Clarify Your Color Language

I recently did a color consult for a client. The goal was simple: add a bright splash of the same color of yellow throughout the ground floor. The challenge was to more precisely distinguish which variation of yellow.

Name It

The first thing to do is add language to describe variations of yellow. A trip to one of my favorite places on earth, Dick Blick’s art stores, to photograph different yellows gave us descriptors: Hansa Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Light and Bismuth Yellow to start.

Tubes of Holbein Acrylic paint in 5 different colors of yellow.
A Universe of Yellow

See It

The next step is to chose some of the color options that appeal  and paint them on a clear white piece of heavy paper.

All 5 of the yellow colors painted on the same piece of white paper to see how they behave out of the tube.
5 Yellows on White Paper

The Benzimidazolone Yellow Medium was too warm and the Hansa Yellow Light was too cool. On the right you see Color Aid swatches that provide another precise way of defining and evaluating color. In each case, the pigment number is included.

Put it in Context

If you’ve studied Josef Albers you know that how color appears is very dependent on its surroundings. The next step is to paint the leading contender on a larger piece of paper and look at it alone in the space where the color will live.

A 9" x 12" swatch of a yellow on the light bamboo floor and with the rest of the room including walls and windows in view to show how the color looks in the context of where it will live.
1 Yellow Large in Context

Once you have done these three steps, you’ll have a really good idea of what specific color to conduct your first experiment with.