Thursday, October 21, 2021

Coloration for Authors - A Rainbow of Color: A Color Primer - By Jeanne Burrows-Johnson

 How many colors are in the rainbows with which you paint backgrounds for your text? There are many perspectives on the use of color in the art and science of writing. But even if I were an expert, this short space wouldn’t allow a comprehensive discussion of color theory [the traditional theory for mixing three primary colors to derive all other colors] or colorimetry [analysis of human color perception].

Variables in Color Perception. 

Most people can see three distinct ranges of color. Due to genetics, some women [called tetrachromats] are able to see four ranges of color. Sometimes a temporary inability to see some or all color is caused by illness, allergies, medication, or hormone replacement therapy. Even sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] may notice a decrease in color perception. And did you know that one out of twelve men and one out of two hundred women have color vision deficiencies? 

Choosing Color Palettes For Artwork to Accompany Text. 

Analysis of one’s genre as an author can answer many publishing questions to help your authoring strategies. One author I know brings a minimalist approach to her creative process in selecting art for children’s’ books. She believes faint sketches without full form, shape, or color encourage children listening to, or reading, her prose to bring images from their own minds to their reading experience. This approach may be ideal for children’s books, poetry, and historical fiction. However, it would be unsuited to the hard-nosed writer’s voice employed in a police procedural and would lack clarity for many nonfiction projects. 

While minimalism is a specific art movement, the term may be used generically to describe the expression of modern art in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Beyond an escape from classic realism, modern art focuses on the artist’s desire to interact with the minds and life experiences of his or her audience members.

An Author’s Color Selection is More than Personal Preference. 

If new to wordsmithing, you may not be thinking about branding. But you might want to consider establishing foundations for the brand for which your writing will be known one day. And just as an effective editorial process dictates writers carefully select modifiers to create a scene rich in sensory images, a distinctive color palette can be one element in a design aesthetic that harmonizes with and even intensifies the impact of your text. 

When examining coloration for book art, there are several important issues to consider beyond technical research. Does the style of your writing reflect your taste in art? Do you like the detail of classism or the sharp clean lines of modern art? Are you drawn to bright primary colors or muted subtle tones? Do the peach and aqua tones of a sunset in the Southwest reflect your taste and your work? 

Regional Colors. 

Through the dialect[s] of your characters, as well as the scenes you describe, your text may suggest colors distinctive to the settings of your writing. Growing up in Oregon, I was accustomed to the dark green of Douglas fir trees and the mosses growing on them. In contrast, I’ve found the greens of trees and plants growing along the shorelines of the Hawaiian Islands to be lighter than those of Oregon or the hills of `Ulupalakua, Maui. In Arizona, the array of green is mixed, depending on topography, season, and amount of rainfall. So which greens are appropriate to your projects? What about the clarity and tones of blue in the waters and skies you describe? 

Style of Characters. 

Examining perceptions of your writer’s voice and the style of your characters may help define appropriate book jacket colors. Consider the differences between romance novels and police procedurals. In the first example, you may have established an ambience that is classically “feminine” with soft, gentle, and elegant notes. In the second, you may have 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 novel 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. 

Juncture of Style And Color. 

For children’s books, hard-edged cartoon-like solid color images (like those a child might create) may be ideal. But regardless of the style of art you select, the bright saturated colors associated with modern art are popular with and stimulating for young children. Conversely, the often-dark tones of animè lend a sophisticated note to materials for both adults and older children. For most genres, classic realism is appropriate. To present images realistically, considerable detail and subtleties of color are usually required.

Articulating Your Artistic Vision is vital. 

Since it is unlikely that you will be the artist shaping the images that will highlight your writing, you must be able to describe your desires to whoever is in charge of publication. I suggest writing a paragraph outlining the specific elements you are seeking. As with a journalistic endeavor, an inverted pyramid structure is useful. Begin with an overview of the style you desire and then move on to specific issues like color. If possible, use technical terms an artist or printer will understand. For instance, consider specifying the tones and shades of colors you prefer. 

When viewed under varied lighting, a color’s tone [intensity of color] or shade [how bright a color is] will be perceived differently. Personally, I have found it challenging to use what I term a plum color in artwork for Prospect for Murder [the first Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mystery]. While my artist generated a wonderful color for the book jacket, subsequent applications for the audio book and some promotional materials deviated from the desired color and tone. 

Samples Of Your Desired Color Palette and style 

They will greatly aid the person executing your artistic vision. These can be drawn from many sources: websites; books and other printed material; fabric and clothing; pieces of art. Consider offering the images of famous paintings. Simply naming a type of art or an easily referenced artist will communicate your wishes. Personally, I’m drawn to the delicate images of classical Asian paintings, as well as the neo-classism of Maxfield Parish who was known for his use of saturated color. Unfortunately, since his work ended mid-twentieth century, a young artist may be wholly unaware of his work.

Identifying Colors. 

Working individually, or with an artist and publisher/printer, you’ll need to provide numerical descriptions of your desired colors. Paint Stores offer color samples, with numerical coding plus alphabetical names. Printers can provide numbers for the Pantone® Colors of ink used in most hardcopy printing. Remember you don’t have to access a graphic art program to provide the color model numeration of computer font colors. Simply mark a section of text within a word processing program and examine the chart of colors available under the drop-down arrow for font color. 

I should caution you that identifying a color is no guarantee of how a printed product arrives at your doorstep. Two editions of the same book, printed by the same printer following the same instructions, may present different coloration. Variations can occur because of differences in batches of ink or toner, the moisture content of paper, and production executed on innumerable types and conditions of equipment.

A final consideration in our discussion of color printing is publication via downloading from the Internet. If this is how your work will be published, you should consider using colors designated as “web safe.” Again, there will be varied results in how your readers view your materials. If nothing else, variations in monitor settings can prevent uniformity in how myriad viewers will experience color on your website or in your book. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in a future post! 

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors, Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, narrator, consultant, and motivational speaker Additional discussion of the nature of color is provided at:

For more ideas to maximize the results of your branding, visit my marketing website or blog: Imaginings Wordpower & Design, You are also welcome to send me an email at Jeanne Burrows-Johnson is a published author who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. 

To find out more about Jeanne, go to her website at:

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