Monday, April 2, 2012

Neutral Is A Color

Ceramic Fragrance Diffuser Pots Ready For Firing

Todd In Central China

Many years ago when I was a protégé senior majoring in graphic design, working at the University of Houston, with my mentor (we’ll call him P.B.) , I recall asking the question, “Hey, why don’t we do this particular exercise in color; why always black and white?”  Without hesitation he said, “if it looks good in black and white then it will only look better in color.”  
I live by those words to this day; even when I’m working on something I think I already understand and have a solution for; even when I am so confident that I can jump ahead in my process (which never works for me), I always come back to that tired old axiom.  Well, old certainly now that I’m over fifty but still as true as the day he uttered those words. 
I remember working with a ceramic factory in Vietnam some years ago and the sales manager there was making fun of me because she always thought my color direction was so boring, “Always browns!.”   “Why don’t you ever use colors?” While I do recall feeling somewhat inadequate and dull as a designer when she said that, and while I have begun using a lot more color in my collections, I am still very cautious. Admittedly mauve to normal people is bright pink to me; as my color ranges are usually pretty muted.  That being said; one can have too many colors, textures, circles, whatever.  One can have too much of a good thing.  I blame my love of neutrals on my training as a graphic designer, as well as my experience designing for the home, and probably my childhood (just kidding!)  Neutral does not have to be boring and indeed can be positively striking if used in an interesting way.  Black and white is about as basic as it gets; but add a warm brown and make something a texture, etc...and voila!  Start with a cold gray straight from The Eastern Bloc fifty years ago,  add contrast, and warmth, and you have a new urban basic. 
In the end I let my customers tell me what is right.  Karl Lagerfeld said it best when he said, “We as designers can only propose ideas, we cannot make the customers buy anything.”    Our customer will always make her feelings known, her preferences heard; and in the end, she will have a lot of basic neutrals in her closet, as well as in her home.