Color inspiration from art movements

Anna Guerrero
Anna Guerrero

Once upon a time, artists would mix their own paints with pigment and oil; their personal recipes a closely guarded secret. Why?

“Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” explained Vincent Van Gogh.

Color was a tool that gave artists the ability to infuse feeling and emotions into their paintings.

Graphic design has revolutionized the application of colors. In Canva, the color wheel is home to over 16 million unique colors that can be used to create impact in your designs.

I love Van Gough, put I’m also happy to tell you that you won’t need to lose an ear to become a color expert. A great way to choose colors that look great together is to use a color picker tool to extract hues from images.

To get you inspired, let’s take a whirlwind journey through some recent art movements and find out what color meant to some of the world’s most creative geniuses.

01. The Edo Period

The Edo Period
Katsushika Hokusai, 'Mount Fuji Seen Through Cherry Blossom' (cropped)

Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai described his method of printmaking as a way to “to see the inner life force of something and capture it.”

Hokusai’s subtle application of color was one of the ways that he captured the essence of his nature based subjects, resulting in a beautiful, subdued effect.

Try applying a similar monochromatic color palette to your own designs to create soft, pleasant compositions.

02. Impressionism

Impressionism
Claude Monet, 'Wheatstacks' (End of Summer)

The Impressionist artists wanted to break away from their Realist predecessors. Instead, they aimed to picture nature by capturing the fleeting effects of natural light. For this reason, Impressionist color palettes were often warm and glowing.

In the same vein, try adapting these kinds of color palettes for nature inspired designs.

03. Post-Impressionism

Post Impressionism
Vincent Van Gough, 'Starry Starry Night'

Post Impressionist artists leaned more towards vivid colors, thick applications of paint, and geometric forms – subtly rejecting what they believed to be the limitations of Impressionism.

Van Gogh’s cool color palette and dramatized depiction of the night sky outside Sant Romieg de Provencais is a glowing example of Post Impressionist thinking.

04. Fauvism

Fauvism
André Derain, 'Mountains at Collioure' (cropped)

Fauvism championed vivid colors and flat forms.

Fauvist artists were especially experimental with colors, using them to define their subjects in bold and expressive ways, rather than to capture ‘impressions’ like their predecessors.

Lean towards Fauvism for expressive and provocative color palette inspiration.

04. Cubism

Cubism
Pablo Picasso, 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' (cropped)

Enter Pablo Picasso – the artist who introduced the world to a new way of looking at art. As the forefather of Cubism, Picasso’s art combined emotive color palettes and expressionist forms to rediscover how art could be seen from new dimensions and angles.

05. Surrealism

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Salvador Dali, 'Meditative Rose' (cropped)

Surrealism aimed to unveil the mysteries of the unconscious and visualise them though unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision.

Surrealist color schemes were bold and true to reality, further adding to the irony of the movement’s unlikely scenes.

Surrealist art is a great inspiration for rich color palettes that pop on white backgrounds.

05. Art Nouveau

Art Nouveou
Alphonse Mucha, 'Reverie' (cropped)

Art Nouveau influenced both architecture and the arts. Based on recreating natural structures; flowers, plants and other organic forms made a common appearance in the art of the period. Look to Art Nouveau to inspire earthy and natural color palettes.

05. Pop Art

Pop art
Andy Warhol, 'Marilyn'

Color was at the forefront of the pop art craze. Popularized through artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein, bold, vibrant colors were used freely to create art with attitude.

Make your designs pop by borrowing colors from these artistic rebels.

Great color palettes don’t happen by accident. If in need of color inspiration, look to images and extract their hues! How will you use color to leave your mark?