by Joan Verch-Rhys
How do you choose your coloring book colors?
Since I recently published Art Nouveau coloring books, several people have asked which colors to use for an authentic, period look.
The colors on the cover of my “101 Art Nouveau Mandalas” are somewhat correct for that era… but only somewhat.
For that book cover, I chose mostly vibrant colors. I wanted them to stand out against the black & white background.
The colors on the cover of my second Art Nouveau coloring book — shown at lower right — are more somber, but more authentic to the Art Nouveau era.
Art Nouveau period art emerged in the late 1800s and continued popularity through the early 20th century, with several revivals to follow.
(In London, it was first known as the ‘Liberty’ style. If you’re familiar with Liberty printed fabrics, you’ll recognize their roots in the color palettes of Art Nouveau decor.)
Colors from that time favored natural dyes, especially vegetable dyes. Peacock feathers were iconic at the time, so you’ll often see a mix of jewel tones and muted, natural colors, even pastels. So, Art Nouveau colors include:
- Most shades of white, including cream and off-white, but rarely a bright bluish-white.
- Tan colors including everything from light parchment to warm ochres and browns. Mustard (light, yellow, and tan) inspired some color palettes, as well.
- Greens that favor sage and olive greens, jade, and Mediterranean blue.
- Reds included ruby-like jewel tones, but also muted shades such as rose, russet reds, and pinks with a tint of peach.
- Purples favored mauves and lilac shades.
- Blues included sapphire, but also Copenhagen blue.
Here’s one inspiration for your color choices. It’s a poster from 1894 and features several classic colors from Art Nouveau palettes.
These are the colors from it (HTML hex codes are noted on each):
If you match them to Prismacolor pencils, you might choose:
- PC 906 – Copenhagen Blue
- PC 1022 – Mediterranean Blue
- PC 1015 – Deco Blue
- PC 1021 Jade Green
- PC 945 Sienna Brown
- PC 1032 Pumpkin Orange
- PC 942 Yellow Ochre
- PC 917 Sunburst Yellow
Or, you can visit the official Berol Prismacolor site, and they’ll suggest current product colors that are close. Visit their Color Picker page and scroll down to where it says HEXcode. Enter the code from the chart, above, in the form, and see what Prismacolor recommends.
For example, for the darkest blue on that chart (HEXcode 053371), Prismacolor recommends several pencils and markers in indigo blue shades. On that list, my favorite is Indianthrone Blue, PC 208.
If you’re getting started with Art Nouveau colors, I recommend starting with two different colors — one jewel tone (sapphire or ruby, for example) and one muted tone (perhaps pale teal or lilac) — and then select colors that look good with both of them.
You can use all jewel tones, or even all muted colors (see the image from the back cover of my second book, below), but a mix of the two will probably give you a more authentic look.
No matter which colors you use in your Art Nouveau coloring pages, they’re likely to look very different from modern, vibrant (and sometimes artificial) colors.
Give Art Nouveau colors a try. Once you’ve seen how they look, they may not suit your style, or they may become your new favorites for coloring books.
If you have any comments or color questions, I hope you’ll share them in the comments section, below.