The Secret to Creating Inspiring Color Palettes, with Bows + Arrows

Adam + Alicia Rico

When imagining a floral design, we like to think about how we can create something cohesive and original as a stand-alone work of art. Both Adam and I (Alicia) come  from a fine arts background (I went to school for painting and Adam for sculpting) so it plays into everything we create. We see each stem as a brush-stroke of paint—each dangling vine as an element of a floral sculpture.  

We see flowers as a form of fine art.

To show you what we mean, we’ll approach floral design with one of our favorite elements in mind—Color theory. Color theory often drives our designs, so it deserves a lot of attention.

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‍Image Credit: @bowsandarrowsflowers instagram

Color theory is essentially the structure for understanding how colors relate. We’re talking color wheels and rainbows here.

Simply put, color theory is about how colors look, work, and play together.  

It’s the string in the dark that leads us out of vague concepts and into purposeful design.To best utilize our understanding of color theory, we like to think outside of the tube. When selecting flowers for our compositions and color palettes, we ask, “How is this color in real life?” Usually, you don’t find “pure” colors in nature. Reds, greens, and even whites tend to be more mixed, painterly colors in the natural world.

What we look for instead are colors which are both muted and saturated—which is just an odd way of saying: colors that are not so straightforward.

‍Image Credit: @bowsandarrowsflowers instagram

In a floral arrangement, these are the off-white garden roses, blushing peonies, mauve hellebores, periwinkle hydrangeas, salmon ranunculus, and soft coral dahlias of the world. These colors form what we like to call a “mature color palette.”

Since we personally value arrangements that possess a quiet sense of power and romance, a mature color palette is essential to us. As you grow, you’ll come to your own conclusions about what colors you’re drawn to and what colors best represent your designs and you as a designer.

To implement this concept into practical floral design, we’ve got two hands-on methods to share: watercolor sketches and floral boards.


Prior to pulling even a single flower, watercolor sketches have become something we base our designs off of and reference in moments of feeling lost.

The idea is simple: with a thick piece of paper, a basic watercolor kit, and a small brush in hand, we put our ideal color palette to paper. Our watercolor sketches are reflective of what colors we want to use, how much of each color we want, and where we want to place those colors in relation to each other.

It’s a fun and forgiving process. It’s also a safe way to try out as many color combinations as you can imagine without the commitment of purchasing pricey flowers.


Flowering Texas + beyond:
Once we’ve established our color palette and turned it into a tangible representation on paper, we can begin the work of translating it into actual blooms.

Floral boarding is a lot like creating a watercolor palette. The difference is—we’re adding texture and depth by using real flowers to illustrate the color vision—choosing blooms that are actually in season and are realistic options for the finished floral design. (We almost never buy flowers solely for the purpose of creating floral boards. We either forage what’s around, use what we have left over from recent events.)

We like to create floral boards for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s a way to play. We especially like to pull leftover flowers from events we’ve already done and throw together new combinations, take pictures of the finished boards, and add the photos to our “library of palettes.”

  2. It’s a way of learning how to work with seasons. Unlike watercolor sketches, floral boards use actual blooms which are (obviously) limited to what’s in season. Floral boards bring that dreamy idea of a color palette down to earth and anchor them to real life flowers.

Creating a floral board is a great way to experiment with color, composition, texture, contrast, and a bunch of other fine art elements without committing to something completely. That’s the thing we love most about it.

It’s such a liberating and resourceful way to learn and grow!