I was walking by a kitchen store recently, one of my favorites to browse in- Sur La Table. They had the loveliest spring dish set that with a blue hydrangea floral pattern. The pattern was a little on the large size- too big for elegant summer or a formal winteresque meal- but it was perfect for spontaneous spring. The flowers seemed almost as if they might float off the plates.
I felt happy just looking at these dishes. Suddenly I was standing in the walkway of the store, mentally laying out the menu for a spring brunch and thinking, “what kind of flowers would go in the centerpiece?” I decided on tulips, yellow, with their long green stalks catching the colors of the plates and cups. I’d serve a brick layer’s omelette with crisp hash browns. Strawberries in individual bowls with just a dollop of whip cream. Coffee, orange juice, yum….who’s coming?
Last week I wrote a blog post about choosing paint colors for a spring palette and what colors are in my palette right now.
It’s spring right now, at least the last bits of the spring season are hanging on before the northern California summer rolls in. Even though we’re talking about spring palettes at a time when it’s actually spring weather outside (for many of us), I don’t want you to think using a spring palette only works for when you want to create a piece of art that includes an outdoor scene of spring or a bunch of tulips.
The feelings and emotions of spring colors should be used whenever an artist wants to invoke energy, a sense of youthfulness, joy, happiness, flow, lightness. One doesn’t feel weighted down or heavy hearted when in a room with a spring palette.
That’s the power of a harmonious color combination. It pulls the viewer into the art and invokes a deep feeling. The viewer may not even know why they are feeling the specific emotions, they just know that they are. The contrast is true as well- a muddied palette or colors that collide with one another will repel your viewer or worse, they don’t think anything about the art. Again, they probably don’t know why. Most of us are woefully unaware of the power of color and color harmony.
Recall the characteristics of a spring palette: lots of light. If we’re using watercolor, that means we’re leaving quite a bit of white space in our composition. The colors are vivid and energetic, playful, energizing and fairly cheerful: cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow medium hue, permanent rose, hooker green and a burnt sienna. The colors of spring are cool and clear. I avoid the warm colors as my focal points: sap green, oranges, teals, etc.
Lines and shapes in “spring” paintings are soft and gentle, void of an excess of hard edges. If the painting is an architectural piece, there will be many lines and edges. These can be softened and the piece given a spring feel with cool, vivid green trees (perhaps with blossoms) or even something more subtle as in a person carrying a bouquet of flowers.
My grandfather, a watercolor artist, focused on landscape and architecture for much of his work. The first painting I received as a gift is a painting of Paris- a lovely bridge scene. He employed a spring palette, although he never called it like that. He studied color for years and knew what colors went were pleasing to the eye as well as how the sun and shadow influenced how we see color. Although there is quite a bit of muted violet and gray shades, especially in the shadows of this painting, there is a lot of light, set against the blue of the sky and water and the green trees.
I didn’t think too much of seasons as a way to brand your work until I read Fiona Humberstone’s brilliant book, How to Style Your Brand. There is a lot in that book for businesses and artists. In her chapter on color psychology, she focuses on the way color makes people feel and why it’s important to match the right colors to your brand (she puts groups of colors together that reflect the seasons) to create a sense of harmony.
Fiona uses the example of a spring palette for children’s brands. The happy colors of spring along with the soft shapes exudes youth and curious young ones. Or consider art created for a sporting store or a boat shop- lots of white and bright, robust colors, right? The idea is to help people feel energized and excited about participating in the sport or buying parts to fix up the boat or take lessons or whatnot.
On the other hand, If you’re creating art for a more “serious” business such as a law firm, an account group or a men’s clothing store, you’re not going to choose a spring palette as a focal color. There’s a sense of gravitas and depth the colors and art will probably want to convey for a accounting firm. If one chooses colors that feel light and happy, people may, albeit subconsciously, disregard the effectiveness of the accounting firm.
This is of course up for discussion, right? The most important thing is to continually keep the question in mind, “What feelings am I invoking and am I using the best colors to invoke that emotion?” The goal, for many of us, is to connect with our viewers and bring them into the art.
In summary, the spring palette is useful anytime you want your art to invoke energy, excitement, joy, a sense of youthfulness and playfulness. youthfulness doesn’t necessarily mean age, these spring colors are reflective of a youthful spirit- of joy, hope, moving forward. It is not necessarily calm, but the energy is pleasant, not stormy or angry. The blues will naturally calm down the excitement of the yellows, reds and pinks.
Ideas where a spring palette may be appropriate is art work for children, inspirational quotes and home decor, art whose aim to inspire joy or to reflect a time of growth.
If you want to create a scene that is inviting, I recommend the use of a spring palette. There’s few things as inviting as the gentle spring after a long and cold winter. I think about that when I put the colors down on paper- is this an inviting scene? Will my viewers feel a bit lighter and joyful after viewing this piece?