Technical Aspects of Color
An artist’s sense of color is normally reflected in their creations, so today’s discussion may be most appropriate to authors, especially those launching their first book or moving into a new series, genre, or nom de plume which may produce new design dilemmas…
Even if you are an author under contract to a publisher who controls the art for your books, you may be able to offer input regarding the ambience you wish to see projected. Therefore, I suggest you contemplate artistic issues like color in advance of signing with a publisher. In fact, you may find that analyzing their artistic taste will help you select an appropriate publisher. I’m fortunate to have had the liberty of working regularly with an artist of my choice to develop the rich covers of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries.
As a writer and design consultant, I often focus on color. One of my favorite questions for clients seeking branding advice is, “Have you had your color today?” On the surface, this seems like a simple question, perhaps referencing a bright scarf or sales banner. However, my question is directed at the person’s preferences in coloration.
If you are an author, the question addresses your approach to color in both the art and science of your writing…and how you envision the images to accompany your text. If your writing reflects your personal voice and style, choosing artistic elements may be straightforward. If not, research can ensure colors appropriate to your genre and writer’s voice.
SELECTING COLOR 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 writing 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 through the images that accompany your words, this must be tempered by the expectations of the readers of the genre in which one works.
~ 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.
FANTASIAS OF COLOR Before we look at definitions and samples of colors, let’s consider the historical and classical interpretations of color. Some colors, like the royal purple from Tyre, Lebanon, were originally drawn from rare and precious sources. To produce even small amounts of the Tyrian colorant, thousands of Mediterranean Sea mollusks [scientific name, murex brandaris] were needed for the dyes with which luxurious garments for ancient royals were fashioned. Another historically rare color was the crimson worn by Roman legionnaires and wealthy matrons. Traditionally associated with power and wealth, this color was obtained from the kermes vermilio planchon, an insect that grows on the kermes oak tree [quercus coccifera] of southern Europe. Although the means for obtaining and utilizing dyes and paints have changed dramatically through history, their inner meanings have remained linked to aspects of nature.
To help you consider more than your personal preferences in color, let’s explore classical and traditional interpretations of colors and shades.
Red – This color is traditionally linked to sunsets, fire, blood, Mars the planet and Mars the Roman god of war. 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 is at the bottom of the color spectrum. It calls attention to anything depicted in it. Philosophically, it has been associated with licentiousness and the concept of Satan.
Yellow and Orange – Associated with the sun and gold, these happy and bright colors are used for many attention-getting purposes. Depending on their tone, they may announce deeply discounted items, or conversely, the richest and most valued products.Green – Representative of nature, green is often used for health and environmental topics, products, and services. Green hues are also used for military uniforms and equipment.Blue – 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 myriad healthcare industries wishing to project their dedication to the wellbeing 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. Located at the end of the visible spectrum of light [literally next to ultraviolet], violet is a spectral color that is less saturated [intense] and displays more blue. Purple is more saturated [intense, pure] and balances two spectral colors, red and blue. With both colors perceived as blends of blue and red, these rich colors remain linked to ancient concepts of royalty, power, and wealth.
White – White is an achromatic color [without hue]. It reflects light and embodies all wavelengths of visible light. While many substances in nature are white, animals having pure white fur are rare, and therefore their pelts were historically associated with the power and wealth of royalty. Once difficult to achieve in consistent form, white colored clothing was often deemed valuable regardless of the type of fabric. It is historically linked to purity, cleanliness, goodness, and perfection. Like black, it is a good background for highlighting all colors.
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 and religious writings. It is an excellent background for both vibrant and subtle colors.
Note: 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.
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 somberness, dullness, boredom, uncertainty, and advanced age.
Once you’ve completed your research and contemplation of coloration for your project, I suggest you write a paragraph outlining the design elements you desire in your current project or the overall style required by your series. Then play with a couple of sample color palettes. With colors identified by number in your art or text software program, this will facilitate communication with publishers and artists [or yourself, should you decide to self-publish].
Finally, I should caution you again 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.
Wishing you the best in your writing, Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, design consultant, motivational speaker Additional in-depth tips for authors is provided at: https://blog.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com Note: The menu is located on the left panel beginning after the Facebook logo You are also welcome to send me an email at Info@JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson is an author, narrator, consultant, and motivational speaker who writes works of fiction and nonfiction. She is the author of the award-winning Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries, featuring pan-Pacific multiculturalism and history in a classic literary form that is educational as well as entertaining. She was art director, indexer, and a co-author of the anthology Under Sonoran Skies: Prose and Poetry from the High Desert. Drawing on her interdisciplinary experience in the performing arts, education, and marketing, her authored and co-authored articles have appeared in literary, professional, and general readership publications such as Newport This Week, Broker World, the Hawai`i Medical Journal, and The Rotarian. To learn more about Jeanne, visit her website at: https://jeanneburrows-johnson.com