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Color Theory 101 for DIY Authors

Color expresses emotion, variations in temperature, it can also invoke reactions from its expression. Red can be angry, wild, danger, love, death. Colors can cause us to think and feel an assortment of things so you want to choose the colors of your designs with care.

Understanding how colors relate to one another and how they are created is the necessary place to begin. Color theory is something every designer and artist must know in order to create aesthetically pleasing designs in the software available to them.

Color theory is fun. Once you know how the colors relate to one another you can start building and designing with your own color palettes. Making those color palettes is fascinating because you can pull colors off of pictures and scenery in life, or you can build your own based on how colors work in relation to each other. Seeing your design grow from these beginnings to completion is remarkably satisfying.

Inside your design software, you will have a color picker and color wheel that you can choose colors from either by sight or by number. Colors by number are called HTML color codes and every color has one, see this table. You do not have to choose a color by its number, but knowing its number is a great way for you to build color palettes for your design projects.

I have a paper color wheel at home that I always refer to and it’s handy to have because I’m hands-on and a visual learner. You might want to get one too to play around with, it’s a great interactive way to learn the concepts of color theory and to start coming up with some artistic ideas of your own.

To purchase a color wheel for use at home you can find them at this link from Amazon.

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 A painter mixes all of their colors beginning with only the three primary colors. Mixing the primary colors will get you secondary colors, and mixing primary and secondary colors will get them tertiary colors. The artist can then add tints tones or shades using black and white to create all of the additional hues they might need.

Your job is to set a scene and appeal to the viewer’s senses by using combinations of the colors found in the first three phases, primary, secondary, and tertiary.

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These are your major colors that, when used correctly, can entice the viewer to investigate further. Rather than choosing a random scene for the cover of your book, which often only serves to confuse your audience, you can begin the layout of your graphic with a strategic color plan that can speak volumes about your book. When done correctly, color has more effect than most subject matter.

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Even with a good starting point, you’ll still typically need variations of hues to create your overall design. And no worries, hues are relatively simple. The following is a simple breakdown of color samples and how to create them.

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Hue: Hue is pretty much synonymous with what we actually mean when we say the word “color.” All of the primary and secondary colors, for instance, are “hues.”

Shade: You may recognize the term “shade” because it’s used quite often to refer to light and dark versions of the same hue. But actually, a shade is technically the color that you get when you add black to any given hue. The various “shades” just refer to how much black you’re adding.

Tint: Tint is the opposite of shade, but people don’t often distinguish between a color’s shade and a color’s tint. You get a different tint when you add white to a specific color. So, a color can have a range of both shades and tints.

Tone (or Saturation): You can also add both white and black to a color to create a tone. Tone and saturation essentially mean the same thing, but most people will use saturation if they’re talking about colors being created for digital images. Tones will be used more often for painting.

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CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (Black).

CMYK works on a scale of 0 to 100. If C=100, M=100, Y=100, and K=100, you end up with black. But, if all four colors equal 0, you end up with true white.

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RGB color models are designed for electronic displays, including computers.

For computers, RGB is created using scales from 0 to 255. So, black would be R=0, G=0, and B=0. White would be R=255, G=255, and B=255.

When you’re creating color on a computer, your color module will usually list both RGB and CMYK numbers. If you’re designing digital images, RGB is best to use. But remember to design in CYMK for your book covers or they will come out much darker than the original design when they are printed.

Creating Color Schemes

Now that we’ve got all of the basics out of the way, let’s talk about how to actually use this newfound knowledge.

You’ve probably noticed before that some colors look great together and others … just don’t. The colors we choose can help enhance a design, or it can take away from a design.

When you’re figuring out how to design a graphic, it’s important to remember that how we perceive colors depends on the context in which we see them.

Never use black or white as they aren’t true colors and can often blend with the background color of many websites and platforms. You’ll find that a tint of most hues will work just fine as white, and shades of many hues work perfectly to achieve a black appearance.

Color context refers to how we perceive colors as they contrast with another color.

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Analogous structures do not create themes with high contrasting colors, so they’re typically used to create a softer, less contrasting design. For example, you could use an analogous structure to create a color scheme with autumn or spring colors.

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Using a monochromatic scheme allows you to create a color scheme based on various shades and tints of one hue. Although it lacks color contrast, it often ends up looking very clean and polished. It also allows you to easily change the darkness and lightness of your colors.

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Triadic color schemes are great if you want contrast, but they can also seem overpowering if all of your colors are chosen on the same point in a line around the color wheel. To subdue some of your colors in a triadic scheme, you can choose one dominant color and use the others sparingly, or simply subdue the other two colors by choosing a softer tint.

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The complementary color scheme provides the greatest amount of color contrast. Because of this, you should be careful about how you use complementary colors in a scheme.

It’s best to use one color predominantly and use the second color as accents in your design.

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The split-complementary color scheme can be difficult to balance well because unlike analogous or monochromatic color schemes, the colors used all provide contrast (similar to the complementary scheme).

Adobe Color

This free online tool allows you to build color schemes based on the color structures described above. Once you’ve chosen the colors in any scheme, you can copy and paste the HEX or RGB codes into whatever program you’re using.

It also features hundreds of premade color schemes for you to explore and use in your own designs. If you’re an Adobe user, you can easily save your themes to your account.

Once you find the color “themes” of your document, you can open up the preferences and locate the RGB and HEX codes for the colors used.

You can then copy and paste those codes to be used in whatever program you’re using to do your design.

Things to Remember

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I hope this helps you on your DIY journey to amazing author graphics!

Wednesdays Visual Writing Prompt

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Visual writing prompts are an excellent method to spark your creativity. They are a means of exploration into your journey as a writer. Taking part in writing prompts can lead you into depths of writing discovery that may have otherwise eluded you.

Taking twenty minutes to participate in prompts like this on a regular basis can unlock your true potential as a writer.

Good Luck!

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The Challenge

Use this prompt to think outside the box, to go somewhere with your writing that you had never dared go before. See what kind of magic you can work with that brilliant mind of yours.

  • Use this prompt to add a scene to the current book you are writing.
  • Start a short story that you can give away for free to subscribers of your blog.
  • Or just practice your skills.

It’s true that a picture like this can spark ideas you may never have considered!

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Please post a link to your writing in the comments section 🙂

I look forward to reading your writing.

Have Fun!

Author Graphics: A Crash Course On Color

When it comes to graphic design you want to make the right connection with potential readers. You want to attract them. Your color scheme is crucial, not only in the design of your book cover but also in the design of your author brand. Your book is a part of your brand so the colors you choose say a lot about what you have to offer on a larger perspective – your brand plays a big part in what will keep readers coming back for more.

The mood of your book is reflected through the color scheme you choose for your cover. This tells potential buyers what your book has in store for them. A mistake many DIY authors make in cover design is choosing a picture that describes the theme of their book, but whose colors lack the ability to reflect the mood.

Your brand tells your audience what themes you have to offer as a writer. It sets the stage for all of your books to come. Your brand should complement your books, your style.

You want both the right images and the right mood to market yourself. Understanding the way colors affect the majority of us will help you know exactly what colors will work best for all of your graphics. I’ve listed genres of books most likely to contain certain colors, but you can use all colors, although some will be more dominant.

Here’s a helpful resource with advice you will want to consider while creating graphics that will work for you…

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The psychology of color:

Color speaks to us. Each color ignites an emotional reaction within us. It’s your job to choose the colors that elicit the right emotion in your audience, color speaks for your story louder than you may realize.

It’s been proven in scientific studies that color evokes specific emotions in almost everyone. How our brain perceives what it visualizes is relative to the psychology of color. The way that colors influence our minds is used in marketing to influence our purchasing decisions. The color of your book cover makes the first impact, it sparks a reaction in the potential buyer before they focus in on the image or title. This is your chance to make them look a little closer and not pass you by.

The look of your book is the major influence on a consumer’s buying decision. When it comes to your cover, you will want to get serious. Understanding the psychological impact of the colors you choose is imperative. That decision will make a difference in how many copies you sell or how much attention your marketing attracts.

Check out the following descriptions of how color can affect us. This will be a great help when you start designing.

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Romance – Erotica – Cook Books – Non-Fiction: Red is known to elicit strong emotions in almost everyone. It increases passion and intensity and can also increase appetite.

Horror – Thriller – Mystery: Probably because red is the color of blood, it is related to survival, alertness, and safety. Stop signs, for example, are red for safety purposes. Red is also associated with danger.

Graphic designers know that red is known to increase the heart rate, so they use it in their graphics to attract impulsive shoppers. In marketing, red creates a sense of urgency.

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Self Help – Romance – Nonfiction: Orange is warm and inviting, it stirs a joyful excitement or intrigue and interest. It also stimulates the mind and offers encouragement. Orange encourages viewers to look on the bright side of things. In marketing, orange is used to influence impulsive shoppers because it encourages them to buy.

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Romance – Children’s – Non-Fiction: Yellow can be used in almost any design because it makes people think and grabs their attention. You’ll want to steer clear of using too much yellow because that could cause anxiety. Yellow can also invoke cheerfulness. It represents youthfulness, optimism, and clarity.

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Fantasy – Non-Fiction: Green is a warm color that soothes depression. In marketing, green is associated with wealth. This color represents health and calm, especially new growth. It is also a symbol of fertility.

Brown copy

Fantasy – Spiritual – Non-Fiction: In marketing, brown is associated with dependability, reliability, and resilience. Brown is a base color in nature and is great for fantasy books and can be used as back-drop color for them as well as spiritual or some non-fiction books.

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Non-Fiction – Spiritual: Blue gives off a sense of confidence and increases productivity. In marketing, most businesses use blue in their brand because it creates a sense of security and trust. It is a calm and safe color that inspires clarity and creativity. Different shades of blue are great for the entrepreneur, and any book cover where its attributes are relative to the theme.

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Fantasy – Erotica – Historical Fiction: Women are drawn to purple, it is the color of creativity, mystery, and regeneration. Purple contains the stability of blue and the energy of red. Purple is not a good color for non-fiction marketing because it can influence too much introspection and can be a distraction.

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You should never use pure white in design because it will blend into the backdrop of webpages. Use different shades of white for a clean look, to express perfection. This color is mainly used as a secondary color to bring attention to a portion of your design hierarchy.

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Just like white, you should never use pure black in your designs for exactly the same reasons. Some webpages and backdrops are pure black, and your design will disappear in them. Lighten your black a bit and mix it with a different color, so at first glance, it will appear to be black but will still stand out on the web.

Black represents a degree of sophistication, mystery, power, and control. Black in your design can also represent a darker nature or negativity.

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When you’re choosing your colors, your last step will be to choose a hue or two that highly contrast with your main color pallet. You can use these colors to highlight areas that you want your viewer to focus on or have their focus drawn to. You can also use these colors with your fonts. In fact, fonts are often used for the same effect, to draw the eye by being large or expressive.

Not all of the reasons you’ve read here should be taken into account when choosing your colors for the cover of your book. What you do want to always keep in mind is the theme of your book and what colors will represent that theme the best while also invoking the right response from potential readers.

For author graphics, you’re wanting to set the right mood to attract attention to whatever you are marketing at that time, a blog post, the release of your book, etc.

Good luck with your graphics!

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Your feedback is appreciated! Questions and comments are welcome!

My Prima Dreams by Dennis De Rose

Thank you, author and editor Dennis De Rose for responding to last Wednesday’s Visual Writing Prompt. Your story was vivid and alive, I’m happy to be sharing it here! He’s happy to hear any feedback so comments are welcome!

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My Prima Dreams

… by Dennis De Rose

Bonjour mes amies, have you got a moment? Let me tell you a little story. My name is Mathilda and I am not what I used to be…

It was 1945 and the Big War had just ended. I remember the American soldiers freeing us from those German war dogs. That’s what my Maman called them. All these years later I am still haunted by my memories: looking out my bedroom window, seeing mothers and their children shot and killed or reduced to bits of bloody flesh thanks to German Sprengebombes, so many falling from the sky. I would go to bed shaking and wake up still cringing under my covers. I was only ten years old.

I will never forget the day Maman told me we were going to take a little walk, just a few streets down from our home. After lunch she bundled me up, grabbed a small bag from the floor and we began our little journey, I remember looking around, seeing people who appeared to be dazed as if they were looking for something that should be there but wasn’t anymore. The Americans were busy moving huge blocks of stone with giant growling machines. Ladies in uniform were handing out water in metal containers and sandwiches wrapped in heavy brown paper while talking to the lost ones, trying their best to comfort them. One of the ladies smiled at me and gave me a piece of bread and cheese. That little act of kindness will be etched in my memory forever.

Oh that building, it was like a giant stone masterpiece with its huge arches, two winged angels looked down on me from maybe 500 feet, at least that’s what I saw when I looked up. The golden façade nearly blinded me. And when we stepped inside it took my breath away. The Grand Foyer was magnificent, mirrors everywhere, parquet floors, sculptures and paintings, colored marble all around.

Maman had enrolled me in the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris and we were inside the Palais Garnier, a monument dedicated to producing the best opera and ballet worldwide. You see, Maman knew I had my heart set on becoming the best ballerina ever, she had watched me as I pirouetted through the halls, dressed in my pink tutu. But I did not know I would be staying here for a very long time, only allowed to see my Papa and my Maman every Sunday.

I kissed Maman on the cheek. She handed me the cloth bag and Mme. Carlotta showed me to my tiny room on the very top floor. She had a grumpy face and she was very quiet. Quiet people make me nervous; they cannot be trusted. The room was dusty and very hot, too hot for winter. Looking around, which didn’t take long, I spied a small rickety bed, a wooden chair in need of serious repair, a little beat-up wooden table, an old desk light with a funny looking bulb in it and a clay pot under the bed. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the dust motes flying all around. The one saving grace was the small dirty window that actually opened so I could see outside and get some fresh air.

The hot air in the room, my room now, made me tired so I decided to nap; I hadn’t slept well the night before. A sharp knock at the door shocked me to attention. Opening the door, I expected to see the sour Mme. Carlotta. The lady gestured and mentioned her name, Mlle. Yvette. I followed her down a set of backstairs and into a small poorly-lit dining room.

Our first meal was not gourmet, a bowl of warm thin soup, a crust of bread, a slice of goat cheese and a small glass of watery wine. Mlle. Yvette sat at one end and Mme. Carlotta was seated at the other. Suddenly, it struck me, no one was talking. I raised my hand to ask a question and before I could utter one word, my fingers were whacked with a long narrow stick courtesy of Mlle. Yvette. I cannot tell you what I was thinking, it was very unladylike. If my Maman ever heard me say those words I would have soap in my mouth before I could blink an eye.

Another sharp bang on my door, and I was awake at 6AM the following day. Fifteen minutes later we were seated at the same table drinking weak coffee and eating a slice of stale bread with butter and a slice of the same goat cheese. It looked moldy but I dared not utter a peep. Without a word spoken, Mme. Carlotta grabbed me by the hand and yanked me toward a small closet on the other side of the room. She glanced at me as she opened the door. I remember thinking she might be going to shove me inside and lock the door. Instead, she handed me a dirty white tutu and an old pair of pointe shoes, obviously one size too small, while gesturing toward a screened-in alcove.

My first day of beginner instruction and it continued until 10 that night with only two short breaks in between. I found out the hard way that my pirouette was a disaster, my plie was horrendous and my pointe work was shoddy at best. Over time, my grand plie, my demi-plie and my pointe work improved.

Let me rest. I need something to drink. All this reminiscing is making me thirsty. Now where did I put that bottle of Dom Perignon? Here it is. Half a glass, there we go. You know, I have to laugh. We French must be in love with the letter P, so many ballet words begin with that letter. How funny is that?

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the second day things started to look up. I made a friend, very quietly I might add. Violette Verdy was a third year student and at the top of her class. She was blonde to my black and tall to my short. Maybe she felt sorry for me but we became friends and I never questioned her motives. She was the Ying to my Yang. We became inseparable, on the sly of course.

You know, from that day on, my tutu seemed cleaner, my shoes no longer pained me and the long hours didn’t seem as long as before. But the food was still substandard, nothing could fix that. I felt lighter on my feet and my dancing improved (Violette worked with me afterhours up on the roof). But don’t tell Mme. Carlotta or Mlle. Yvette, that’s our secret. My room was still hot and dusty but I found out Violette was no better off.

I saw Maman and Papa every Sunday and I would show them what I had learned. We talked about the school and my new friend, Violette. But I never complained about what went on at school or during classes. They laughed when I told them the students had a nickname… Les Petite Rats. Maman was such a good cook but when she asked me what we were eating I would change the subject.

In 1950, Violette graduated at the top of her class and was given the coveted title of Prima Ballerina. I graduated from Intermediate two years later, dancing in several shows in and around Paris until I met my future husband, Michel, a pastry chef. By that time, Violette was touring all over Europe but we still kept in touch by post. We spent as much time as we could together whenever she was performing in and around Paris.

Violette gave up dancing in 1965 when she married Charles, a famous singer, and settled on the outskirts of Paris (I remember teasing Violette because Charles was five years younger). Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris was looking to replace Mme. Carlotta and Mlle. Yvette due to their age and less than desirable disposition. Violette was a welcomed addition to the staff. In her free time, she often played with our three children, Mireille, Michelle and Michel Jr. Violette and Charles never had any children of their own.

Time flies when you’re having fun, that’s what they say. After my children were grown and had families of their own I decided to do something else after helping for years in our bakery. I never forgot that little dusty room and how it bothered me so much. I spoke to Michel and we agreed that I should clean houses to help me pass the time. We didn’t need the money. A few years later Michel sold the bakery.

I’m ready for another glass of wine. When I think about it, I have done quite a bit in my life. The love of my life, Michel, passed away eight years ago but we were happily married for almost 60 years. Violette, God bless her, died one month after my Michel. Luckily, Charles is still around and we spend quite a bit of time together. He still sings like he’s 30 and he fills my days with joy as we sit around remembering the “old” days.

Say, it’s been awfully nice chatting with you. I have to rush off. Charles is meeting me at the old bakery (I still get a discount). I’m not what I used to be but I’m happy.

Bon soir!

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Dennis is a wonderful storyteller and a good friend. See below for links to his other writing and his editing business.