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Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The answer in color is yes. When you consider that a color can have an actual size and shape, there are times when a color can overpower a piece when less would have been more. Primary colors, and secondary colors in their most vibrant form speak the loudest in an image. And like the loud friend in a gathering, can dominate the conversation. Paying attention to how much of a focal color you use, and what the shape tells us, when we see it, will help you make better choices when designing an image.
Here we have two pale purple circles. They're the same size, shape, and color. It's unlikely that either one draws your attention more than the other. Suppose one is changed to a bright red. Does this change your focus? It's likely that the red circle dominates your attention as we tend to notice more vibrant color or colors in our field of vision, over less vibrant ones. Now if we shrink the red circle to a small dot, does it still draw your attention? What if we reduce its size further? Does the lavender circle now dominate? We tend to pay attention to large shapes of color over small ones.
So a large quantity of color can draw your attention as much as a vibrant one. What if we change the shape? Now that the red shape is jagged and pointed, does it pull our focus away from the lavender circle? If both shapes are red, does a shape alone draw us to it? We pay attention to sharp edges in a visual, perhaps because we notice things that could be dangerous or perhaps because the edge contrasts more distinctly.
The shape, intensity, and size of a color also impart meaning in an image, even in their most basic forms. Let's imagine that if we group all the shapes shown so far, and suggest that they represent characters, what does each color personality suggest? We might see sharp red as energetic, active, and perhaps a bit dangerous. Where red circle might be seen energetic, but less active and scary than sharp red. Lavender appears gentler, less vibrant, perhaps quieter, because there's less contrast.
Changing their sizes also imparts meaning. If the colors are characters, we might relate the the large lavender and small lavender as mother and child. Red circles, as playful energetic twins, and sharp red, as a dynamic dangerous cousin to the twins. In the group, we do pay attention to colors, that are the same or similar in a piece. This can be useful in parting meaning, and moving the viewers attention from place to place.
A great example of this could be referenced in Molly Bang's Picture This, How Pictures Work. It's a quick read, written by an amazingly astute observer. I highly recommend it for anyone who makes images. Being aware of what the color and shape tells us. Where it makes the eye focus, and what happens when there's too much or too little of a color, can make all the difference in the world when trying to impart an idea or tell a story. The balance and placement of these shapes can change how we can read them, and tell a different story if we aren't thinking about it.
The bottom line. Size and shape really do matter.
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