classic red of ancient and modern China.
Red – Lowest in the color spectrum, this color is traditionally linked to sunsets, fire, blood, Mars the planet and Mars the Roman god of war. Philosophically, it has been associated with licentiousness and the concept of Satan. Red is now often associated with signature holidays like New Year’s, Christmas, and St. Valentine’s Day, as well as certain nations like China. This vibrant color calls attention to anything depicted in it, making it popular for advertising.
Yellow and Orange– Second in the color spectrum, these colors are associated with the sun and gold; depending on the hue, they are associated with the planet Mercury. Happy bright, and invigorating, they are used for many attention-getting purposes, often announcing deeply discounted items. Conversely, they highlight the richest and most valued products.
Green – Associated with the planets Saturn and Neptune, green is situated in the center of the color spectrum and is representative of nature. It is often used for health and environmental topics, products, and services, connoting harmony and peace. From a negative perspective, dark hues have been associated with envy historically. Military uniforms and equipment are often manufactured in mixed hues of green.
Blue – There are many hues of blue, which is third in the color spectrum. Associated with the planet Venus, it denotes harmony, devotion, and loyalty. In daily conversation, blue ideally speaks of clear and serene waters and skies. In many philosophical traditions, it has been associated with purity and loyalty. Today, the color is often utilized by financial and insurance institutions wanting to declare their honesty, and by healthcare providers wishing to project their dedication to the well-being of their patients and clients.
Violet and Purple– Although these colors are not adjacent on the color wheel, humans perceive them as related to one another. With both colors perceived as blends of blue and red, these rich colors remain linked to ancient concepts of royalty, power, and wealth. Located at the end of the visible spectrum of light [literally next to ultraviolet], violet is the seventh spectral color, associated with the planet Jupiter. Violet is less saturated [intense] and displays more blue; purple is more saturated [intense, pure] and balances two spectral colors, red and blue.
Brown – The color brown is achieved by the mixing of different intensities of red and green. Like green, it is associated with the earth. Depending on its tone and shade, it reflects stability and hominess, or simple drabness. It is often found in presentations of natural or hand-crafted objects.
White and black are often paired for the expression of opposites, as in good and evil, the white hats of the good cowboys vs. the black hats of rustlers, the white dress of the bride and the black of a widow in mourning.
White – White is an achromatic color [without hue], embodying all wavelengths of visible light. It is historically linked to purity, cleanliness, truth, goodness, and perfection. Like black, it is a good background for highlighting all colors. It expresses honesty, and purity in advertising design.
Black – Absorbing all colors of light, this achromatic color is the absence of all visible light and therefore color. Obtained by the mixing of all primary colors, black is linked to darkness, night, and evil in historical religious written materials. Today it is viewed as expressing somberness as well as sophistication and elegance and is an excellent background for objects in both vibrant and subtle colors.
Gray – Also an achromatic color [without hue], gray is created by the mixing of white and black. Being neutral, this color is most often associated with conservatism, plainness, soberness, somberness, dullness, boredom, uncertainty, and advanced age. It can provide contrast in expressions of elegance when paired with white or black.
Please note that despite how I’ve planned for these samples to appear, your hardware/software will alter the experience...
The following samples demonstrate how a color palette can be used within a cohesive branding program. To help you see how graphic art impacts design, the lettering I have used is presented in the Peignot font. Please note that while shades of silver usually blend surrounding colors, the variety of tone and shade in gold often clashes. Copper and bronze colors vary so much I avoid using them. When working with your professional printing service, be specific about the quality and impact of shade and tone you seek--if not the precise identifying number of specific colors you want [you will need to remember there is a difference in color formulations used for print projects vs. those used on the Web]. You should be offered an opportunity to preview layouts prior to hardcopy printing.
Scientifically, colors [hues] are specific wavelengths of visible light. When considering coloration in your writing and for book jackets, one of the first questions you might ask yourself is, “What is my design aesthetic?” Also, “Does the style of my product [writing in my case] reflect my taste in art?” Do you like the detail of classism or the sharp clean lines of modern art? Do you prefer bright primary colors or muted tones? Like an artist, the author draws on a rich palette of images within their mind’s eye. But to effectively communicate, this must be tempered by the expectations of the audience [readers of an author’s genre] in which one works.
Perceived Gender – This may sound like a dated, or even prejudiced, approach to design. But successful branding and marketing rests on defining and appealing to the demographics of one’s target market. Authors need to consider perceptions of their writer’s voice and protagonist may help define appropriate book jacket colors. Consider the differences between romance novels and police procedurals. In the first example, the author may have established an ambience that is classically feminine with soft, gentle, and elegant notes. In the second, there may be the description of a hardnosed undercover police officer [male or female] who wears black, employs harsh street slang, and fiercely responds to violence. While black is an excellent background for both genres, the artist’s treatment may vary considerably. The romance book often invites the reader to wonder what lurks behind subtle gradations and soft brush strokes of mystical colors and tones. In contrast, the police procedural usually pairs bold primary colors with dark shading set within sharp modern lines.
Region – For impactful branding, harmonize what you like with what is appropriate to your industry, the current era (unless your enterprise is retro-oriented), and your physical location...if you are identified with a particular region. Regionalism may seem an unusual issue to consider, but examining the color of green alone demonstrates my point. Growing up in Oregon, I was accustomed to the dark green of Douglas fir trees and the mosses that grow on them. When I moved to Hawai'i, the green of palm trees seemed pale in comparison, even when allowing for the bright island sun. As my perception of "normal" shifted, the greens of Oregon seemed dark and gloomy. Later, in Rhode Island, I rediscovered the dark greens of my childhood, plus the blue-green of New England shoreline grasses. In Arizona, the array of green is rather mixed, depending on topography, season and the amount of rainfall.
Another example of differences in regions are valued by the Black Hat sub-discipline of Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese philosophy for maximizing the harmonious use of space. Unlike the United States, which finds "greenbacks" and the color green to represent monetary value, China associates the color red with financial and general prosperity. Envelopes containing money, [redpackets] are traditionally distributed at weddings, New Year celebrations, and as employee appreciation gifts. You can explore the Internet for further examples of the significance of color through time and culture.
Through the dialect[s] of characters, as well as the scenes described, text may indicate colors distinctive to the locale of an author’s work. Within my work on both fiction and non-fiction projects, I’ve found the greens of trees and plants growing along the shorelines of the Hawaiian Islands [the setting of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries] to be lighter than those of the hills of `Ulupalakua, Maui. So, which greens are most appropriate to your project? And what about the clarity and tones of blue in the waters and skies you describe? Additional discussion of the impact of color is included on our Wearing Your Brand page. Examples of applications of color palettes may be seen on my Branding Personal Spaces page. You may also wish to visit Rainbows of Color on my blog.
Once you’ve completed your research and contemplation of coloration for your project, I suggest you write a paragraph outlining the elements you desire with a sample color palette. With colors identified by number in your art or text software program, this will facilitate communication with publishers and artists [should you decide to self-publish].
I should caution you that identifying the colors you wish to see on a book jacket is no guarantee of how the printed work will arrive at your doorstep. Even two editions of the same book, printed by the same company following the same instructions can yield variations in color because of differences in batches of ink or toner, the moisture content of the paper used, and production executed on innumerable types and conditions of equipment.
H A V E Y O U H A D Y O U R C O L O R T O D A Y?
Try placing a bouquet of flowers on your desk, or wearing a colorful scarf or tie!
Is it time for a change in your corporate or even your personal branding? Sometimes all that is needed is a tweaking of the colors, shapes and fonts with which you are already working. In other instances, it is time for a complete renovation. The following sample color palettes are offered to help you explore directions that may be appropriate to your brick-and-mortar and Internet premises, as well as your basic branding and marketing programs. We'll save consideration of your message and the text used to deliver it for another time...
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