A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Ged Adamson: The Colour Question

I’m still pretty new to picture books and I’m learning all the time.
Coming up with a good story with appealing characters, trying to make it funny and emotionally involving and then resolving it all in a memorable way- these are the things you try to achieve.
And then of course, there’s the illustration part. This is the bit I really enjoy. Working on how everything will look on the page is such good fun.

Colour, though, is where things start to get tricky. Not the colour of individual characters and objects but the relationship of those colours to each other.

In my latest story Muriel And Herb, there’s a dinosaur kid and his six friends. Each of these seven has to have their own distinct look.
So Muriel looks like this. Her clothes are all purple with a bit of pink.

Muriel Solo

Herb is green so it’s fine, they look good together.

Herb & Muriel

So let’s add another character. Charlotte. She looks like this.


And this is Benny and Rudie. They both have a dash of blue in their clothes.

Benny & Rudie

But so far, everyone has hair in different shades of brown- so say hello to Belle and Bernard.

Belle & Bernard

They have red and blond hair and, along with the colour of their clothes, they balance things up nicely.

Now this is all good, but what happens when we put them all onto a background?

A background colour might work really well with one character but look awful against another. I’ve got seven characters and they’re often all on the page at the same time! Aaagh!
I could use white backgrounds- and I do in a few parts of the story- but doing the whole thing like this would look rubbish. And if I get one colour that works with everyone, I can’t just keep using that or it would be a very boring looking book.

So, after a lot of experimenting, I manage to find colours that seem to sit nicely behind all the characters. But then there’s a new problem: do they fit with each overall? A picture book should have a colour identity that it sticks to all the way through.

Hide & Seek

Imagine you’re reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with Helen Oxenbury’s delicate muted colours and you turn the page and the bear is bright, shiny, luminous pink with glittery bits. Apart from being brilliantly weird, it would ruin the flow and the feel of the story. Things have to relate not just on the page but throughout the book.

There’s a thing called the colour wheel that I should make use of more because I play this all by ear and it often drives me mad. The colour wheel shows the relationship between the colours on the spectrum. By referring to it, you can find unexpected combinations that work really well.

Colour Wheel Herb

But I generally wing it and therefore, even at the last minute, I’m changing colours because I’m not happy.
Working on Muriel And Herb though has given me some nice discoveries. Like this yellow, grey, pink and green combination.

Football Burst

That’s not human flesh by the way- it’s a football.

When you go into the picture book section of a bookshop, it’s the colours that compete with each other for your attention. So it’s important to try and get it right. But like anything, the more you do, the more you learn.
My next book, though, will be about a boy who wakes up to find all the colours have gone on holiday and they only come back on the last page and even then, you just see them from a distance.

This is Talkie the bear.

Talkie The Bear

Ged AdamsonGed Adamson
Ged Adamson is a children’s writer and illustrator. His cartoons have been published in magazines, in books and appeared on film and TV. He’s been a storyboard artist and a caricaturist. Big influences on his work are Quentin Blake, Ronald Searle and James Gillray. He also works as a music composer.
He’s a London history enthusiast. He lives in Greenwich with his partner Helen and their son Rex. His first picture book, Elsie Clarke And The Vampire Hairdresser is published by Sky Pony Press. His second, Meet The McKaws, is out in 2014.

3 comments on “Ged Adamson: The Colour Question

  1. kateormand
    September 19, 2014

    Amazing post!

  2. sabrinawrites1
    September 21, 2014

    Love this post about colour, and finding the best ones to compliment each other. I draw everything by hand so have a few process’s before I make things hard for myself and draw that final piece. Great post, more like this please!!!

  3. sabrinawrites1
    September 21, 2014

    Finding the best colours to compliment each other can be hard, especially if you draw everything by hand like I do; Which is why I go through a few process’s before committing to that final piece. Great post, more like this please!

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