July 28, 2012

What We Can Learn from Olympic Women's Basketball, and Color Theory in the Garden


ONLY PIXELS AND FLOWERS CAN REPLICATE SUCH COLOR INTENSITY, WHICH  OPENS UP ALL SORTS OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR GARDEN DESIGNERS.  WE CAN THINK DIFFERENTLY. NOTE: THIS IS NOT PERMISSION TO PLACE ORANCE AND NEON PINK TOGETHER.
THE GRAPHICS ON MY HOME TV SCREEN FROM TODAY'S OLYMPICS, HAVE ME THINKING ABOUT COLOR THEORY IN THE GARDEN.


I'm serious.

This whole color thing has be thinking, so maybe I'll write the longest post I ever have, to discuss some of my ever-changing theories about color, the garden, and design.

This is not just a headline cleverly crafted to increase my SEO numbers. This information that will help you overcome any color combo issues you have in the garden, and if you are wondering how this ridiculously long post could ever relate to you, I could summarize the facts - Olympic graphics, pixels biological;y based plant cells are not that different from each other, and, I will prove to you why a garden based around purple and red makes far more sense than one based about pink and blue. Believe me, this will change your life - or at the very least, how you will be choosing your color palettes next year. And that 'olympic women's basketball things?' Read on, you will never think about color in the same way.






Not to geek out on you too much, but today's digital designers know more about garden color theory than most real gardeners do, with the exception of the Brit's. Then again, British gardeners figured out garden color theory a long time ago, I think because of their sad  environmental lighting (I'm serious). They have more optimal lighting days in the UK because of those omnipresent overcast skies ( at least we Americans like to imagine that it's always overcast in London). It's like they are gardening in a virtual light box, and as any garden photographer knows, shoot images on an overcast day, or at dusk or dawn - never full sunshine. My point here is - gardens today should be designed for broadcast more than for printed photo, and here's why.
FUTUREBRAND REALLY TOOK ADVANTAGE OF COLOR THEORY AND HOW DIGITAL CAMERA'S CAN ENHANCE FULL-SATURATED COLORS. SIMILAR TINTS, TOGETHER, AS WELL AS MIXED.



Back to the woman's basketball team - it's not the team I am looking at, nor their uniforms. It's the graphic banners in the arena. They are more than just pretty, they are strategically designed, and I don't just mean because of the Olympic branding all over them. No one dare talks about it, but these colors a following a trend that started in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles - remember them? Designed by Deb Sussman from Sussman Prejza who were the first to really redefine how color, and puplic space can be re-imagined. If you can remember ...way back then, this was a pivotal moment in digital design - in 1984, the Mac computer was introduced, digital design was in its infancy, and, color printing and digital printing on material started to change the way everyone in design thought about color.
SUSSMAN PREJZA 1984 OLYPICS DESIGNS LEAD THE WAY IN REDEFINING ENVIRONMENTAL GRAPHICS, AND THAT  SHOULD INFORM ALL GARDENERS, SINCE ENVIRONMENTAL GRAPHICS MUST CONSIDER FOLIAGE, GREEN BROWN AND CONCRETE COLORS, AS WELL AS LIGHTING.



THE BRAND GUIDE FOR THE 2012 OLYMPICS CREATED BY FUTUREBRAND. WE AS GARDENERS, CAN LEARN MUCH FROM PROFESSIONAL DIGITAL DESIGNERS SINCE THE CELLS WHICH FORM FLOWERS, AND PIXELS, BEHAVE SIMILARLY WHEN INTERPRETED BY THE HUMAN EYE.


All this thanks to project lead FUTUREBRAND, and Executive Creative Director Shane Greeves and Creaetive Director Matt Buckhurst). They developed a very comprehensive visual language from the original work designed by Wolff Olins to dress up the venue graphics at the Games. These are the colorful banners the entire global audience is viewing - on their HD TV screens. They HAVE to look good. Basically, they are making the Games look pretty on TV. And they do. But it's as much science as it is design, and all good art is, or should be. Just look at the floor of the Hockey Stadium in the aerial photographer Jason Hawkes image - intense.


I will say this again, for my design friends, 1984 was the beginning of the end of PMS colors, since practically overnight, we all started thinking about color differently - that is, everyone except gardeners and floral designers.

I MADE THIS COLOR BAR IN ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR IN AN RGB DOCUMENT, TO SHOW HOW DIGITAL COLORS ARE LIKE FLOWER COLORS, DUE TO THEIR SATURATION AND DEPTH, AND HOW LIGHT COMES BACK TO THE HUMAN EYE FROM THE PIXELS. ONE OF THESE COLORS DOES NOT 'WORK". CAN YOU FIGURE OUT WITCH ONE?


IT WAS THE ORANGE. DIGITALLY, THAT WAS THE ONLY COLOR ON THE RGB SCALE THAT HAD YELLOW IN IT. WHICH IS WHY, PURPLES, PINKS AND REDS CAN WORK TOGETHER AND APPEAR HARMONIOUS.



Zoom to today - Did any of you notice how amazing those colors on the jelly beans in Dillon's Candy Bar on Project Runway's Season 10 looked the other night? I did. In just the violet tints alone, there were purples, blueish periwinkles, magenta violets, and they all seemed to glow on our big screen tv. It made me want to rush out and buy some candy and not see the end. Well, how we humans think about color has changed in the nearly 30 years since 1984 - younger people have not realized it yet, but the sweetest colors of all - the ones we as humans are attracted to - appear on TV screens and computer monitors, not on the walls of our living rooms, or even on the clothes that we wear. They also appear in the garden, but I'll get to that.

It's all biology, or is it physiology? Whatever - it's designed by nature - and just as bee's can see certain patterns in flowers that we cannot see, humans are naturally attracted to certain colors because we are wired that way. Really - in much the same way that turquoise blue is considered a hot color because it is the same color as a hot gas flame, it's why peacocks and Ixia appeal to some of us. Shimmer factors in here, which is technically that Nerine-esque refraction of sunlight somewhere within the cellular walls of a cell, making certain flowers and their colors have an amazing depth and sparkle - Look - I'll simplify this theory to keep this short - humans like sparkle because it means water. We are designed to be attracted to it because, well....we are not that unlike bees.

Back to the Olympics on my big HD screen. The graphics on the banners are designed not to look great in person, but to look great on-screen, and any digital designer today knows that RGB ( the red,green and blue) pixels ( lights, really) emit a brilliance and a saturation that a designer in 1984 could not even create in any paint, or PMS color for that matter.

I AUGMENTED THIS CLIP ART SCREEN SAVER TO HAVE A LEAF-GREEN BACKGROUND INSTEAD OF AN RGB SATURATED BLACK BACKGROUND, TO DEMONSTRATE HOW FLOWER COLORS WORK TOGETHER WHEN INTERPRETED BY THE HUMAN BRAIN AND EYE. THERE ARE COLORS THAT MAY WORK TOGETHER WHICH YOU MAY NOT NORMALLY PUT TOGETHER.


What this means for gardens is this - the Brit's really did know something, when they started to combine red and blue in the same garden, it really does 'work', even though it's taking some time for these odd color trends to catch on in the rest of the world. I'm seeing it play out like this. First, the floral designers see it - it's easier for them, because they can control the amount of green that plants have - hell, they don't even need green, unless they want it. Most florists remove all of the foliage on the stems of their plants, unless they like the color or texture. Gardeners just can't do this. We need to deal with about 90% green in any color palette we create, unless we opt for black foliage ( which happens to look killa with a red and purple/blue palette - just sayin').

COPY THIS IDEA.
SIMILAR COLORS CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE TOGETHER, AND THEY CAN EVEN WORK WELL WITH GREEN. AS THIS DISPLAY FROM THE 2012 SMITH COLLEGE BULB SHOW DEMONSTRATES. 


In my full time job, I deal with this all the time. Designers spec'ing PMS colors on their computer screens, never requesting samples  of the actual color on the product, marketers approving or revising colors based on a poor quality CMYK(4-color-cyan blue, magenta, yellow and black) print-out from a laser printer ( SO different already from the original), and then the designer choosing a PMS color chip from an RGB environment on their screen all the while designing something on a CMYK moded document, and the color reality is so confused at this point, that no one will ever see the brilliant color that they wanted.  And you wonder why I garden?

MY RECENT SWEET PEA PROJECT ALSO DEMONSTRATES HOW SIMILAR TINTS, WHEN USED TOGETHER CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE THAN WHEN USED ALONE, THEY ENHANCE EACH OTHER.


I will simplify this again, look at this image, and see what I mean. Well, the same thing plays out in your garden at home. You choose a perennial or annual from a digital seed catalog based on a digital image or one printed in a catalog on paper. You then plan out your garden with dreams of coral and lime green, and 6 months later, you are discouraged because all you've ended up with is green garden with a few specs of faded pink.

THE EUROPE IN BLOOM PROJECT ON THE EEA BUILDING IN COPENHAGEN, SHOWS JUST HOW EFFECTIVE DIS-SIMILAR HUES CAN MIX IN THE HUMAN EYE, AND BECOME RICHER, AND MORE COMPELLING. JUST LOOK AT THE LADST ROW OR PURPLE AND RED TOGETHER - A CLASSIC BRITISH GARDEN BORDER PALETTE, BUT ONE RARELY USED BY AMERICANS TODAY.



No one has done this better than the design team who created EUROPE IN BLOOM in Copenagen on the facade of the European Environmental Agency, thanks to the folks at Lushe, in copenhagen. Notice the last color motif, or red and blue/violet. They act like pixels as our eye reads them, and blend into an attractive tone.

THE COLOR CHART USED FOR THE COPENHAGEN PROJECT SHOWS JUST HOW COLOR WAS EVALUATED

I will say that now that most of us are on laptops, planning a garden with incredible color is easier, as long as you use a few rules - and the rules have changed, so think about this.

1. Most of your garden in brown or green, so factor in this reality and re-set your vision based on it.

2. Digital photos are generally more accurate than printed photos, when it comes to color. So use Pinterest more effectively- build color palettes and boards on tints rather than your favorite colors.

3. Look at real gardens more often. You would be surprised at what actually really works, and what doesn't really look that good in real life.

4. Use anything as inspiration - I mean, a poster, a fav. dish towel, and especially anything that you see on TV. Speaking of Project Runway - did any of you notice the new ID and logo for Lifetime? That coral and black? THAT'S what I'm talkin' bout'. A high deff garden.

5. Always remember - Ms. Jekell has something in common with the women basketball players, and it ain't what you think I am going to say. It's the naivete about gardening. Yes, Ms. Jekell never had a TV, but color for her was always evaluated in-the-garden, never from books or magazines. This is the gift that British gardeners have given us - the gift of garden design before color media.

THE RED BORDER AT HIDCOTE MANOR, FROM THE FLICKR PAGE OF JONATHAN ARMITAGE

The 20th Century screwed us all up. Something to do with all of that experimental printing on paper and off-tints from the 1930's through the 1970's, the Polaroids, the bad Kodachrome's of the 80's until now, when finally, we can wipe away that ugly test period for color. When one had to really know a lot about cameras, and light meters, when one really had to master printing on paper and ink mixing, when one imaged a scene from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine in their front lawn with red geraniums and green grass, with a picket fence. It only took as 100 years to work through that period.

Today, we can look at the US women's basketball team live from the 2012 London Olympics, and start planning a red, magenta, violet and orange garden, and know that it will blow away their neighbor with her blue and silver ( yawn) 'garden'. Team USA!

3 comments :

  1. Lots of interesting points to grab hold of here, but as a keen gardener, a graphic designer and living in Britain I almost feel the need to ask a stupid question…is it true that Americans don’t plant red and blue flowers together?? On a more serious note, you need to know the rules in order to break them, and the experienced gardener knows when to break the rules too. That was what Christopher Lloyd, a well known English gardener who died just recently was most famous for.

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  2. Anonymous10:52 PM

    As a matter of fact, I think that orange and raspberry sherbet look very well together, both as a dessert course and in the garden. The truth is that virtually any colors can be made to go together. it is all a matter of proportion, repetition, and context (not to mention saturation and hue).

    Incidentally, Russell Page was another great British gardener who liked to insert a bit of color "clash" to keep things interesting. -- Ellen

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  3. Fascinating stuff. What I'm noticing more in small private gardens on the West Coast is plants grown less for flower color and more for texture, pattern, movement, scent, with brilliant color coming from pottery and furniture, like Fermob chairs in lime green, dayglo orange. What a huge subject, thanks for the back story.

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