Negative Space #3 - Joe Vax - Guest Blogger

Well, last time I promised we’d talk a little about color. What was I thinking? Talking a little about color is like talking a little about the the universe. There are people who spend their entire lives studying color, it’s too vast a subject to approach in a single column. The use of color is also a very personal aspect of making art, but hey, let’s talk about some basics and I’ll try to give you some insight into how I use color.

Color carries an enormous amount of weight in how we perceive things, it is probably the single biggest factor in our purchasing decisions. Think about that the next time you’re walking down a grocery store aisle, shopping for clothes, or buying a new car. And our choices are literally endless—cold, hot, warm, cool, clean, dirty, heavy, light, hard, soft—it goes on forever. So how do we decide what colors to apply to our projects? Well, what are you trying to say, because color communicates in ways that form alone cannot.

I like surprises, and color can be an excellent way to introduce an element of surprise by avoiding the obvious. In the poster below I avoided the traditional Halloween black and orange to use colors that had significant meaning to me. When I was a kid the Five & Dimes sold wax skeletons filled with colored sugar water. You knew that Halloween was right around the corner when these things would magically appear on the candy counter. You just had to stock up on wax corpses and monster magazines! I’m sure nobody made this connection when they received this poster in the mail but I didn’t care, I told you color choices are personal! Colors are like smells, they are deeply embedded in our memories.

In this Halloween self promotion poster, the color is based on childhood memories of translucent wax skeletons filled with colored sugar water.

When considering color I always try to remind myself to keep it simple, a little color can go a long way. That doesn’t mean you need to be scared of it, but think about how different colors relate to each other. Some colors compliment each other and other combinations will create foils to one another. Some tend to move back in space while others come forward. Look and analyze. I love to create foils with colors that contrast each other. It’s a great way to force a viewers attention to the central concept of the piece. Remember that the contrast I’m speaking about is not only contrast in value (light to dark), but also contrast in hue (cool to warm, or neutral to dynamic).

The cool green leaves and blue cuff create a great foil for the red glove, the centerpiece of this spread.

Lots of color here but the viewers attention is forced to the white initial caps, AACJO.

I also like to prioritize color, even in a piece that uses a lot of color I try to present one color that the viewer will remember as the main color of the piece. In my work that singular memorable color is often white, black or grey (negative space).

Even though this open studio announcement has a lot of color it will be perceived as a black postcard.

The piece above is based on the ‘OPEN’ signs we see everyday in shop windows. They are almost always bright orange letters on a black background, so we chose paintings from the artists that used a lot of orange to drop into the widows created by the letters.

As I’m sure you know, colors can be masculine or feminine, they can shout or whisper, they can seduce or warn, and remember that colors carry many different meanings to different cultures and religions. I hope I’ve given you some ideas to think about as you explore the endless world of color. Until next time, may your form always follow your function.


  1. excellent joe, just excellent.

  2. is this the joe vax of oakland, cali - son of virginia?

  3. I'm not at liberty to give out contact information, but I can pass on a message.