Jenny Reeder

Somewhere Over the Rainbow… Choosing Colors
February 24, 2007, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have a quilt hanging on my wall that my great grandmother made back on the day on her farm in southeastern Arizona. It’s got a pink background and intricate blocks made in a variety of bright colors: tourquoise, brown, yelow, blue, green. In an effort to return to my roots and reawaken my own love for quilting, I decided to make my own quilt using my great grandmother’s colors but my own pattern. I took a picture of the quilt to a fabric store and mixed and matched a whole bunch of calicos and stripes and plaids until I came up with a combination that was half-way between my own taste and the somewhat bright and 1940s taste of my great grandmother.  They are nothing I would have ever chosen on my own, but as I look at the blocks, I see a strong play with color and texture.

I am intrigued with the work of color. I know what I like and what I don’t like, but I am still learning about how to actually design an appropriate palette. I like what Luke Wroblewski said about the power of color to change mood and alter opinion. I love how the color choice can distinguish my website, guide users to accessible interaction, and engage use.  I have a couple of ideas about how I can use a whole palette of color for my homepage, then focus on one of those colors for each of my different areas.

The Sherwin Williams page raised another question: can color actually communicate a time period? I believe it can, but I don’t know how accurate they are with their periods. I remember visiting a historic site of a Mormon home built in the 1820s. The tour included an explanation of a recent restoration effort: they discovered the original colors were much brighter and more vivid than previously anticipated. The family, while farmers, were quite wealthy, and the amount of their wealth was displayed in the thickness of color in the paint (less wealthy people watered down their paint). At any rate, there was one room that was bright orange–the tour guide said it was the same color as the surrounding trees in the fall. So my real question is: what colors come from which time periods?

I agree with Jennifer Levasseur–the color tools offered by Professor Petrik are extremely helpful in our web design efforts. I would take it a step further–I think that rather than simply helping us to be non-abrasive, we can actually use color to control emotion and bring attention to our actual subject.


6 Comments so far
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You Said:
I love how the color choice can distinguish my website, guide users to accessible interaction, and engage use. I have a couple of ideas about how I can use a whole palette of color for my homepage, then focus on one of those colors for each of my different areas.

Using color to guide users within my site is one thing I have not yet totally figured out. I believe I have chosen a basic color scheme to tell the story of a Holocaust survivor, but how do I use that same scheme to guide the viewers? I have tried to use the same colors on borders and around footnotes, but is that enough to guide a viewer through the content. I thought about using my main color as a border around the images being used, but then decided that would be overkill on the use of the same color. Not to mention it is not the easiest to place text on and have it be easy to read. So… the contemplation continues. Any suggestions will be greatly accepted.

Comment by Mark Stevens

Jenny, you are right on with your criticism of the Sherwin-Williams page. I found myself clicking through those going “what’s different about these colors from the last decade I just looked at?” I admit this next part hesitantly, but I love to watch the show “This Old House”. One of my favorite parts was when they’d talk about doing the analysis of the paint colors, and then they’d recreate those for use on the remodeled house. Sometimes, the colors were almost shocking considering a house was from say the 1830s. I sometimes did not believe it could be right. So I too wondered what criteria Sherwin-Williams used in creating those palletes. And what about the ‘jazz age’ says pastel purples? They claimed these were ‘historically accurate’, but what evidence or criteria did they use?

Comment by Jennifer Levasseur

The study of color and history would be a very large dissertation. the scholar would have to ask, first, what was available? Modern art historians have found paint chips in all sorts of places they didn’t expect–like the crevasses in the sculptures that form the supports for the roof of the Acropolis. Can you imagine those brightly painted? The walls of Gothic cathedrals frequently had large paintings on them-we only see grey stone walls now. The houses of Pompeii were a riot of painted surfaces. Sometimes I think our lives are the drab ones. How much has the fading effect of age and black and white photographic technology affected our notion of old? What if I did all my research and created an image that was perfectly period. Would my audience recognize it as such? Here is another weird concept–before my fifth birthday, my parents did not own a color TV, nor did they use much color film, because it was so expensive to develop. Consequently, most of my earliest memories are in black and white. I find some color images of those times very disturbing-I am really more comfortable seeing them in black and white. Strange, isn’t it?

Comment by Misha Griffith

Your Type project is looking great. Nice work…I look around the class for ideas and get inspired!

Bill A

Comment by Bill

I’d like to chime in on the Sherman-Williams site as well. I am unsure of whether colors can represent a time period. I mean, for me, colors bring up emotions that may or may not be related to any specific time and when I think of the folks in 17th century Virginia, associating a color with them is very difficult. Now, for the 1960s or something, it would be less difficult because I have seen color video from that era.

Now, it could very well be that I am too left-brain in my thinking and it would not be the first time I have been accused of that.

Comment by sscott4

The best thing about being historians is that we get to interpret the past. In traditional print, we use extremely neutral type and color, almost but not entirely ridding our narrative of symbolic or other historical connotations. Yet with the web, we’re certainly encouraged to help build our ethos and pathos with color and design. Adding color and design definitely falls within our interpretation of the past. Was it bright and cheery, dark and heavy, or light and subdued? Are these connotations that were necessarily accurate or is that the perception we want to give? Pathos is very much affected by presentation – just think about political add campaigns with dark, pixelated images. That definitely presents an argument and interpretation. So, although I’m definitely having fun with colors, one should beware or possibly embrace the rhetorical elements presented through color.

Comment by James Garber

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