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How Wall Color Affects Artwork.

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Art makes a home personal. I enjoy seeing what artwork people choose for the rooms in their home. After a stint at my sister’s home moving photos around on different colored walls, it became very clear that the impact of a photograph, or any artwork, can be adversely affected by the color of your wall. A clash of undertones or color intensity can cause the photo to look less impressive when it is displayed on the wall.


photo by C. Garavetto

Moving artwork around.

My sister and her partner have a colorful home. The previous owner painted various rooms different colors, many of which were bold. When they moved in, they just hung their photographs on the walls without much thought. The photographs, which are their original work and are available in various art galleries, seemed to get lost on the walls.


We spent the next three hours moving all the photographs around to different rooms and looking at how they reacted with the background wall color. Some photos really got lost and others really came back to life.


It turns out, yes, wall color matters in how you experience the artwork.


You can find some of my sister’s work here: http://www.cgaravettophotography.com.


Wall color as backdrop.

You have heard me mention this in a prior blog post, Interior Finishes as a Backdrop to Your Life. I feel strongly about wall color as a backdrop to the objects in the room. While I recommend neutrals for most homes, this might not be the best decision if you have an art collection.


One of the first steps in my process of trying different artwork in different rooms was to categorize the artwork based on the colors prominent in the work. Separate art pieces to reflect this. You can always break the rule down the line but, initially, identifying the major colors in the work will help.


Undertones.

As with anything that has color, whether permanent finishes, fabric, pottery or artwork, it is helpful to identify the undertones. Undertones can be pink, yellow, green or blue. If a photograph has a lot of blue and is the star of the room, it is best not to paint the wall a color that has conflicting undertones.


If blues and greens are more prominent in the artwork, they work best with cool wall colors as a backdrop. If more reds and orange, warmer colors work best.


Bright versus subdued.

Color can be bright or subdued. Bright colors look best in rooms with true whites and grays. Lime green pops against bright, true white or a strong wall color to create intentional contrast. Subdued colors in artwork, however, begin to look drab or almost dirty against a true white. The subtlety of the color gets lost in all the brightness.


If your artwork is graphic in nature, the backdrop should provide some contrast. Graphic, bold artwork can work best against bright, strong wall colors, just as deep, rich paintings work well against deep, darker wall colors.


Test phase.

I recently read an article from www.retrorenovation.com called, The 50 best paint colors used on the walls of the Guggenheim Museum. Here is an interesting quote from that article:


“The hues in the Gallery Colors collection are the result of rigorous testing: Each time the Guggenheim mounts an exhibition, designers begin with small-scale models of the gallery space, sample wall colors, and tiny replicas of the artworks. The team then moves into the museum itself to view full-scale mock-ups. Because the final choice of wall color can influence how a museum visitor experiences the artworks, this testing phase is crucial to the museum’s color decisions.”

Wow. This just reinforces how difficult this really can be. Looks like the Guggenheim devotes lots of time and effort to finding the right wall colors.


While we don’t all have access to small-scale models of our space and replicas of our artwork, we do have access to small wall color paint samples and can use them to test on our walls with the artwork.


Final thoughts.

Don’t underestimate the undertone or intensity (strength) of the color you are selecting for your walls.


Don’t forget to consider the boldness or softness of the artwork.


Flat paint can be a better option to highlight artwork as the light will be reflected off the art, not the surrounding walls.


Be aware that white doesn’t always work. White paint with blue undertones or true whites can be too stark to really allow the artwork to create a mood in your room. Cool whites can, however, work well as a backdrop for conceptual art.


If you are trying to make your artwork the star of your room, select a color for the walls that will ultimately make your artwork pop.



If you are looking for a comprehensive package of hard finish suggestions, shop my various finish schemes for sale. The PDF download is a materials list of coordinated hard finishes and appropriate foundation whites for kitchens or baths. Be sure to get both corresponding rooms if you are planning a complete remodel.

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