Color Palette Rehab

Made a terrific eggplant parm (sans tomato sauce) tonight, paired with arugula salad. Highly recommended. Recipe at bottom. But the bigger story is I spent the past few days working with a “found” palette—therefore a limited palette—and the results are in: TRY THIS.

Last week the sun was peeking in through the blinds, in one of those late-afternoon moments that I was lucky enough to capture with my phone, not really sure why I was doing it. Dappled light hit my open closet in such a way that my familiar jumble of everyday clothing suddenly took on an elevated appearance. A photo of my clothes? Not especially compelling, right?

I toyed with turning the photo into a graphic, and a few sketches went nowhere. But I couldn’t get those colors out of my head. Then it hit me, this was a found palette. I opened my iPad and used the eye dropper tool to grab 10-12 colors from the photo, and saved them as a new palette.

The results were extremely satisfying to my sensibilities, but now I wondered, is this a kid-friendly palette? I was reminded of the meeting I had with an art director at one of the top children’s publishers, where my portfolio was enthusiastically received and I was told I was “the next” somebody-or-other… IF I could “brighten up” my colors a bit.

So I dashed home and reworked everything in my portfolio, going against my natural attraction to subdued, desaturated tones. (My favorite coat as a child was a maroon and grey plaid number; I absolutely adored black and my favorite outfit was a black turtleneck and black leggings. It still is. I’m nothing if not consistent.)

The exercise left me miserable and demoralized, and ultimately frustrated to the point of inertia, I abandoned my dream of publishing a picture book, figuring I just wasn’t suited to the world of primary colors. Graphic design offered me far more opportunities to apply my desaturated palettes, and wear my black clothes.

Do kids really prefer primary colors? Must everything look like a bowl of Froot Loops or a Playskool dollhouse in order to sell? Well, let me just offer two words in response to this notion: Jon Klassen.

He’s doing pretty well.

I look at the success of, say, This Is Not My Hat (fantastic book, btw) and begin to wonder where I’d be now in my career if I’d ignored the “advice” that big shot art director gave me and stuck to my guns. Of course the industry has gone through enormous changes in the years since that meeting, but I wonder. I wonder.

So I’m taking myself to Color Palette Rehab and breaking the habit of using every color in the box, or sticking to what’s expected, of coloring the sky blue just because that’s the color it’s “supposed to be.” I can’t say enough good things about giving yourself some limitations. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me, the problem solver who enjoys the constraints, but I recommend looking around your environs for a found palette that you’d love to apply to a work you feel is wanting in some way, or start fresh and see where it takes you.

Eggplant Parm with Garlic

1 large eggplant

6 T butter, melted

1 C bread crumbs or panko

1/4 C shredded Parmesan

1/4 t smoked paprika

4 cloves finely minced garlic or 1 t garlic powder

1 t each of finely minced fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano or 1 t dried Italian seasoning

Wash, trim, peel eggplant. Slice into 1/2” disks. Place in a colander and “sweat” with kosher salt—sprinkle liberally over each disk. Allow to sit at least 30 min. until beads of water appear on the surface. Rinse the salt.

Mix crumbs, spices, garlic and cheese.

Dip each disk in the melted butter and then in the crumb mixture, turning and pressing to coat.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Flip and bake an additional 7-10 minutes, until crispy.

Arugula Salad

One bunch arugula, 1/4 C olive oil, juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon, salt and pepper to taste, shaved Parmesan to garnish. Toss.

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