1.5 Less is more

This exercise was part of a section of the course that considers drawing with colour i.e. removing the need for outline, and thinking about the use of colour to provide depth and visual hierarchy to an image.

The purpose of this exercise was put this theory into practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Identify a palette of no more than three colours
  • Use this palette to illustrate five domestic items beginning with the same letter of the alphabet
  • Try the same exercise again using only two colours


American Express have run a poster campaign over the last couple of years that uses a very distinctive illustrative style where each poster uses a limited colour palette of 5-colours. I noticed this first on the London Underground.

Additionally I saw a couple of examples in a British Airways lifestyle magazine that both used a 3-colour (red, white and black) swatch.

I’ve had to think in limited colour terms in previous exercises.

One of the strengths and delights of most relief printing techniques is the need to work with a limited colour palette. This necessitates careful consideration of composition and a reliance on texture, pattern and the qualities provided by the printing block (wood or lino in the examples below).

The subject put me in mind of the Matisse in the Studio exhibition that was on in the Royal Academy in 2017, where everyday objects and bric a brac from the artists studio were exhibited alongside the works where they were featured. What I learned most from that exhibition was how Matisse combined colour, pattern and texture in his work; all things useful for this exercise.

Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947

Ideas generation

I started by listing out domestic items starting with the same letter. I decided to add a level of interest and complexity to the illustrations by creating a composition that included all 5 items together.

A key question: What is interesting about this exercise?

Three things came to mind:

  • The objects form a group/have a relationship; They all begin with the same letter, they are all domestic items
  • The visual language is potentially engaging for the viewer

I selected the following objects beginning with the letter T:

  • Teapot
  • Teacup
  • Teaspoon
  • Tiles
  • Tablecloth


Using a very limited palette means asking the viewer to work harder to understand the image which for the viewer can be very rewarding. However I felt like the visual clues in the image needed to be clear and the composition of the central objects would need to be ‘realistic’ and obvious. Making them too abstract or attempting an extreme/oblique point of view may make the image too difficult to read.

I created a colour swatch that was partially useful. What I discovered was that the colour combinations that worked all required white as the highlight colour.

All the artwork was created in Adobe Illustrator.

Three colour illustrations

Two colour illustrations

Just taking away one colour without modifying the image didn’t work and I had to make some changes to the shadows and highlights in the image.


What went well

  • I like the two-colour version of the image best. The images are stronger and bolder and for me the patterns around the central objects play more of an equal part in the overall composition.
  • These would work nicely as woodcuts.
  • I was pleased to create the whole image using just Illustrator. Although I work with Illustrator a lot I typically only use a small subset of features, and this exercise made me explore different aspects of the application.

What I would do differently/better

  • It might have been interesting to try a combination of more unconnected objects at different scales.
  • Using a loser hand drawn style may have worked.
  • I would like to learn more about the tools available to me in Illustrator.





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