Heritage as told by colour palettes

Enjoyed the heritage colour palettes we posted recently? So did Jem Yoshioka, Wellington-based illustrator and storyteller, and winner of the Supreme Remix award in 2010's Mix and Mash competition. Over the last month, she's used every single palette in fantastic daily sketches, and now she's kindly allowed us to repost her blog about the process.

The National Library of New Zealand’s done this amazing thing. They have released a series of colour palettes based on book spines within their collection. These colours, captured from sets of books, haven’t been recorded anywhere like this before. It’s a unique curation idea, one that leaves the door open for others to come along and have a play with these heritage colours.

A woman in a red top, smirking.

I decided I’d use the palettes as the basis for a daily drawing series. 26 palettes, 26 illustrations.

Usually my work is more painterly, so restricting myself to the 3-5 colours of the palettes has meant I’ve had to stretch my brain into new configurations. It’s helped me to explore colour combinations I otherwise wouldn’t have explored. I’ve been pushed to think of interesting and different ways to create and balance the images created.

A woman in a flowing dress, reading a large book.

I love the end effect. The colours sometimes feel like they’re reaching forward in time from their original timeframes, and other times they feel completely disguised – without the name of the series you’d never know the heritage written into the image’s DNA. It’s an interesting feeling, seeing my drawing style singing out in these colours that belong to another time.

It makes me think what my illustration style might be singing. I wonder if there’s anything in my illustrations that hints at my heritage, the unconscious blocks of the people before me who have helped to build me to where I am today. I’m sure there’s a lot there to read about who I am and my own experience, but I’m curious to know if there’s anything older than that, more unconscious that I am drawn to.

A flapper in front of a stylised art deco background.

My thoughts and relationship to the series has changed as each new palette is opened in photoshop. It started as a quick way to get in some daily drawing exercise and a fun way to play with a cool resource. As the series has grown I find myself wondering more about the original context of these colours and what it means for me to be using them to colour my own work like this.

I shape an individual image with its own story each day, but each piece builts on the strength of the series. There’s a subtle hint of conversation here, and it’s become a very fulfilling creative task to expand on it day by day. There’s only a few more left in the series. I have plans for what to do with them once they’re finished, including having them available as prints, a zine, and maybe release some as postcards.

Portrait of Lauren Bacall in a classic pose.

I’ve had an amazing amount of support for this project. Thanks to everyone who’s liked, favourited, commented and shared the work I’ve been doing on this project. It’s been such a wonderful thing to meet with people and hear compliments on this series, which I’m becoming quite proud of. Even people who quietly enjoy at a distance, you make a difference too.

A librarian with pink hair climbs a ladder to reach high shelves of books.

Jem is not an employee of the National Library, and as such her ideas and opinions are her own. However, she releases her art under a CC-BY-SA license, so feel free to share, use, or remix her work.

By Jem Yoshioka

Jem Yoshioka is an illustrator and storyteller based in Wellington. More illustrations and comics can be found on jemshed.com.

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Julie Starr September 2nd at 9:01AM

Love what you're doing, Jem. http://www.juliestarr.co.nz/turning-books-colour-palettes-pictures/