11. Abstract Cities

This exercise asked us to create a series of 10 abstract designs in which we balance blocks of subordinate, dominant and accent colours for the cover designs for various city guidebooks.

As per the brief suggestion I thought it better to find out a bit about each city if possible and think about any notions I have of what colours would be appropriate. Immediately looking at some of the words I already had some preconceived ideas about what colours might work and devise an appropriate colour palette.

I decided to work in my sketchbook and before moving to work with Photoshop and Illustrator.

I did some quick brainstorming and searches for each of the cities to get an idea of the city and any colours I thought might work.

scan0129Abstract Cities

I also took looked at some images of the locations and considered how these could work for the guidebooks. Immediately I was thinking Manhattan with its vertical skyscrapers should have vertical blocks of colours.

I looked at the work of Ben Nicholson and Piet Mondrian two artists who produced works in the 1930s with strong colour combinations and forms. Even although the pieces below seem to be just coloured blocks there is something which draws the eye and makes them quite pleasing to look at.  Mondrian painted using the three saturated primary colours and contrasted these wih lots of black lines.   The intense red square in the centre of the Nicholson stands out against the muted subdued grey shades and has a balanced look about it.   

Ben Nicholson, 1937 (painting). Image via http://www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935. Image courtesy of Mondrian/Holtzman Trust and via http://www.courtauld.ac.uk.


I also was a bit unsure about what was meant by dominant colours etc so did a bit of reading .

  • The color with the largest proportional area is the dominant color (the ground).
  • Smaller areas are subdominant colors.
  • Accent colors are those with a small relative area, but offer a contrast because of a variation in hue, intensity, or saturation (the figure).
  • Placing small areas of light color on a dark background, or a small area of dark on a light background will create an accent.
  • If large areas of a light hue are used, the whole area will appear light; conversely, if large areas of dark values are used, the whole area appears dark.
  • Alternating color by intensity rather than proportion will also change the perceived visual mix of color.

I also was thinking about composition ideas in my sketchbook thinking about symmetry, repetition and thirds.scan0128

Overall this was quite an enjoyable exercise once I got going although I did find it difficult on occasion to create pleasing arrangements that didn’t look disjointed. I think some examples work better than others – I quite like the Malmo example and the Madrid both are relatively simplistic but I think they represent the country appropriately and have pleasing colour arrangements.


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