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15yearsagoBy David Tisherman

‘Color is amazing.’ That’s how David Tisherman began his September 2002 “Details” column for WaterShapes. ‘It provides us with some of greatest opportunities we ever have to create spaces that are emotionally evocative and visually compelling,’ he added, ‘yet it is also one of the most difficult design details to understand and put to good and effective use.

‘Trouble is, there’s no easy way to simplify the challenge: Color is indeed a tough nut to crack, and that’s as true  for architects, artists, fashion designers and the people who choose colors for new cars as it is for watershapers. 

And because it’s hard,’ he wrote, ‘an awesome majority of what we see around us on buildings, clothing and freeways tends to be “safe” – unimaginative, conservative and bland.’ He continued:


Designers aren’t entirely to blame for this situation. The fact is, most of our clients live and work and are quite comfortable in environments and spaces that are terribly unsophisticated in terms of color. They’ve grown accustomed to the general dullness that surrounds them in the textiles, appliances, flooring, automobiles and apparel they see, buy and have been led to believe makes them happy.


‘In nature, we see incredibly sublime blends of colors around water that always seem to “work.” We see the primary colors (blues, reds and yellows) and the secondary colors (greens, violets and oranges) as well as a rich array of browns, creams and hundreds of shades of gray. When you look at those hues in nature, the composition is almost always beautiful.’


‘[W]hen you take those very same colors and put them in the hands of someone who isn’t sensitive to how they work when transported to a different space, the results can be horrendous. . . . What it takes to avoid design atrocities is, first, an awareness that color is both crucial and difficult to master, especially on a large scale; second, a recognition that there are tools that can help; and third, that this is yet another area of design in which education is important.’


‘When you open your eyes to color and look at the works of the masters, you see broad, rich color palettes. When you visit the Taj Mahal or the gardens of Kyoto or Fallingwater, you see color used to create emotion as well as senses of space, surprise, harmony and enjoyment. These effects don’t happen by accident, but instead are the direct result of the designer’s understanding of the way colors relate to each other.’


My sense of what colors can do for spaces is the main reason you’ve seen me advocate the use of green in and around watershapes so many times in these columns. . . . [S]ome greens are wonderful with watershapes because of the way they can blend with and complement the greens of the landscaping – as well as the blacks, grays, browns and creams of rocks and masonry materials. (I say some greens just above because not all of them work. Green is made up of yellow and blue: If the blend has too much yellow in it, the resulting green can be awful in watershape applications.)’


‘It’s true that there are people out there who are born with a knack for picking colors and making combinations work, and if you’re one of those rare individuals, you should consider yourself fortunate. That doesn’t mean you should avoid education, however, because talent combined with expert training is an amazing one-two punch.’


‘For the rest of us,’ Tisherman concluded, ‘we need to work at this and open our eyes to the chromatic relationships that exist all around us. It means looking at the work of past masters, finding ways to become versed in the use of a color wheel, or discovering the resources and color-combination aids many designers use to guide them in color selections. With hard work comes acumen; with acumen comes outstanding results.’

David Tisherman has blazed an important trail with his longstanding advocacy of education in the dynamics of color. Have you taken his message to heart, or are color choices something you leave to the tastes and preferences of your clients? To comment, just scroll down a bit.


David Tisherman is the principal in two design/construction firms: David Tisherman’s Visuals of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  He is also an instructor for Artistic Resources & Training (ART); for information on ART’s classes, visit

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