Artists’ colour palettes – introducing Color Lisa

Artist and designer Ryan McGuire has created the website Color Lisa – rather nicely, to give back to his fellows from the design community – charting his edit of artists’ colour palettes that are ripe for borrowing. Each one is created from a single work of art by a large list of notables from different periods and genres from Josef Albers to Karl Zerbe with a whole lot of others – Bruegel, Dali, O’Keefe – in between. Arranged alphabetically, some artists have multiple palettes while others have yet to feature (we’ll be checking back for Yayoi Kusama). Each palette featured is unique and presented in a batch of five.

Ryan and his colour-specialising collaborators use colours from HEX, a colour producer commonly employed in web design and also used in design programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. We contacted Ryan at his base in Ithaca, New York and in a bid to respect everybody’s spelling practices present to you now a series of colour questions and colour answers between here and there…

Self Portrait by Frida Kahlo

Self Portrait by Frida Kahlo (Image: Wikipedia)

Artists colour palettes | Frida Kahlo | The Chromologist

Hilma af Klint, The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series (1915), courtesy Hamburger Bahnhof

Hilma af Klint, The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series (1915), courtesy Hamburger Bahnhof

Artists colour palettes | Hilma af Klint | The Chromologist

Where did your idea come from and what was your motivation for doing the site?

“I’m constantly reading about color and exploring combinations used by fellow designers and artists. I’ve been compiling color palettes that have inspired me for long time and I thought it would be nice to share these palettes with the design world. The design community is such a supportive bubble, from online tutorials to free stock photos websites, these creatives spend massive amounts of time on these resources to give them away for free. The development of Color Lisa is a way for me to give back to the creative community and to say thank you for all the resources I’ve benefited from over the years.”

Why do you stick to palettes of just five colours for each piece of work?

“Color palettes can include as many colors as you please, but I limit the palettes on Color Lisa to five to make them more usable. Options are perceived as good thing, but when when you’re overwhelmed with choices it actually makes it more difficult to choose. Typically when I’m designing I try to use two to five colors to help keep my work more cohesive.”

Artists colour palettes | Yves Klein | The Chromologist Artists colour palettes |Josef Albers | The Chromologist

Is it obvious which colours to include and which ones to leave out?

“The editing process varies based on the particular work of art. Some are straightforward with obvious color selections and others are more challenging with either less or more than five colors to choose from. This is why it is important that the palettes are curated by skilled color experts that understand color theory and that are experienced at creating color combinations that work well together. Most works of art have many more than five colors to choose from so being able to extract five colors can be a real challenge for an inexperienced color curator.”

Who are your collaborators?

“I personally curate many of the palettes, but I also receive a lot of help from fellow designers, Creative Directors, artists, and design students. Some of the most recent curators include Jess Confer, Creative Director and designer at GiveGab, Eric Lindstrom, President and Designer at ThankTank Creative, and Asia Giles, Creative Director at Prudential Insurance.”

Do you have any favourite palettes?

“I’ve always been a fan of Pop Art and I’m most drawn to the bright and fun colors of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Billy Apple, but I also have a soft spot for the beautiful colors used by Georgia O’Keeffe and Albrecht Dürer.”

Artist colour palettes | Georgia O'Keeffe | The Chromologist

Artists colour palettes | Albert Durer | The Chromologist

Artists Palettes | Salvador Dali | The Chromologist

Which names do you hope to add to the site next?

“Some new artists that will be added to the site soon include Peter Max, Vladimir Tretchikoff, and Diego Velázquez. Most of the new palettes being added to the site are  based on additional works of arts by already listed artists.”

How long does it take to create a palette – and how hard is it to be totally accurate?

“It all depends on the curator and the work of art they are curating. Some palettes can be made in under ten minutes and others might take an hour. Each curator has their own process and each palette is subjective to the curator. Considering how many color options there are in a typical work of art, and that our palettes only consist of five colors, there is really no such thing as being ‘totally accurate’ because we have no idea what the actual artist had in mind while creating the art. Our curators are color superstars in that have the necessary skills to extract five colors into a pleasing palette based on a image of the artwork they are curating.”

Artists colour palettes | Andy Warhol | The Chromologist

Artists colour palettes | Billy Apple | The Chromologist


Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist