Exploring Color Context: Lead Graphic

Drop a lilac into a black bowl, wear a red sweater on a cloudy day, and something magic happens. Not only do we see colors differently in different contexts, but they also touch and move us differently. Drab becomes dreamy; Vivid lowers its own voice.

Many of us have seen the classic square-in-a-square studies of how the surrounding square can change the apparent qualities of the central square. These are super abstract to help us see how any object of the exact same color, shape and size can appear to be very different when the surrounding color is different.

Basic Squares Color Context ComparisonIf you haven’t read about these studies before, here’s a good, brief article that covers the basics.*

Lately, I’ve been looking for something a little more visceral. I want more insight into how we reach out and connect with each other through color. I wonder how a more fluid, natural form—something we’d attach personal meaning to—is changed by its color context.

Using the color set at the top of this post and a quick, one-color drawing of a flower, I invite you to play: I’ve laid the flower, colored dark, cool gray (#2E353A), over a number of different backgrounds, and named each instance after the feeling it gives me. Does it match yours? Reply by commenting on this post. If you miss my 90-day commenting window and have some interesting names or impressions to share, feel free to drop me a line.

In the next few days, I plan to repeat this experiment with a different image. Be sure to come back and see.




Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Rock Steady


Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Warm Velvet


Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Hello Tomorrow!


Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Perfect Sunday Morning


Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Young Idealists


Color Test Flower (#2E353A)

Old Swede





By the way, I’ve uploaded the flower graphic to Colourlovers, where you can try out your own color combinations. But instead of just two colors, I’ve set the template up to allow as many as five.

* For a little more color context science, here’s an interesting article that gives background on the effect of context on color, otherwise known as Simultaneous Contrast, by Stuart Grais of DePaul University.

Tagged with:

4 Responses to Communicating with Color: Digging into Context

  1. Penina says:

    Ha! I love and hate that color standards from monitor to dye lot and from dye lot to dye lot are so hard to control. What kinds of dyes are you using?

  2. Mary says:

    Fun, the difficult part for me is getting my dyes to cooperate and lay down the correct color!

  3. Penina says:

    Thanks, Sean. I had a great time putting it together!

  4. sean says:

    I love this!!!

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.