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Part 1: Defining the Colors of ArtPrize

Color is all around us. It affects our moods and guides our decision-making. It shapes our environment and helps us navigate life. Color is an expression of who we are and what we stand for. That’s why color was chosen as the inspiration and guiding force behind ArtPrize Seven, featuring more than 1,500 works of art at 160+ venues across Grand Rapids, September 23 to October 11.

After reviewing a number of ideas from local design firm Conduit Studio, ArtPrize executives settled on the perfect theme:  Celebration of Color. Todd Herring, the Creative Director of ArtPrize Seven, knew it was an ambitious choice.

“Our goal for color was to draw in visitors and help them navigate the event. We wanted each neighborhood to have a brand, a visual cue. However, we knew it wouldn’t be easy to infuse color into such a big event and ensure that it remained consistent.” 

Conduit Studio set out to select the perfect palettes that would weave color throughout the event to unify the venues and inspire visitors to explore. What they came up with is really quite spectacular. According to Herring, “It was a painstaking process, but Conduit Studio’s color guidance, discipline, and attention to detail made it happen. We couldn’t be happier.”

This guest blog, contributed by X-Rite Pantone (blog.xrite.com), takes a peek into the 38 days that led to the unveiling of the beautiful ArtPrize Seven color palettes and the plan for event-wide implementation.

The birth of color
When Conduit Studios realized there were seven neighborhoods participating in ArtPrize Seven, the creative juices began to flow. Why not give each neighborhood its own color palette?

Color blocked neighborhoods could draw in visitors and give them simple access points to make an unpredictable event more predictable. It would provide physical guidance so visitors could easily find participating venues, and psychological guidance to prompt meaningful conversations.

The challenge was to define seven color palettes that would coordinate and feel coherent. Each color had to be unique, but no color could stand out more than another. Although not necessarily unusual, the colors couldn’t be obvious either, and they had to represent each neighborhood.

Most importantly, the colors they chose had to be reproducible on a dozen or more different materials, like corrugated plastic, sidewalk cement, cardboard, canvas, and fabric. And they had to look the same on each surface and under many different lighting conditions.

It was an exhaustive study, but inspiring for everyone involved.

The designers began with their hands, mixing colors in petri dishes and experimenting with their inspirations. Just like grade school art class, they used simple RGB color mixes to produce a rainbow of beauty. 

Once they had a cross section of potential colors, they started producing samples. Lots of them. According to John O’Neill, owner of Conduit Studio, “When designing concepts, it’s important to get the bad ideas out so the good ideas can bubble forth. Although some nuggets of ideas made it into final work, there were hundreds, if not thousands, that got scrapped along the way.” 

Here are a few that got scrapped. 

Some good ideas had to be eliminated simply because they couldn’t be reproduced. 

Take this image, for example. Although the bright neon looks great on screen, reproducing it would require a complex printing process, like Hexachrome or Extended Color Gamut (CMYK-OVG). When you need to print and paint on a dozen or more different materials, this design just isn’t feasible. 

Which brings up another good point. Since Conduit Studio was making color decisions based on on-screen samples, they had to color calibrate each of their monitors to ensure that the colors were displaying accurately. Otherwise, they could be approving a color that, when printed, would look entirely different. 

The Conduit Studio team worked through hundreds of palettes before deciding on the final seven.

They even brought in consultants from the fashion world for the final critiques, because, according to O’Neill, “When you’re looking at hundreds of palettes you start to go ‘taste blind.’”

There were distinct reasons for the color choices for each neighborhood that were driven by the distinct personality of each. 

For instance, Monroe North is home to lots of parks and a beautiful waterfront area, so its palette reflects the outdoors with greens, mints, and blues. Meijer Garden’s floral palette reflects its natural aura.

Finally, it was time to lay out designs…

… and present the finalists to the ArtPrize team.

Here they are. Seven palettes for seven neighborhoods that will fuse the spirit and culture of ArtPrize with color.

ArtPrize Seven is a fabulous inspiration for design firms and community groups in cities and towns around the world. Next Monday the X-Rite Pantone blog will explore the science behind how the color inspirations are coming together in the neighborhoods and venues. From vinyl banners to fabric t-shirts, the colors have to remain consistent.

Keep up with ArtPrize news! For more information about Conduit Studios, featured Art Prize artist profiles, and continued updates live from the event, make sure to check out X-Rite on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin

By X-Rite Pantone on