May 28, 2014

Watercolor-inspired designs are on the rise. Although the medium has been widely used in marketing over the decades and has popped up at various times in many categories, watercolors seem to be making a sweeping resurgence, according to Aileen Kendle, Design Director at our San Francisco office.

So why the sudden wash of watercolor? What is it about this classic medium that’s so appealing today?

Visually, watercolors have a brilliance and clarity that other paints can often lack. This is largely due to the fact that they are transparent and get their color from light bouncing off the paper behind them. As a result, watercolors look as if they are lit from within. These combined visual effects convey warmth, originality, and craftsmanship.

Here are four ways watercolor can be used to connect with consumers today:

CPG brands globally are embracing watercolors and their unique way of resonating with consumers by incorporating the style in illustrations and package design. While some employ calm, subdued splashes of color, others seem to be adding a fresh spin with super-saturated, vibrant punches. Both approaches reinforce the products’ hand-made / crafted / premium aspects.

Photography and illustration are combined in a recent editorial for Genlux, a magazine devoted exclusively to luxury and beauty. Entitled “Far, Far Away,” the final art seamlessly blends real models and fashion items with watercolor backdrops to create a tour through fantasy locations. The watercolors distinctly conjure the richness, creativity and playfulness associated with children’s storybooks and accentuates the style of the apparel.

Artist Kareem Iliya has been commissioned by an impressive list of global luxury brands, to bring their products to life through watercolor. Her works have been featured in publications worldwide including the NY Times, W magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, the New Yorker and Vogue. Her watercolors are elegantly simple, one-of-a-kind interpretations of icons; each underscoring the brand’s distinction, beauty and craftsmanship.

Mobile Apps
A new iPhone app called Waterlogue replicates the actual painting process, layer by layer like a real artist, and simulates the spreading and bleeding of pigment onto the canvas. Now smartphone users don’t need to know how to paint to create beautiful watercolor images – the hard edges of each photo wash away down to their fluid, idealized essence.

Web designers have been adopting the watercolor style too, and for good reason. Watercolor is a great way to add depth and color. While websites can often be content heavy and complex, watercolor can give a site an original, authentic feel and a necessary light touch that distinguishes it from the competition. Watercolor in web design is popping up in a variety of ways; whether it’s the main graphic of the site for big impact (e.g. Evolution Fresh) or used for more subtle and unexpected details. It engages visitors, which can help hold attention and drive sales.

Marketing Takeaways
When used right, the brilliance and spontaneity of watercolors can engage an audience with a look that’s lively, warm and original. They can capture a consumer’s attention and imagination, while bolstering the craftsmanship of a product. But keep in mind watercolors aren’t for everyone. Marketers need to carefully consider a brand’s attributes and personality to determine if they align with the natural strengths of the art medium.