The difference between an experienced colourist and a novice is not that we can see the subtleties [of colour] without comparing; it’s that we know we can’t [see them without comparing]. Janice Lindsay
I’ve made this point a couple different ways already, here and here. But when I read this [above] paragraph in Janice Lindsay’s book last night I decided to dedicate yet another post to this conversation because it is so huge for anyone in the business of specifying colour or doing it yourself!
See the carpet above? It’s a gold/beige colour and [technically] it looks dirty compared to the fresh yellow of the dress. These two colours do not belong in the same room (unless that is your plan, every rule gets broken in design) in the same house (unless the yellow in the room is a bunch of tulips).
What does this mean? That you cannot call a colour clean or dirty, fresh or muted, bright or dull, unless you are comparing one colour to another.
Both of these colours are exactly the same in intensity (neither one is darker or lighter), we can’t say one is cleaner or one is muddier than the other so here it’s simply that the purple dress is cooler than the hot pink sheets!
So next time you find yourself saying “that’s a cold colour” or “that’s too dark” or “that colour looks dirty” take another look at the colours surrounding the one you are considering and ask yourself again if that statement is really true, or if it simply means you don’t have the colour in the right context!