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Coloring Outside the Lines: The Buick Avista

Coloring Outside the Lines: The Buick Avista

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The Buick Avista was one of the most noteworthy concept cars as it made its way around the auto shows this season. And one of the more striking aspects of the car’s design was the custom color, Dark Sapphire Jewel. Our special assignment contributor, Gigi Leonard, had the good fortune to grab a few moments with Krysti Murphy, who worked to develop the vehicle’s immensely hypnotic color to gain some insight into the process:

Purstuitist Autos: Let’s talk about your role at Buick. What is your title?

Krysti Murphy: I’m the Lead Exterior Color Development Designer.

You were working in the kids market prior to this, right?

Yes, I used to work for Hasbro toys on My Little Pony. It was a lot of fun to do some graphic design, and I used to do the tattoo art that’s on the side of them, and then pick out the color for the actual pony, the pinks or how some of the colors will transition from blue to pink to purple. Some of those ponies are crazy bright colors.

So the next question that I have for you is, how did you transition from working in that market into cars?

It was very interesting, because with toys it’s not sophisticated. It’s playful. The research for it is similar, with toys you’re still doing trend research to see what colors are out there, but more specifically what colors are out there for kids. Then when I transitioned to exterior paint here at General Motors, the research is similar. You’re still doing trend research, but now you’re doing it for an age bracket of 30-60, so the colors have to be sophisticated, not the bright, colorful, cheerful colors for a 6 year old. You’re still looking at the trends in everything from fashion to furniture more in depth. Doing more research like going to fashion week to see what’s happening out there to bring back and add to your color.

For cars, the lifespan is so much longer. You’re trending for colors that will be out in 5 years, but then they need to live for 10 or plus years after that. Not everybody is buying a new car every year or every 6 months like you would with a toy. You have to figure out the longevity of each color, so it’s very much more labor intensive, but still a lot of fun.

With regards specifically to the Avista, what do you like best about the finished product for that? From a design perspective and from the color perspective, too.

In the design, what’s really great about that vehicle are the sculptural surfaces. It can hold these beautiful dual tone colors. Developing a show car color is awesome, because you can really experiment with pigments and a different variety of colors. You get more opportunity to do something that’s new because it’s not production. The sculpture of the car was always really cool, and then the color itself was really fantastic to develop. This beautiful blue was created from rendering but then we were inspired by looking at water in the ocean and how it moves and that depth. We were trying to use new pigments to create this almost black color, but when the sun hits it and the light, you see this beautiful searing cobalt blue highlight.

You’re talking about a more in depth trend research type of activity that you must do in order to develop the color. Can you tell me a little bit about the process to get to that color of the Avista?

We did a lot of research on these dual tones, and we were looking at blues and reds and greens. Then when we were working with the studio and there was a rendering of a blue. That caught my eye to look more at the blue space because of the sculptural surfacing that the Avista has, it just had to be the blue.

Then we started looking at water and doing more research on the blue space itself, and really seeing where it’s going. We’ve seen it go from bright to this very dark space, like I was saying, this black blue. Once we finally chose this almost black space, I got to work with PPG, one of our suppliers, using some new pigments to really get this space.

Ultimately, it was a lot of trend research, and then working with the studio, then moving from the studio to doing a little bit more research in that dark blue space, then going from there to the supplier to really see how can we get this blue to just drop out black on the sides and then the highlight areas of that sculptural surface to create that cobalt blue highlight. We painted so many panels to try to come up with this color, there must have been at least 100.

It’s a long process to get the paint to look exactly how you want it. With this particular color, it took about 14 coats of paint to get it to move the way we wanted it to.

That’s incredible. How much time did you have to do this?


So how do you apply what you learned from finishing a concept car’s color to an actual production car? How does that have impact on what is actually made on the line?

That’s a fun question. Because it’s a show car color, it’s a little bit different. In a production state, we would do a darker blue space that works in our technology and in our plants.

We can’t do this exact formula in production – you can’t do a 14-coat color in our plant – so it’s just trying to get a similar color space.

It’s interesting from a layman’s perspective to understand it, because a lot of people just see the finished product. You see it and you love it, but you don’t know how everybody got there.

It’s validating that people like this color space. It’s very interesting to hear what people thought of it. It was cool to hear people go, “wow” or just smile. A lot of people just don’t say a word and then you just look at them and they’re just smiling, and you can tell that they like it because it’s just a quiet smile. You can read people’s emotions on their face sometimes.

For a lot of people, picking a color is very emotional. They’re going to buy this car in this color, and they’re not going to change. They’re going to live with this color forever. It’s a very emotional product.

Can you tell me what you think the current trends are in cars as far as color palettes go?

You’ll still see a lot of black, white, silver, grey, we like to say our core colors. They’re in every OEM. They’re going to always be on trend. It’s kind of like that classic tuxedo, that classic suit. For the fashion type colors, you’ll see a lot of greens, a lot of bold blues that are out there. Even to orange spaces and things that are starting to come out a bit more. Right now you’re seeing this 90’s/80’s play that’s trending right now.

Also, even in the white space, you’ll see how it has evolved a bit. Whites used to be very creamy, now it’s very bright, clean, crisp white, just like that crisp white cotton sheet that you sleep with.

What do you find inspiration when you’re working?

I love looking at nail polish. I have images all over in my studio space of nail polish and lipstick. Just those rich tones that you see in lipstick, and with the nail polish that liquid look you see with the color. How it drips off of the brush onto the paper. Obviously fashion moves a lot quicker. It changes every season, so colors update pretty quickly. I also look at a lot of interior design, a lot of furniture. If you start seeing a lot of colors in furniture, it’s a color that’s going to stay for a while, because not everyone buys furniture every year so if that blue is going to be there, it’s going to stay for a long time. Recently, I’ve seen some hot pink sofas, but I don’t know anyone who owns one yet.

You must enjoy your job.

I work with a lot of global teams from all over the world right now, just trending to come up with the next latest and coolest colors that we can do. I’m not a doctor, but I love developing colors, so it’s a lot of fun.

When you were in art school was this what you were thinking when you were taking classes?

No, no, back when I was in college, I actually thought I’d be an illustrator, so this is a different world.

We are all hoping this gorgeous concept will go into production. When I made the inquiry, this was the response: The Buick Avista concept allowed our designers to create the ultimate expression of Buick style and performance and shows the direction of future design language for the Brand. There are no current plans to build a production Avista but the response since its debut has been really incredible.

Incredible indeed. Perhaps next year’s concept will be even more astounding, but judging from the response, the Avista will certainly be a hard act to follow.

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