Skip to main content

Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application

Lesson 20 of 20

Colors in Nature with Rachel Gregg


Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application

Lesson 20 of 20

Colors in Nature with Rachel Gregg


Lesson Info

Colors in Nature with Rachel Gregg

so we'll go ahead and introduce myself. I'm Rachel. Greg and I am a marketer here, a creative life. But in addition to that, I do floral design. So I started studying floral design last January. Um, so I have been at it for just under a year, and I wanted to have on alternative source of income that wasn't related to the screen. I'm a digital marketer. I'm out the screen all day, and I wanted to kind of imagine for myself what I could do, Um, as either in additional source of income were. Perhaps when I want its transition out of digital marketing, Um, that would have me using my hands and have me standing and engaging in sort of a tactile world. So I returned to floral design, which has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager and started taking classes and how just absolutely fallen in love with the craft. And I'm constantly studying constantly learning and was really excited to take on the challenge of applying color theory that you have been studying to my designs. And so what I...

was asked to do was to take some of the color palettes that were created yesterday and to build some designs based on that. And so what we have here, um, I'm gonna ask Richard to go ahead and look kind of extend on the theory, because I'm definitely I have, like, I feel like in an intuitive understanding of color, which is probably what most where most will come from, right? Um, but it definitely. As I've developed more of my like, sort of understanding of floral design. I know that there's there's rules to follow. And so, um so this was fun. And so here we have we'll start here. Right. Well, pair pair these two, which I created based on this light to dark or light and dark. So what we have here is we have this very feminine designed that I kind of imagine is like our our tea party design. And we have just these pale, pale pink tulips, pail many calla lilies, some rice flour in some hydrangea and dahlia. And so what I wanted to do here with sort of, I mean, in contrast to the deep sort of pink of the hydrangea, thes tulips are almost white. So I really wanted to get that that that really high contrast look happening here? You said feminine. This to me is very Let's talk a little bit that way. Talked about the meanings of color and color like a symbolic gesture. So what is it about these colors that suggest the idea of feminine to you? For me? Uhm pink is a very feminine color, particularly this pale pink. Um and I think what also makes this design so feminine is that their, um, their sort of minimal hard lines. There is a lot of softness. There's the There's the, you know, the roundness of the dahlia and hydrangea, and, um so the texture comes into play as well, but definitely a just that it is that it's all florals, that is all flowers in no greenery. And of course, you know it's set off by its container, which, um, doesn't is an angular masculine at all. So just carrying that idea further, what do you guys think of that? You know, this could be a little bit of a controversial thing, right to call something feminine because we're relying upon associations. No, I think culturally at least here in the States, we associate pink with feminine. So I think most people would, I think, makes sense. Yeah, I don't think it's just the pink. I think it's It's the flowery nous of it to like you were saying? Yeah, yeah. Um, and you talked a little bit about Not just the color, but also the shakes of the flowers. Yes. Yeah, yeah. So you know something that's very important. Color design is to or in floral design. Rather is to not be so busy that you have nowhere to sort of come and rest your eye. And so, in my mind, with this design, where you're resting, your eye is on these very smooth, soothing lilies. Uhm so you've got all of the business of the hydrangea and the rice flour and the dahlia, which is variegated and has that pop of yellow in the middle. And then you have these kind of more serene callaloo lease. So it's It's about sort of that balance of textures. Um, otherwise way have a difficult time focusing, right? So in floral design, you want to move a person's. I threw a design, but you don't want to sort of make the design so busy that you don't know where to focus. So when we were talking about visual hierarchy before, I think that's kind of what your suggestion here is. Figuring out a value system with the elements within the arrangement or that you do you call these arrangements? Yes. You still calling arrangements? Floral design? Not picking. Yeah, I looked up that term because I wasn't quite sure. I know that back in the day when my parents were making them, they called them arrangements. And, you know, FTD was all about arrangements. I thought it was an interesting word arrangement, cause that's essentially another word for composition. Yeah. Yeah. So you're thinking about how your eye moves through the composition from one element to another. Some of the color is being kind of, ah, background in a sense, for other colors. So if I look at it over here on the screen, we're looking top down. We have these elements down here which are really beautiful, but, you know, my eyes really drawn to these spots of white in the contracts. It's all about that contrast of light and dark in particular. Yeah, unless the students What do you think this is an expression of right here the yellow and purple complementary contrast exactly. Is that a natural thing? By the way, do you think that's sort of a manufactured? Oh, with the centre being so yellow? Well, most of the flyers that we purchased now have been sort of engineered to some extent. So with dahlias being such a popular flower, I can't imagine that any of them are so close to how they were originally in nature. So the people who engineered that decided that complementary colors was the way to go. Yeah, they decided that in order to create the most contrast with purple or violet, they would put yellow in the centre. Yeah, as another rich color, kind of interesting. And it's interesting, right? Because we're just supposing about it's true. But also, if you notice the calla lily and the tulip are pink, are yellow right in the centre, too? And so I often think that, um, you find really strong examples of color theory working in nature rates. I think we've drawn it from nature, right, like the wisdom was there. And then we sort of formalised it by putting it in oil. And I think I remember something about bees being drawn to the yellow, perhaps. Yeah, because they're yellow, like I e financial saying that would say, You know, we often find exactly that. You know that there are examples in nature and that we think about that when you make color decisions. You know, the sunset blue and por inch, uh, things roses, rose bushes, rose hips where you have incredible green in this incredible red occurring naturally and then hear this manufactured flower where we pick up again on complementary colors. So it's now part of our culture. You associate these colors together? Yeah, interesting. Well into extending that. We were talking before the class about how in floral design green almost always becomes your neutral on. You have to be really intentional if you're choosing for green to become your focal. And that's because they're so much green occurring in the natural world that it becomes essentially a backdrop color for us like it becomes. And we don't. We tend not to notice all of the green that were sort of surrounded by every day because the grass hills trees. Um, it's just so omnipresent as to become neutral. And if you're looking at Rose hips bushes and you see the green, The majority of it is green. And then these little red highlights happen me out. And I'm sure they're They're also to attract the pollination process, the bees going toward that color and differentiate in it from the green in the background. Yeah, so we learned to appreciate these things, and then we adapt them in our own way. Yeah. Different. This was for you arranging the flowers and choosing them based on the color palette as opposed to your normal approach. Is there a difference? Yeah, definitely s. So I am. I'm still in a place where I'm where I'm learning. And so I'm not creating designs specified by clients. I have a little bit of that going on, but generally, I get the good fortune of going to the market and knowing what kind of design I'm going to be making in terms of, Is it gonna be a centerpiece? Is gonna be a birthday pieces and and then getting Teoh select my flowers based on kind of what's most beautiful to me. Um and then the color palette sort of developed there, and I'll have my color wheel like on my phone after I find my my beautiful focal flower and develop it from there. But in this case, I had to go and, um, and find beautiful materials that matched with color, which is definitely something that's more common. You refer to a color wheel when you're making selection. Yes, yes, and many of the women that I know that do floral design and do the same. Wow. Yeah, that's interesting. Yeah, it's good to know it is. Well, you know, it applies, Teoh our work, right? We have to primarily, you know, weddings are floral design is, you know, sort of a stalwart of weddings. And and people tend to choose sort of one color. That is the sort of the problem, what's gonna guide all of the other decisions? And so you have to know what's going to compliment it. What's gonna accent it, how you can emphasize it without sort of losing it and drowning it. So I'm doing a wedding this weekend where we're going to bring in a lot of burgundy flowers, but it's in a very dark space. And so I had to, you know, like so I talked with the bright about how we're gonna wanna have some some of the sort of creamy or lighter color so that not everything gets lost. So context is really important. Um, yeah, and you have to get a little bit imaginative. Do you think about other color models besides the color wheel, for example, like that red down there that you use? That grid has dark reds and light reds. It's just concept of light and dark. It certainly becomes part of it, I would think. Yeah, and I think that that that's a little It's more obvious to make that selection right. Um and what? But when you're when you're reaching a little bit to sort of do a try attic arrangement or I'm a complimentary arrangement, then then I definitely want to refer Teoh. Give me an example of a try attic arrangement. So what did I do Recently? I did an or a red orange was red, orange, blue. And what would be the third there? Because that's what it waas. It would be red, red, orange, blue, an orange, blue and yellow and yellow. Yeah, yeah, so that's a definitely a three primary colors, much like we talked about Triad. Yeah, and if we could spin that and we could spend it toward orange, green and purple Another triad? Yeah. Do you also deal with split compliments where you're dealing with it rather than the two colors you're dealing with? It's a yellow and red violet and blue Violet. Something like that. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. You learning theory. I'm definitely learning color theory. And because it's so often, you know, the thank you's are something like a red violet or it's not gonna be the pure call. And you almost don't want the pure color because it seems to lack a little bit of character and could be kind of static. Yeah. Yeah. So you're probably dealing with the same issues that we've been talking about during this workshop. All these different color contrasts, color cords. Do you think of them as cords like harmonic? No, I'm not a very musical. Persons of that wouldn't be of it. It's not a natural eat, huh? Yeah. I love the idea of the color sphere, though, because I had sort of the same questions about the bronze and the brown and going deep. Yeah, yeah. And so exactly exactly that that was really, I think, sort of visualizing this fear. Um, and, you know, it answers a lot of questions. Let's talk about the centerpiece. Okay. Great, cause I'm staying at it. Still beautiful. Um, so I love this. This is the belladonna and some snapdragons moves and some scabby osa. And here the goal was the inspiration. Rather was was this pallet right here? Um and so So I have this color palette, and I went in and, you know, didn't know what would be my focal flower. Um, I thought maybe I'd find a deep purple, but I saw these beautiful, surprisingly full, surprisingly open for the market roses and knew that I would have to be my focal. Um, so we talked about this a little earlier where I met maybe lost some of the some of the blue and some of the purple here. You know, it definitely becomes kind of a more of an accent unless of the focal, because we have the orange, red and the pink. Um, but I think this is still a close interpretation of that. Palette it on, you know, it it owners that while also, you know, letting the letting the materials speak. And the materials were these air. The beautiful flowers were the ones who get to talk the most. So I think it's ah, it's an expression of the triad that we just talked about. Yeah, you know, the the primary colors a red, yellow and blue. That's what I see when I look at this and what it go to, you know, color scheme. It says those colors which we all grew up with, you know, think about the toys and have your kids. Yeah, and this was I just want to say this is this was supposed to the warm and cool. And so that's why I wasn't afraid to go with the with the snapdragons because I and knew that they sort of reflected that warm. Now, you're also be using some, uh, the greens. Here is the background. And this eucalyptus. Yes, yes. Which is also an expression of the opposite of the very vivid colors that you have in these roses. These blue flowers, the red flowers and snapdragons. So the eucalyptus is very dull in comparison. Yeah, Yeah, they're using that as sort of a ground or a background. Yeah. Yeah, well, and I also what? I was really hoping that the belladonna would pick up with the blue in the eucalyptus to really to give that a little more, you know, sort of place Toe express. It's like another place to express itself. I think that works sexually. You have the darker greens, sort of on the inside. Now, some of that is caused by shadow. But that really relates. We look over here, you see that relationship of here to here so kind of bridges light and dark. Yeah, it's really beautiful when you get like, you got the you know, the bridges are right, like you've got this orange, and then you've got the yellow. And then, um, that's very important in floral design to make sure you have a bridge, because it can be easy to sort of pick something that's beautiful. And when it's time to assemble it, that they can be very desperate. Right? So and that's, you know, it's kind of the beauty of flowers is that they they often create that nice bridge rate because the variation in the actual pedals themselves. Now we're seeing these from above, and most people don't look at these things thinks you're the giant. But you're arranging these things, probably with the idea of looking at them from above to some degree, maybe in your imagination, in your head. So one of the most common, this would be the closest design to what's called a hand tied bouquet. And I didn't build it like a hand tied bouquet. I'm not great hand tied bouquets, but how you actually do build them is you. You look at them from, you know, from what will be above as you designed them. But yeah, so is if you're holding them out in front of you. Yeah. So you actually, you build them like the stems raising you, and then how you check let me turn. And so this is this is, you know, my own large to that type of design, but, um, yeah, but I you know, I'm designing from front, you know, from this perspective. And then I just keep turning to make sure we're building on all sides, because in this case, all of these they're, you know, they're intended to be beautiful. Appreciate it on all sides. So from low sitting down like this, which is probably the most common way of looking at it from the side, but also thinking about what happens from the top because I think this also essential. It's a sculpture, ultimately, right? Yeah. And you didn't get a very different impression of it for looking at it from the side. You know, as opposed to looking out at the top, you see much less of the yellow. Actually, the red and the blue starts to become much more of an active part of the composition. Yeah, you get the blooms look very different from the top in its Its funds actually have that perspective because it's a little bit of a wildflower weedy Look, if you're just, you know, sitting across from it now, how do you I'm sure that the vase the container is in a central part of the arrangement or the composition. So how do you choose these things? Eso the base Really? In a lot of the container, really, in a lot of ways dictates scale. And so, you know, there's there's gonna be an experienced laurel designer who knows that it should be. You know, I think it's with plus hype plus 1/2. Um Really? Yeah, There's there's a rule to that. But most sort of contemporary floral designers, you know, break that rule. You wanna have visual balance. That's really important. In a good way to do that is to make sure that your that you're sort of at least mirroring the hype. Um, but I don't think it needs to be so tall. So with me, not the width of the vase that whether the arrange know the width of the base of the container and then the height and then and then half then 1/2. Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. So in other words, we take the with, which is this Add that to the height thing this way, and that becomes the overall height. Yeah. Yeah. So it's interesting. What about the design of the container? It's it's all made up out of vertical lines. So in this, in this case, you know, I selected the containers, and I am a new which containers. You know, I definitely knew that I was gonna do the light and dark in this container, and I because I imagined it being you know what it is, which is this very, um, you know, feminine my view, um, feminine floral design. And so I, you know, and that to me, is you know, it's lady tea party time, and it looks like it's floating. And this is more rustic. And so definitely the, um the shade of of the container, the height, um, the overall sort of look of it right says a lot about what kind of design you know, a very formal. I mean, this this design, probably you could do, is sort of a shabby chic over here, right? But, um, this would look a lot less glamorous in a different kind of container. One of the things we talked about earlier today was in just compositional contrast of geometric and organic. And I'm getting that sense of this to you have this essentially, what is a rectangle around cylinder? It's perfectly geometric. And then with all these vertical lines, right, And then it explodes into this very kind of very un not nearly as geometric, but still vertical lines. So there's some kind of Ah, yeah, look right here. And you see the vertical lines. It goes from perfect Jim geometric like industrial vertical lines into more organic vertical lines and then exploding into these colors. And so there's this progression of simple to complex as you move up. Yeah, yeah, but I think also that, like, sort of patina on this tones down that industrial look right. It gives it more of that organic feel, right, that shape, that dark shape, it actually is. This through there is a very organic shape. The base there. The continue itself is an expression of that geometric and organic contrast. Even in our students have worked with florals in anything that they do. This is something a new concept. You It seems to be so, uh, Richard, these concepts we've been discussing for the for the last session, I think these flowers really sort of bring this alter life. How would photographers, designers, other creators, maybe take these concepts and bring them into their everyday work? This is a great example. I'm looking at this right now. I'm thinking, Well, you know, primary colors there it issue. No. And we had just done this little experiment with found objects and putting them together in a color wheel and and not necessarily always thinking about the color wheel is the only model here. You have a try at the primary colors. And maybe there's another color model that you can use. Maybe it's RGB, you know, it's why. Why not? It's an experimental condition. It sounds like there are very specific rules, though, that you're following based on acceptability, perhaps within the community. Is it ever, uh, does it ever occur to you to produce something that is that is purposely not balanced? Um, we definitely play in, um and joke in floral. You know, as we're designing and in classes would do something that's maybe outrageous, you know, and, uh, an experiment. I mean, that's kind of the beauty of being in a place where you're studying and learning is that you get to experiment, whereas when you're doing client work, you know to toe the line, you know, to some extent, I mean you want Teoh. You want your floral designs to be an expression of your style and your aesthetic. Most of the time, it is about beauty. Yeah, So you then find yourself gravitating toward classical concepts of beauty. So the primary colors, something that we think of as beautiful and the yellow being light and the red being in the middle in the blue being somewhere else. So you have these three colors that are very distinct from each other. Then the green comes in. Green is sometimes referred to as the psychological fourth color within the primary set. It's not really a primary color for painters, but it's a psychological primary color and that were often used of it, as you say is a better color. Yeah, we talk about the last one. Let's do that. So this is the vivid and dull design, and, um, this is kind of ambitious palette to try to build off of that would have taken a lot of materials to perfectly mirror. But, um, it's called a great great, by the way, quite seeing them this way put together like this was this was this was really fun, because as soon as I knew that, um, I was gonna be pairing dull and vivid, I knew that I would use this Dusty Miller, which is just such a I mean, dull right in terms of it is this gray white fuzzy plant, and it's it's it's popular in World Sign, and I really like it, and it reminds me of my grandmother and, um, but it was just gonna be such a fun color to contrast with something vivid. So when I found these, I mean these sweet Williams to me. When I saw them, I knew that they were the flower for this design, because there they're the epitome of vivid in my mind there. So color saturated, um, they're just and, you know, I don't I don't know how well the view is it at home can see how much pop they have, but they already know. Yeah, you mentioned because some people were saying in the middle section they couldn't see the purple, but I was explaining them. No, it is in there, unfortunately, calibration to screen. But you've done very well in choosing the colors that match the the palate. This also is an expression of warm and cool. So you have this reddish, um, red orange of these, and then the very violet over here, and I find that that is, you know, they're adjacent colors on the color wheel there very close to each other. And so they have similar characteristics, but are different enough. So there's a form of contrast there that goes beyond just the texture and shape. It has this beautiful color contrasts of very subtle, warm and cool. And those background court shapes, these things are really beautiful. Just the shape of them is really interesting. Very active. Yeah. So something t think about in floral design is is that no flower sort of gets lost, And I'm one of my favorite flowers is actually in this design, which is this scabby. Oh, so and I think she is just so lovely. And she is surprisingly long lasting and really, um, a lovely, unique flower. And I thought, Oh, that's great because there is also a scabby. Oh, so that's very dull, which most of them are. Um however, you really kind of lose it against even, you know, even here. And as we're looking at it directly, you could be kind of lose it against the grey. So that's just an interesting sort of experience toe have in terms of like, actually working with color. And, you know, you might have something that's so beautiful, but maybe it needs to be a little bit more saturated to stand on its own. Otherwise, ISAT there, you know, it has a little bit of purple to it, so it acts a bit, is a bridge. But I would like if I had a little bit more color Teoh to really give some contrast. Now, would you ever you say something like a color grid, too. Create, um, arrangement. A composition of colors. This way. He is a starting point. Yeah, we'll definitely, um so for me, you know, something that I really like to do is I like to sort of have to have an image that is that is my inspiration point. And so it might not be formalizes a grid, but it is, you know, it is a color recognition completes an example. Yeah. So, um, I'm doing a wedding this weekend, and I have a beautiful image of some really deep burgundy paired with some, um with a pale peach. And I've had as a background my wallpaper for about a month of the images. Just like, perfectly burned into my mind of these are the These are the colors that I'm going to be shopping for. But it's not flowers. They are flower. They are flown You. Do you ever take your inspiration from other kinds of found colors. Yeah, definitely. I actually didn't exercise a few months ago where you just went through magazines and, you know, picked out the images. That kind of spoke to me and, um yeah, interesting. Yeah, Yeah, I think that's important. You know, we were talking about photography earlier, and and how? Just taking snapshots, you know, instagram pictures and seeing color relationships. And so you might see primary colors or colors, variations of warm and cool or these kinds of contrasts. Maybe in some of their context, completely something not having anything to do with flowers at all. And that inspires your flowers Or you go to a museum and you see a painting, and that inspires an arrangement. Those colors, you see, they're kind of interesting. I find that happening all the time in design. I would think that also it would it would begin. Toe happens to some degree here as well. Yeah, well, and I think that you know that sort of as my experience will make it sort of continue to happen. More and more is thinking about having like corporate clients, for instance, and like designing for a no entry way for a corporate client which is something very common for floral designers to dio. And you really have to take in the con, you know, like taking the into consideration the context where the flowers will be displayed. But also, you know, the company's look book their logo. Um, what's what sort of fits with the with the aesthetic that they have in their office, And then how can you design flowers? Um, and use, you know, variable material. I mean, something that's kind of fun and wild about floral design is I mean, we're working with materials from a natural world. We can't dictate with certainty what's gonna be available on a certain day. And so you have Teoh, you have to really have some flexibility there. You have to sort of know where you can replace something and where you where you have to find an equivalent alternative. But doing doing corporate client work, I think is a you know, an opportunity to really have to be inspired by something that's way outside of the natural world. Yeah, right. I think we're almost ready to move on. But before we go, I just wanted to ask one more question and one of the most. My most vivid memories of growing up in a greenhouse and being aware of colors was Christmas time and point set us. Yeah, my parents grew points at us, and it was the group point centers for a lot of other floors as well. And so the red in the green And was that coincidental? Do you know anything about that where point said is always naturally ready? I you know, I don't know I Then you see them. So now you see them softer running. People come in red. And where they were they adopted as a Christmas flower because they were red and green. It would seem so, but I don't actually know. I would have most seasonality, right, because they're red flowers. Double your long. But what makes points that is that's bad. Go to would be definitely. I mean, you think of so much of what we think of us like Oh, tulip is the spring fire. Will it blooms in the spring. Since flowers are so tied to the seasonal events like Christmas and other holidays, are there other color combinations that you can think of that are very distinctly like cultural or symbolic of certain holidays. Autumn is I mean, it's the time of year that you're going to see a lot more orange and a lot more brown and arrangements than you would see any other time of the year again because of the leaves and the use of those materials in the pieces. Yeah. I mean, it's something that's really fun about floral design is that it reflects the season so closely, Um, while flowers do move all around the world, Um, and so you can access materials that air from a different part of the the world of sports in a different season, primarily, most your materials are going to reflect the season that you're in regionally. And so your designs are gonna and also, you know, it's the kind of celebrations that people are having, and so that they would need designs for right So And if you got your house decorated with red and green, you bring in. The points out is that it is part of the exact question. It s one of the principles of color theory that you talked about yesterday. Richard was how different colors have been really exactly. But it's different levels of intensity like the yellows. Three times is intense, the purple values right, like values. And so that's reflected in the in the piece that was made. But in the end, the flowers, it looks like a lease. From the view that I could see the yellow and the purple are kind of more evenly matched. Is that but it still looks good, obviously. Is that something that is that part of color theory that only applies in certain areas? Or is that something that shows up in other areas of color as well? No, not at all. When I look at this, I am mostly focused on those roses. And I think you said that that you wanted us to focus on those roses. If you only had two of those yellow roses in there, I might look more like the grid. But we wouldn't be so kind of focusing on those yellow roses much right. So you chose to really put the emphasis on those roses. You could have chosen the other direction as well, and loaded up with purples and blues, right and really kind of dunmore what the grid is doing, which is creating more of Ah, sense of, like balance based on just those light ideas. Like like concepts right here. We're looking at these roses. That's like the main thing I'm looking out there. I'm seeing a lot of yellow, but the blue and the red do a really good job of balancing that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I think it would apply. Yes, absolutely. But you're always thinking about that. And it's not necessarily that you're always trying to create this perfect balance. You're going for effect. So we want to look at the roads. It's so put him in. Add more roses into it. Same thing through with the grid. If you wanted the yellow to really be the dominant force in the composition loaded up with yellow. Great. Great. Thank you so much. Thank you, guys. Of course, you can reach Rachel Online. Go to instant gram dot com her instagram account, his dog would florals. That's all. One word dog would florals. You can also find on Twitter as Miss Underscore gregarious. So I'm sure you thank you. Rachel is really wonderful to see. Your work here is well, she's a wonderful marketeer. But who knew that she was a very talented for all designer as well does beautiful work. So, Richard, we're coming to the end when there's one last thing you wanted to cover, which was music? Yeah, I wanted to just throw this out. There is is is a personal project something that I got involved in, and I'm gonna walk to the front just so I could do a little bit of an arrangement here. So, um, I'm a bit of a guitar player. I'm not a great guitar player at all. And so I find other ways of expressing my love of guitars, um, through other ways. And one of them is color. And this is something that happened a little bit of coincidentally, I was asked by, you know, moo cards. Have you guys ever dealt with new cards? They're great. So the cool thing about this these cards is that you can have 100 different faces, and then the backside is all the same, this great thing and the little corner things, so that it was a bit of a promotional tool for them, and I could do whatever I wanted to. And so when I was given this assignment, I was given this shape, and the first thing I thought of was that looks like a core diagram shape. It looks like the neck of a guitar, and I had gone through a lot of different ideas first, and then I came up with this, and so I decided to actually make core diagrams based on color theory. So what I did, And this is also based on an experiment that one of my students did, and it's actually in my book, music and color. I created a system where the 12 notes of the musical Stale scale are each aligned with one of the 12 colors from the color wheel. And I begin with Read as being see and actually did a little historical research into this and found out that most people who are correlating musical notation with color have found that read, um should belong with C. And so I just kind of took it as a point. It could have been, perhaps, done in a different way. What else I did was created the little finger dots on the court diagrams in complementary colors, so each of these little color cord cards is an expression of a split complimentary color set. And when I do this, it was purely to make a decorative set of court cards, perhaps for someone who might be interested in learning. And I if you're keen on this, you can kind of look and see that. Actually, what I have here is not six strings before strings. And so these are actually for a tenner guitar, which has four strings. All this put these over here, and it's a limited range of chords. So I only have major minor in the seventh, um, in the Sharps, Um, but what I found what's really interesting about this? It's a different way of putting together chord progressions. So rather than thinking about them in the traditional model of a musical theory, where we're thinking about core progressions based on music theory were based in a non color theory. So one of the things I like to do is just take coming cord cards. They begin to think about arrangements based on colors, so primary colors and use those colors as a basis for creating a song rather than coming at it from a musical side. I'm coming at it from a color side is a very playful approach. It's very unpredictable approach. I end up with very unpredictable kinds of poor chord progressions. And when I, you know, I'm making things that have sort of looping repetitions and things like that. So it's a great is turned out to be a great device for me just to play with color and play with sound simultaneously and also express my music, my love of music and coming at it from this point of view, just putting colors together in different ways ways that I wouldn't necessarily even think about musical notation or cords Have you come up with any progressions or songs that you like a lot? Based on this approach, I only play, you know, this is one of those things where my music is for myself. I'm not a performer, not like this, where I have to stand up in front of people. I don't ever want to be that person. I have a sister who is a classical musician, and she does that. But for me, it's all about playing something personally from myself. So when I do it, I'm in my room. I've got my headphones on, or if no one's home and I can blast music through an app. I can do that as well, but this is purely about play purely about experimentation. I never even recorded anything. I just sit down for an hour or two and I'm playing away. But what this enables me to do is approach the court progressions in a way that's completely spontaneous and not based on any kind of preconceived notion of sound and cords going together. It's really fun, and the other thing is that you legalized everything I knew about color theory. I actually used Itn's color start to help me create the color cords, how to put them together. Superfund. Have you seen any patterns of like, you know, chord progressions with complementary colors? Sound great for Don't or no? Well, Teoh, I'm not judgmental in that way, and the kinds of things that I play or not really based on necessarily beautiful compositional, it's it's more just based on sounds come over to sound designer. I guess that I think of it, and I'm not doing it for a particular effect or for a particular reason. I'm just playing eso. Sometimes it does end up being really beautiful and very lyrical. And sometimes it sounds really bad. And maybe move away from that. Yeah, I think it would be interesting. I'm somebody loves music, I think would be interesting. Teoh, hear the song or, you know, just the notes. The court has begun to quit and be able to see it together. Just kind of put it together. Yeah, Interesting. It would be interesting for someone, perhaps, but what I want to emphasize you're not unlike what we've seen with the found objects and making the color wheel and these beautiful floral arrangements, you know, finding ways of integrating color theory into your everyday life into other parts of your life that don't necessarily have anything to do with colors. It's super fun. I had such a great time doing this, and I'm going to try to expand the Siri's now into six strings. Friends have asked me to do you kill a lease. Maybe I'll go beyond that into others other kinds of stringed instruments. Now that I have the core idea, Aiken extrapolate from there. They're actually beautiful pieces, and I just love the way you've laid the mouse, and I love the way it's possible to mix up the different colors and change them. Very, very cool idea. It's a fresh way of looking at music, right mood, music and cover. So, Richard, we have kind of come to the end of this course. What would you like to leave our audience with your final thoughts and inspiration that you'd like them to walk away with? From this course? Well, to think about color is something that you can integrate into your daily life. That's what we've ended with to be aware of the possibilities of color, to always be thinking about other ways of, of looking at color. So using the color theories that we've talked about contrast of light and dark, warm and cool, vivid and dull. Complementary contrast, um, the contrast of proportion, which we barely just kind of tip the iceberg on, perhaps even utilizing some of the methodologies that we've used in order to create colors inner and choose on colors in your own work, but made mainly as you know, if you think back to the top of the workshop. I talked about awareness and gaining confidence, and that's ultimately what it's all about. For me, if you can become confident with your color choices. You're gonna be a better designer, going to be a better artist. You're going to expand beyond your preconceptions in your comfort zone. That's kind of what this is all about. And I'm hoping that that works for you guys. And for the on Is that home? To what? For the online audiences. Let me just share some of the comments that are coming in Richard for you. Read. Scorpio says. This is another excellent course Buckwheat is saying for me. Rachel's floral presentations brought all of this together in the reasoning importance of the color pattern. So thank you, Richard. Thank you, Rachel. And comedy. Gumball machine is saying this has been a great course right up their alley and see, Poodle is saying I just loved the course. Lots of inspiration. Right? So you've inspired a lot of people here, Created five today, Rich Super Want to say thank you very much for that

Class Description


  • Effectively select and apply color to enhance your design projects
  • Utilize color theory language to justify your design decisions
  • Expand beyond preconceptions and your comfort zone in working with color


Our response to color comes from the place in our brain where trust, loyalty, behavior, and decision occur – every successful project relies on a designer making smart choices about color.

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application, Richard Mehl will give you a foundational understanding of color theory principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Richard has studied alongside design legends Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter; in this class he’ll share insights gleaned from 12 years of teaching and writing about color in design.

Richard takes an accessible approach to the serious study of color theory for designers. You’ll be exposed to a relevant series of ideas and skills by exploring a range of analog and digital projects.

  • Color terminology and meaning
  • How to view color in context
  • Contrast grids and color illusion
  • Tips for creating a harmonious color palette

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application you’ll develop a new awareness and sensitivity to color that will bolster your confidence in your personal and professional design work.


This class is for designers and color aficionados of all levels working across various media, ranging from floral design to user experience design. It is also an appropriate refresher in color theory for experienced designers.


Richard Mehl has taught two-dimensional design, color theory and typography at the School of Visual Arts for over 12 years. His students have gone on to become successful, award-winning designers and art directors for prestigious design studios, including Bloomberg, New York Magazine, Pentagram, The Guardian, The New York Times and Sagmeister & Walsh. Mehl received an MFA in graphic design from Yale School of Art, where he studied with graphic design legends Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter, design educators Alvin Eisenman and Inge Druckrey, type designer Matthew Carter, and information design expert Edward Tufte. He is the author of Playing with Color: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Color Design Principles (©2013 Rockport Publishers). Mehl lives with his family – wife Alicia and Sheldon the Pug – and carries on a graphic design practice in Chelsea, New York.


  1. Why Study Color?

    Most designers have an intuitive understanding of color drawing from cultural associations, experimentation, and experience; why study color specifically when intuition alone can guide your color choices? Why is color the most relative medium in art and what consequences does this have for design? What is the role of trial and error in working with color? Richard addresses the implications of studying basic color theory.

  2. Natural Awareness of Color & Playing

    We all associate certain colors with specific ideas or objects; this is the foundation of color symbolism. How do you move beyond day-to-day awareness and a basic understanding of what looks “good” together? How do you develop a well-trained “eye” for color? Richard introduces the concept of learning through play and exploring geometric composition.

  3. Colors and Their Relationships

    How did we arrive at the modern day color wheel? Richard reviews the evolution of traditional color theory, from cave paintings to Sir Isaac Newton to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Expand your vocabulary beyond primary colors and secondary colors, as Richard touches on concepts he will expand upon in following lessons.

  4. Color Contrast of the Color Wheel

    What types of contrast can we explore through color? Richard introduces a color grid activity and discusses the properties of different colors. He demonstrates how to create color harmony through the use of “color chords” and pairing complementary and split complementary colors.

  5. Hands On Color Grids

    Watch as live students experiment, assembling their color grids highlighting various contrasts. Richard clarifies common confusions and dives deeper into color theory. How do you use relationships of proportion to create balance, stability, and order in your work? Why do we see certain color combinations in branding? How are designers like hunters and farmers?

  6. Color Illusion in Practice

    Richard introduces the concept of color illusion, demonstrating how colors interact based on their surroundings. How can you trick the eye? What consideration should you give to a background when working with different hues?

  7. Interaction of Color Practice - Part 1

    How do you make one color look like two? Join Richard’s students in manipulating the eye and experimenting with color subtraction. Richard gives tips for working with complementary colors.

  8. Interaction of Color Practice - Part 2

    How do you make two different colors look alike? Learn how to guide your audience’s perception with informed color choices. Richard discusses the implications of color illusion in graphic design.

  9. Illusion of Transparency

    Learn how to create the illusion of color transparency through the manipulation of analogous colors. Practice playing with warm colors and cool colors in a trial and error process to enhance your color awareness.

  10. Hands On Free Study Experiment

    Apply your color theory learnings thus far in a free study experiment, combining color concepts and focussing on the process of exploration. Richard’s students in the CreativeLive studio share how color theory applies to their roles and design experiences.

  11. Color in Action: Designer Pablo Delcan

    Meet Pablo Delcan, independent graphic design studio owner, and learn how he has applied color theory knowledge to his work across various media, including book covers, illustrations, and animations. Pablo shares his approach and thought process behind design decisions, as well as advice on designing for clients.

  1. Color in Design: Tangrams

    Less is more: the simplicity of tangrams offer endless exploration of color and its expressions. Richard shares examples of tangram compositions exploring stability, balance, movement, symbolism, and visual contrast.

  2. Hands On: Tangrams

    Join Richard’s live students and explore with tangrams; work to create multiple contrasts and experiment with a limited color scheme. Richard discusses the figure and ground relationship and gives advice on working with tints and shades. He clarifies the vocabulary of tertiary colors: is it blue-green or green-blue?

  3. Hands On: Leaf Composition

    Explore color relationships with organic shapes in this lesson, as Richard leads you in an activity creating compositions with pressed leaves. Students explore creating visual hierarchy with high contrast and Richard gives tips for working with leaves.

  4. Expression of Color & Opposites - Part 1

    How can you use form and color to express ideas? In this lesson, Richard introduces the next activity: expressing opposing concepts as a diptych, or two compositions working as one. Bring theory to practice and explore the true expressive power of color.

  5. Expression of Color & Opposites - Part 2

    Part of developing a trained “eye” for color is repeated play - creating without the pressure of a message or deadline. Watch as live students’ original ideas shift and they justify the decisions they’ve made while creating their diptychs. Richard shares this starting point with his work: does he start with form or color in design?

  6. Learning from the Masters

    Delve into what Matisse called “drawing with scissors” as Richard prefaces the next activity exploring expressions of color. Richard shares his students’ past work investigating the relationship between figure and ground with paper cut-outs. How do you work with a limited or monochromatic color scheme? What is the distinction between graphic design and advertising?

  7. Hands On: Cut Paper Illusion

    Watch as Richard’s students work in real-time applying color theory concepts, their pieces evolving with feedback. Richard gives invaluable tips for sourcing ideas, best practices, working with cliches, and moving beyond predictable compositions.

  8. Everyday Found Color 2

    In this lesson, Richard’s live class dives into a collaborative color wheel piece. Where can we find color in everyday objects and even in what we eat? Richard pushes you to embrace and think beyond traditional color associations. He introduces the model of the “color sphere” to expand our understanding of hues, tints, and shades, and discusses color systems, additive color, and subtractive color.

  9. Colors in Nature with Rachel Gregg

    Look at floral design in a completely new way, as Richard invites Rachel Gregg, floral designer and CreativeLive team member to share how color theory concepts apply to creating floral arrangements. Rachel shares designs based on palettes and her experience designing for varied clientele. Richard closes the session with takeaways.



The course was great. Richard was a very good teacher, appreciating the students’ work and helping them expand and improve on it. I learned from that alone. I feel more confident in choosing colors, and hope to bring a greater sense of fun to my design work. Thanks again.


How wonderful to have such an experienced, thoughtful teacher, who takes educating others so seriously. The depth and breadth of his teaching skill is matched by his knowledge of the subject. I studied art in school, own some of the color books he recommends, and learned far more than I thought possible. And he does it all in such a kind, affirming, supportive way. What a calm guide. How lucky are we to have access to a class with him!

Joe Loffredo

I was concerned that I wouldn't like watching everyone work, but I found that it was the best part! It allowed you to see Richard's lessons being put into action by the various students, each of which is talented in their own right. And Richard is great. Knowledgeable, intelligent, and supportive, he's got the attributes a great teacher should have. I'm a painter, not a designer, but the class really helped me a lot. When I go back to the canvas, it will be with a much deeper understanding of color, and how colors interact with each other.