Posted in Color, How-to

How to Pick Coordinating Colors

This seems like a basic thing, but what do we really mean by “coordinating”?

Lots of different things, as it turns out. I’m resisting the urge to pull out a color wheel because it seems like everyone and their cousin does that. Not without good reason, I guess, but I’m tired of color wheels. I’m gonna assume you’ve got the very basics of color down. Deal? Deal.

You might have forgotten the names of things, though. So, a good rule of thumb is to consider a color’s friends and enemies. Friends meaning the colors who are its neighbors on the color wheel and enemies meaning the ones opposite.

Real Artists(TM) would call these analogous and complementary colors, and they’re useful to recognize because the combinations achieve very different ends.

What are friends for?

Friends, or analogous colors, always play nice together. If green is our reference point, yellow and blue will never let you down. You can’t go wrong. This also starts to feel like a spectrum is forming, which usually has broad appeal.

You want friendly colors when you’re looking for a way to branch out without getting too crazy. Mild salsa is not the most exciting choice, but it’s also popular for a reason.

Photo by Zaksheuskaya from Pexels

The above photo also speaks to the point that analogous colors can safely mix, as in paint. I go to analogous colors all the time, especially when I’m painting.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?

Complementary colors, on the other hand, tend to scare me a bit. Color wheel enemies, like blue and yellow, have a strained relationship at times.

I’m not saying they can’t hang out, but you kind of need to plan ahead if you want to include them. Blue might say something snarky to Yellow if they’re seated next to each other at dinner.

But that’s not to say it’s a bad idea to play with complementary colors. Exhibit A:

A bright yellow lemon in front of a bright blue background
Photo by Toni Cuenca from Pexels

Man, does that yellow POP, right? You cannot possibly ignore that lemon. That lemon has something to say.

I actually adore the combination of blue and yellow. I’ve recently figured that out because I really like Van Gogh, and blue and yellow are a big theme in his art.

But if this idea appeals to you, bear in mind that mixing their paint will reveal a friendly green, which is an entirely different vibe. Blue and yellow is bold; it almost operates as black and white does. But there is a time and a place both for strongly contrasting black and white AND graceful transitions of shades of gray.

Pick your battles

Speaking of which, these friends/enemies ideas apply to intensity, too. Like, if you want a really intense focal point, it should be surrounded by peaceful neutrals or it won’t stand out. Whereas if you’re looking for a pretty even spread of intensity, stick to similar levels across the board. Intensity friends are nice to each other.

Nature is Cool

Finally, my favorite advice about color theory: just look at pretty things and steal their colors. Most of this stuff is intuitive, right? It helps to have a vocabulary and make intentional choices, but you also can grab stuff that looks good and do amazing art with it.

One resource I found today that’s really fun to mess with is this palette generator called coolors. It somewhat randomly chooses colors for you and you lock in your favorites one at a time. It has some intelligence about it, too, so whatever it generates next goes with whatever you’ve already locked.

I came up with this one when I was playing around:

A color palette ranging from muted light greens to bright raspberry to muted pinks and purples

I named it “Raspberry and friends,” because of reasons.

I just love it because I never would have picked out this palette had I not seen the colors next to each other. Hooray for serendipity!


Well, I hope you got some colorful inspiration out of this. Color coordination means something different to everyone, but knowing what combinations create what kind of tension will help you make more confident choices. And don’t forget to just wing it sometimes to broaden those horizons!

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you soon!


Posted in How-to, Ideas and inspiration, Technique adventures

How to Make a Color Palette Generator with Canva (Free Version)

Oh man, you guys. This was truly an adventure. By which I mean I had a looottt of trouble getting something simple to work. More on that later. 🙂

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never really played with Canva before. I’ve been interested in trying it, but this is really my first experiment. So I fully expect I did some stupid things. Please let me know if you have tips!

This is more a post to walk you through my experience, rather than Knowledgably Advise you on how to do this. But, to my credit, I now know at least one way to get the job done!

The first steps

I first just opened a blank “Play with Canva” file because I have no clue what I’m doing.

I decided the first thing to do once I was in was literally just search for a color palette template. At least I was smart enough to do that, and not try to reinvent the wheel!

Screenshot showing a search for "color palette" template in Canva

Bear in mind, I only have the free version, so there aren’t that many options. I first picked this one:

Screenshot of "Color Palette Inspiration" template in Canva

Little did I know the Hell that awaited me.

I wanted to upload a picture and see how easy it was to let Canva pull out the colors for me. As it turns out, that part was very easy and user-friendly.

All I had to do was upload something (though I know that part was probably unecessary because they have free images, too) and click on it to add it to my existing project. I chose a somewhat clumsy golden retriever pixel art I made last year, mostly because I only used 4 colors and it would make it easy.

Screenshot of Canva project after uploading an image

Fairly straightforward so far, right? I had figured out I needed to do this because when I clicked on the color palette (as highlighted above), I could see that Canva automatically tells you what colors are present in the photo/project over on the sidebar.

So my little dog pixel art resulted in this (I needed to click “See All” under the colors in the photo):

Screenshot of Canva's automatic color detection on my dog upload

Massively helpful. Thank you, Canva! It also gives you the hex code for each color when you hover over it with your cursor.

I thought “Wow, this was easy. I’m basically done!” But… I’ve foreshadowed enough. Here comes the trouble.

I was able to do a number of small, basic adjustments like moving things around, resizing, updating the text to reflect the real colors in the dog, but I couldn’t get the color palette itself to have all rounded corners once I cropped the extra fifth color off.

I know it sounds like no big deal, but I spent a very long time trying to figure it out. See, there are frames in Canva which will crop your image to the frame. So I should have been able to simply drop the palette piece onto a rectangular frame with rounded corners, but it just wouldn’t work.

This is where you find the frames and what they look like, by the way:

Screenshot of Canva menu showing frames

After suffering for a long time and trying and retrying resizing in every which way, I nearly rage quit the project altogether. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but every tutorial was like “it’s so easy, just drag and drop! :)” and meanwhile absolutely nothing happened when I did that.

I suspect the problem is either something is too fixed about the template I was using or I wasn’t able to resize finely enough or something? I’m not sure. This is what my experiment looked like when I gave up on it:

Screenshot of first Canva palette experiment
There was an attempt

Experiment part II

But instead of rage quitting, I decided to try a different template. I picked the sandy beach one you’ll see here, right above the one I first chose:

Screenshot of Canva's color palette template options

It was all smooth sailing from there. I deleted the background sand, which left me with a square frame. I was worried, but this time, my dog image actually resized to fit it. Amazing.

Then it was just some copying and pasting and changing the colors over to eventually get this:

My final experiment result, showing a dog with its color palette

It was a wild ride, maybe, but I got there eventually. And now I know how to do something new!

I learned a lot in general behind-the-scenes, too, just figuring out what’s available in Canva and that sort of thing. It seems like a great tool. I wish the paid version didn’t cost so much, or they’d have me as a customer.

I hope that you got something out of this, if maybe only entertainment at my Canva ignorance. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you soon!