Using Color and Lighting in Writing

One of the most critical aspects of an artist’s work is the use of color theory.  Color theory is a rather broad term, and encompasses other factors such as tint, shading, hue, saturation, etc.  There is no denying that properly applying these theories results in some truly spectacular artwork that would look rather flat without it.

Not too long ago, I stayed at a citizenM hotel at the Schiphol Airport.  It is one of my favorite hotels – the entire atmosphere is relaxing, you can customize the comfortable rooms to an extent, and the food is amazing.  They’re in limited locations, but I encourage you to stay at one if you have a chance.  One of the most fun features of the room is the mood lighting.  Thanks to this feature, I was able to take a bunch of pictures of some solid-colored objects just to show how important color theory is when using it not only in artwork, but in writing as well.

Below is the same box; the left is under a blue light, and the right is under a violet light.  But what is the actual color of the box?

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How about these shirts; the left under a pink light, the right under a green light?

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The box is actually red, and the shirts magenta (front in the above pictures) and orange (back in the above pictures):


As you can see, light alters the way in which we ‘see’ these colors – which is the core of understanding color theory.  While essential in artwork, this is another description to bear in mind when writing as well.  And not only in trance-like atmospheres such as nightclubs, but moonlight, sunlight (at different times of day), neon-lights, candle lights, and so on.  Each atmosphere you subject your characters to could change the way they ‘see’ everyday things such as clothes, food, plants, furniture, liquids, etc.  Color theory in writing makes for an interesting tool to camouflage characters or mask objects, but it’s also essential for creating a proper environment.

In the above examples, under those lights, you wouldn’t name the shirts or boxes their original color, but the color the character’s ‘see’ when they’re in that environment.  This, in turn, can be used to build (a small amount of) tension for moments when your characters ‘see the true colors’ of the object for the first time – and maybe form different opinions about it as well.


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