Color Palette Magic

Why magic?

Actually, the reality is that color is science. 

Color science can be explained by the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. The spectrum is marked by the wavelength and intensity  of electromagnetic radiation and spans from low frequency radio waves to high frequency gamma rays. The wavelength (frequency) that we can perceive color is called the visible spectrum and its relationship to our perception of color is characterized as visible light. Wow, just wow.


Our perception of color in objects is the relationship of the light waves to molecules we call pigments. Pigments have the ability to absorb or reflect light. The color that we perceive is the pigments ability to absorb every wavelength in the visible color spectrum except the wavelength of the color that we perceive. That wavelength is instead reflected back to us allowing the visualization of color.

Flash forward, and then we have our relationship to color emerge in color theory and technique. Color theory lends itself to design because it explores in depth the relationship of color to our interpretation and perception. With color technique, the designer has the ability to create precise colors that build a mood or direction. Color in design can direct your eye a certain path and evoke different emotions. Color relativity can change the perception of a color in relationship to its surrounding colors. Your perception of color is also impacted by the built in pathways in your brain creating visual illusion, optical illusion as an example where color and shape can create a perception other than what is actually there on a visual plane.

Anyways, mapping out all the nuances, theories, techniques, science, mind-games, and subtleties of color in a reasonable blog post will mean that I will never get to what this article is actually about: the magic of having a color palette in your interior space. 

A color palette allows control over emphasis in your space. Generally, a successful color palette is comprised of at most five main colors and then accent colors. You can have as many accent colors as you want, but be aware that your decision making around accent colors can really change the loudness of your color story. A good example of this is the difference between say a contemporary space and an eclectic space. A contemporary minimal space will generally have a main color palette comprised of low saturation neutral colors and 1-2 accent colors that are more natural or light metallic. An eclectic or bohemian space may be more an explosion of color, prints, and textures with a bold and vibrant feeling.

Obviously, I gravitate towards a minimal color palette with my five main colors being cool white, light cool grey, medium warm grey, gunmetal grey, black and accent colors of silver, gold, bright red, espresso wood stain, and green (plants only). How this builds throughout the gallery space is the accent colors become focal points to the layout. The space appears open and everything with an accent color stands out. I feel this creates a sleek and intentional look.

Of course, the opposite ends up being true for me color palette wise because we often feature and collect art with extreme colors and shapes: electric oranges and yellows, cobalt blues, and even neons, blacklight, or glow in the dark mediums. My minimalist, extremist self has often felt opposed to the direction of art that has been collected that is against my meticulously defined color palette, but then again I am all about contrast and conflict, so if I can have my grey walls amidst negative space then I can love the the explosive statement of vibrant art. 

So, the magic comes in really when you explore different color ways with one set layout. You start to see the dimension and feeling as something visual, and maybe in experimentation something is just not lining up- a color feels distracting, the composition feels mismatched, muddled, or confusing. Then you have a hunch, what about this color combination in this placement, and then, there it is! The precise visual manifestation of exactly the message you want to communicate with the right directional flow, feelings of depth, and precision in relationship. 

There you go, color magic, now get some paint and start exploring.