Creative Color

I love color. In my garden, my house and my closet, color boosts my mood and stimulates my creativity. I appreciate minimalist design and the freshness of white walls, but while I might like to visit those places, I find it hard to work in them.

My house has several white rooms and I’m slowly transforming them into spaces that suit me. I like the process of deciding on a color and choosing the shade that pleases me best.  Much to Lola’s dismay, I’ve been doing the painting myself. I move slowly (boring), I spend a lot of time on a ladder (I don’t climb down every time she wants me to open the door) and she hates walking on the slippery plastic drop cloths I tape down to protect the floors.

While DIY projects can be rewarding, I’ve made a few mistakes with my color choices and whether you do the work yourself or hire someone to paint for you, starting from scratch can be costly. My first redo was the powder room. It was a bright mustard yellow when we moved in. I loved the color, but not the shade, so I toned it down and it was perfect.

Until we replaced the stained glass window. The new one by artist Susan Bernard is wonderful…

…but the yellow walls were all wrong with change in the light, so I had to paint the room again. This time, I chose a lovely dark blue that works with the glass. It’s absolutely perfect.

I was so happy with that color that I decided to paint my white office in a similar but lighter color. I expected to love it, but it was just “nice” and the difference in light changed the colors so they almost clashed.

That failure stalled me until I had a visit from my cousin, an interior designer, who is trained to see color in ways most people can’t. She helped me choose a better color for my office and for the rest of the white rooms in my house.

My cousin went back home, so I’m without a resident designer again. I’ve been wondering if I could do a better job of choosing colors in the future now that I’ve had some good advice.

As I was wandering around online, I stumbled upon Colour Me Happy by Maria Killam and I read her post, One Bad Decision Pays for the Designer. I believe her assertion that it can be more expensive to make a color mistake than to hire an expert in the first place. She also has a post that explains why that light blue didn’t work in my office (A Light Colour Will Never Come to Life in a Dark Room) and several posts about undertones that reveal why it was so hard for me to choose the right neutral colors to tie the rooms together.

If my cousin isn’t in town next time I choose paint colors, I’ll have to hire a designer. I could try to learn more about color theory and undertones, but unless the choice is obvious, I think I’ll be better off relying on a color expert for decorating decisions so I can focus my energy on fiction instead.

The more I novels and short stories I read, the more I learn about what works and what doesn’t, but I’ve discovered that simple reading isn’t enough. It takes active study to understand plot structures and character nuances, sentence patterns and voice. When I find a story I love, I have to focus on these details to learn why it resonates for me. I have to look for those undertones in the words like a designer does with color.

But now I can do that work in a room that’s the perfect color for me. Thank you, Tracy!

I’m taking a break from painting, so when I need to recharge my creative batteries, I’ll focus on my garden. Lola approves of this plan and she was delighted to help me plant herbs outside the back door last weekend. If the sun comes out this afternoon, I’ll take my notebook outside so I can enjoy the bright colors of late spring blossoms before they fade away.


Filed under Books, Creativity, Reading, Writing

34 responses to “Creative Color

  1. Great post Shary! I’ve had a similar experience with DIY painting – I’ve picked some great colors, but also some that didn’t come out as expected. I’ve found that in just about everything in life – whether interior design, writing, photography, etc. – the people who do it well make it look so easy that we all just assume we can do it too. And then we start to learn about all of the details that go into it, how hard it really is, and the nuances that can only be understood through years of study and practice. While I enjoy learning new things and doing some things on my own, I think it makes sense to hire an expert in some cases so that you can spend your time on your own craft! I’m sure Lola will enjoy gardening much more than painting!

    • You’re absolutely right about experts making things look easy. I do think we can learn to do the things that interest us, but lots of practice is required, so focusing on what makes us happy(and hiring out the rest) is smart. You’re also absolutely right about Lola. She loves it when I work out in the garden.

  2. Love this post for so many reasons (among them that we are building a house & the links on color theory will be helpful. Thankfully, in my many years of DIY projects, I have been quite lucky with colors. But the resources you provided can only help. Thank you).

    What I loved most is how much I can relate to this comment: “When I find a story I love, I have to focus on these details to learn why it resonates for me.” Yes! Simply reading for pleasure means you don’t learn craft (at least I don’t). I take pages and pages of notes as I really study books, and I agree with you: it helps SO much!

    • My biggest problem with studying books I love is that I get caught up in the story and I forget that I’m supposed to be taking notes. Then I have to go back again and again. But I do pick up things on multiple readings even if I get lost in the words from time to time. 🙂

  3. I can so relate to this post Shary. I’ve made so many color and decorating mistakes and it just got too expensive to keep making them, so I hired a decorator and while she was costly, I seriously believe she has saved me money in the long run. She also made the decision making process easier, and I am much happier with the end result.

    • You’ve mentioned before what a great experience it was working with a designer. I’ll have to get a recommendation from you when I’m ready to start my next project so I don’t end up being penny-wise and pound-foolish again.

  4. Shary, I love the lovely blue shade that works with the stained glass. I find blue hues to be very relaxing and easy on the eyes. I’ll admit that I’ve never had colored walls in my home. Everything is painted white and it’s quite boring. I find that if colors do serve to energize us and spark our creative energy, I’m definitely missing out! How lovely that you and Lola have been enjoying time in the garden! 🙂

    • Blue is wonderful, isn’t it! And the possibilities are endless. But white walls aren’t the worst thing even if you do love color. They give you a blank canvas for colorful artwork and furnishings which I think you have, so I doubt you’re missing a thing.

      • Shary, enough time in the garden for you and Lola! hee hee! Roxy and I are missing the two of you! Hope you’re still enjoying sunny weather! 🙂

        • We’ll try to get back to the blog in the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot going on outside right now… we’re a little overwhelmed with weeds and vines. 🙂 We’re still loving visiting you, though.

  5. einsteincat

    So – I am guessing some complimentary color textiles would not be amiss at Christmas time. I have a new toy coming too – I just have to make room – bring your color swatches to the beach and we can consult with Tracy. Then I can make some interesting fabric for pillows or a wall hanging – your choice. The new loom is wide enough for 45 – 50 inch work.

    • Lovely! I’m looking forward to seeing what you can make on your new loom. I’ll definitely bring my swatches and we can have lots of color fun.

  6. Shary, you’ve made some great choices re colors. Several years ago, I decided to repaint just about my entire house, including the entire upstairs. I had a painter do it, but still, it was a nightmare and took months. Two of the bedrooms had to be redone because of similar issues re choice of colors. But now I’m happy with all my color. 🙂 (Btw, sorry you can’t join us for the One Book event. Maybe next time?…)

    • Painting does take a lot of time and it’s frustrating to live with drop clothes and furniture pushed to the center of the room, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. When the colors are right for us, the house just feels better.

      I was bummed about my conflict for that event… it looks like a wonderful evening and I’ll look forward to hearing about it.

  7. You are doing a wonderful job!!! Love the window. As for me, I just paint what I am told to paint… hehehe and I paint tractors and that is easy for the ones I have are just Orange… it goes with absolutely nothing and I love it.. hehehe
    You are doing a great job!
    Your impressed friends,
    the collies and chuck 🙂

    • Thanks, Chuck. I have a brother-in-law who restores tractors, too. Very easy to choose the paint for that job. His are all IH so they are red, but I think orange is a very happy, energetic color. Perfect for a tractor.

  8. You would love my house its full of color: brown, beige, orange, green and I’m still on the first floor;)

  9. Beautiful stained glass window Shary. Enjoy your painting!

  10. I’ve had such similar problems with painting walls and then being surprised at the outcome — often confused by the names of the colors…. they do nothing to help with the end result and I’ve now learned to ignore them. But my office was a happy mistake — I completely hated the color when we first painted it (we do it all ourselves too) and my husband suggest we wait a few days, move the furniture back in and then see what we thought. I was quite skeptical but agreed, and now it’s one of my favorite rooms in the house! As for books–I always start out reading them thinking I’ll analyze as I go to see what works, but if it’s a good story I always get swept away and can’t distract myself to take notes. If it’s a bad story, I either have lots of notes or I stop reading 🙂 So glad the room is a perfect color for you (and hope Lola loves it too!)

    • You’re so right that paint color names make no sense. Thank goodness for your happy mistake. I do think it’s smart to live with a color for a while before jumping to change it and furniture in the room does make a diference. I don’t think Lola cares much what color is on the wall as long as her chair is back by the window so she can watch the street. 🙂

  11. elizabeth dobbs

    I worked at Home Depot as a color specialist and faux painting teacher when that was the rage. It takes me months to pick color for my rooms, but I’m good at helping other avoid common mistakes. When I choose color for myself I always adjust the pigments down 25% mix up a quart and paint poster size boards to prop up in the room. You have to see the color in the actual room to get a true reading. One of the most beautiful color I ever mixed for myself was from the petal of a pinkish, coral rose. I love matching shades from nature onto my walls.

    • You have a lot of creative flair, so I’m not surprised that you’re good with color. I love the idea of using nature as inspiration. And I’m learning that those poster-sized color samples are key. Great tip!

  12. Seriousy–color is a gift. You have it or you don’t. I do NOT. I’m completely non-visual. I can’t see that some reds have pink and some have blue. You know what I mean? I’m SO grateful to those who can help me!

    • We do need those talented people, don’t we! Sometimes I can tell that something is “wrong” but I have no idea how to fix it. At least I’ve figured out what colors I can wear so I don’t go around looking seasick all the time. 🙂

  13. I’ve never had an expert give us any color advice, but it would probably be a good idea. All our walls are white herem except in the bathrooms. Mthey were that way when we moved in, and since they had just been painted, we’ve left them alone. Besides, our townhouse is a little dark because it doesn’t have any windows on two sides. I loved the color of our walls in Texas. I agree. Color does a lot to influence your mood.

    • If our walls had been freshly painted white, I’d probably have wanted to leave them for a while, too. Besides, you can always use fabric and art if you want to add color.

      • We love art, so we have tons of beautiful prints on the walls, almost all of them signed. So our walls aren’t bare.

      • So true – I also like to buy inexpensive collage-type frames and put brightly colored cards, which can be like mini-art, or scraps of anything colorful, on the walls because they are easy to change out and you don’t have to worry about damage to “real” art in areas like the kitchen or bathroom.

  14. I applaud you for deciding to paint and do it. I get overwhelmed with the idea of picking paint colors and such. I’d rather have someone come in and paint me a beautiful house. I’m sure yours will turn out lovely.

    • I had someone do all the painting in our last house and it was great to have every room finished in just a few weeks. Unfortunately, my painter moved on to a new career so I couldn’t have him do this house. I actually kind of like doing it myself, though. I listen to books on CD while I paint and the time flies.

  15. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing all of the steps in the process, too – very helpful. The true question – if you lived alone and didn’t have to compromise, what color would you paint? 😉 Teasing, of course – can’t wait to see the finished result!

    • I wonder if my color choices would be any different if I lived alone. Bruce never shares an opinion about paint even if I ask him, but I have a sense for what he likes, so I might be subconsciously choosing colors that I think he would enjoy.