International Colour Day, 2014

Today is International Colour Day – nicely chosen to coincide with the Equinox.  Around this date, “night and day are equally long which symbolically juxtaposing the complementary nature of dark and light, of shadow and illumination, that are expressed in all human cultures“, Colour Group GB

pencil shards

To celebrate, here are some of my photos where I think colour speaks for itself. I know, I know, white isn’t a colour but I view it as utterly magnanimous because instead of absorbing or snatching wavelengths, it reflects and shares them straight back again thus becoming the most pure, peaceful and generous ‘colour’ in my mind…

White Peace

White Peace

Beautiful, Elegant Green

Beautiful, Elegant Green

Warning, Agressive Red

Warning, Agressive Red

Endlessly Creative Blue

Endlessly Creative Blue

Ray of Yellow Hope

Ray of Yellow Hope

For more colour inspiration have a look at the  Dulux Colour Awards 2014 which is run in partnership with The Guardian – definitely worth a look.

What colour are you feeling like today and how will you celebrate today, March 21st 2014, International Colour Day? 

Colour at the Edge

It gives me great pleasure to be asked by Wendy Murray to be a guest blogger for The Velvet & Silk Cafe.  For my own readers, I hope you will find a little about my background and work of interest.

Although officially, a geographer (obviously attracted by the heavy use of coloured pencils) I have been working in the design industry for the last twenty years specifying contemporary brands of European furniture, lighting and modern art works for domestic and commercial spaces. I then began to specialise in restaurant interiors where I became increasingly interested in the use of colour as a design tool. This passion for colour led me to consult for Valtti paints where I designed colour palettes including ‘Fauvism 55′ which was awarded a Living etc Loves Award. I am currently working on a range of home wares and consulting on colour choice and placement in public spaces.

My work in colour simply relies upon the 10,000 hour rule, I do not have a colour qualification but I have probably read most books ever written on  colour theory (!) and I am in frequent discussions with members of the IACC (International Association of Colour Consultants) and Colour Group GB.

The place where two colours meet is my real passion. The perfect fusion of art and science exists at this point. Being able to alter a perceived colour by placing another colour next to it gives designers a very powerful and dynamic tool. I’m sure you know that placing two complimentary colours side by side strengthens their respective hues and allows them to be more luminous. In their fight for leadership the two colours ‘tout’ or strengthen their parent colours and retract any common hues resulting in a greater contrast.

The greatest energy or dynamism is found along the boundary where the colours touch – further away from this point the effect diminishes. However, if you wish the entire block of colour to have equal strength a simple ‘fence’ or boundary can be added around the colour block which prevents the colours sparring along the ‘front line’ and the heightened contrast will be spread evenly across the block.

red & green showing different strengths

Look at the energy where the colours touch compared to the outer edges. See how the 'fence' allows the energy to be equally spread.

There are far too many examples of colour physics to discuss in one post and there are plenty of examples on previous posts (including one on the effect of colour perception on ageing eyes which is relevant to Part M building regulations – although brand new research now questions this theory but its still too early in the research to change building regs).

In January this year I spent some time in Reykjavik and was astonished by the use of colour in the Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall

As many members of The Silk and Velvet Cafe are architects I won’t begin to describe the building on its architectural merits although I do think Rowan Moore’s review of the building for the Guardian gives an excellent overview.

In a country full of colour contrasts, fire and ice, darkness followed by eternal day light and torn in half by the North American and Eurasian plates, I guess it is no surprise that Henning Larsen Architects and artist, Olafur Eliasson who designed Harpa have used dramatic colour combinations to full use.

I was stunned by the scale of the building and even more surprised to see the solid walls inside the building were black concrete. Considering the the lack of winter light, I did not expect the architects to choose black walls. Another surprise, is the white floor. Generally we humans feel more comfortable with ‘heavy’ colours below our feet, and ‘lighter’ colours above, (probably because that replicates nature). Entering this interior instantly made me feel very small and extremely aware of the building itself.

The insertion of bright yellow upholstery is a brilliant addition. Black which has a very low LRV (light reflective value) is the perfect back drop to clean bright yellow which has one of the highest LRV’s – the contrast allows the colours the greatest impact.

Image on left is untouched, image on right is inverted. The interior uses unorthodox colour placement to great effect.

The main concert hall, Eldborg or ‘Fire Castle’ takes inspiration from a volcanic crater in the East of Iceland. Red, well known to heighten ones emotions has affected some recent performers who claim their senses have been so sharpened they have been reduced to tears while on stage.

Photo by Ari Magg

The recital hall, Norourljos or ‘Northern Lights’ is shrouded in a vivid blue light to signify endless horizons and also to create a peaceful ambiance for smaller groups of performers.

Photo by Eypor Arnason

The Kaldalon or ‘Cold Lagoon’ has the ability to change colour depending on what event is being hosted. Inspired.

It is exciting to see bold colour choices and unusual colour placement  being used in such an important cultural building and a building which has become a symbol of Iceland’s new energy and optimism.

For me, it is the colour choice and placement that saved this over sized building from becoming an impersonal space. The building provokes powerful emotional and at times unexpected reactions which makes it an exciting and dynamic place to enter and a place that has firmly stuck in my mind.

Made in Britain

How important is it to you to buy products which have been grown or manufactured in your own country? Surely it’s a good way to get people back to work, instil some national pride and cut down on our carbon foot print?

Earlier this year I decided to produce a range of home wares and I was determined to design and manufacture them here in Great Britain. The first designs are a set of kitchen textiles which I think have architectural overtones. I am well aware that the market is awash with decorative kitchen textiles but I was keen to produce something for the contemporary kitchen – my designs can’t be described as pretty, and a friend actually thought they were quite masculine but I was pleased with that, it’s what I intended!

The designs are all screen printed – a long process but the best process for obtaining vibrant colours and colours that stay truer for longer. Digital printing is fine for some things but as it’s strong flat colour that interests me, screen printing was the answer (all the inks are water based causing minimal environmental impact). I decided to print onto linen union because the texture and slubs you find on linen gives the product more character.

So, they are designed and printed in Great Britain (including the brand label which has been woven) but I have paid the cost of taking this route. I hope it works out (I could have had them printed abroad for a fraction of the cost) but it gives me immense satisfaction having them produced here in Great Britain – I hope it is important to buyers too. I thought it was interesting to see that a new Made in UK  logo is set to appear in our shops next year.

My retailers would prefer me not to display the textiles until they have the stock (by the end of the month) which is why I have only inserted a tiny image of my proofs above.

Below are some of the reasons why I like living and working in Scotland. Where do you live and why?

Two Summer Colours to Keep

As I sit here at 55 latitude, I have to report that summer has definitely vanished. The shops are filling up with heavy textiles and the colour palettes are rapidly changing.

However, it is still August, so I thought I would pin up some summery palettes and interestingly each image contains one colour that is going to hang on well into Winter 2011.

Sulphurous yellow is likely to be a key micro colour this winter. Used for details to lift a moody room, or on the catwalk to make fun of  grown up tailoring, its presence even on very small areas will be felt.

Inky midnight blue is another colour I think we will see but this time on larger areas. Not a conventional navy, more a bruised navy heading towards off-black. A great backdrop for artwork and a colour that can easily add sophisticated drama to an interior. Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue fits the bill but if you are looking for less saturation, Paint & Paper Library’s Blue Blood is a stylish “easy on the eyes” blue. Little Greene’s Juniper Ash  a hazy airforce blue-grey  would be a softer choice while Valtti “St.Peter’s Boat” a powerful blue-black would create an interesting feature wall.

Put the two colours together and you have a great combination – perhaps it’s not so bad we are marching towards Autumn……

Decorating with Yellow

I have “empty room syndrome” today. I get it whenever I clear a room of furniture. The room didn’t look particularly scruffy when it was “dressed” but now it’s empty it really is asking for a new coat of paint. Well this is good news because I can choose a new paint colour.

I am trying to recreate the sensation I felt when I saw Wolfgang Laib ‘s  hazel nut pollen art installation last year. I would defy anyone to look at this work and not feel gloriously happy, rooted to the spot and completely mesmerised.  The colour of the pollen simply could not be improved.

Wolfgang Laib's Hazel Nut Pollen

As it’s a highly saturated colour I will only be using it in a small area (plus yellow “grows” and intensifies when on a wall).

I am going to mix my own yellow – the reason I am doing this is because it’s a pretty tricky colour to handle. It is all too easy to get greenish undertones in yellow paint because if you try to darken yellow by adding black, instead of turning a darker more intense hue, it actually turns green, very easily and quickly. Plus, you may not see the green under tones until you have painted it all over your walls…..

yellow + black = olive

If you buy ready mixed paint, ask the manufacturer if there is any black in the formula and if there is avoid it unless you want a greenish tinge.

Another thing to bear in mind is that yellow has a high LRV (light reflective value) so it bounces back most of what hits it. It is therefore greatly influenced by surrounding colours – even from outside. If you have leafy green trees outside your window, the yellow will take on a greenish tone. If you live opposite a red brick building, the yellow will look very golden. Lots to consider but get it right and you’ll not be disappointed.

Finding your Zone

I think it’s safe to assume that we all have habits to help us find our focus and get into the “zone”. Not surprisingly, colour once again can play a significant role here.

Don’t you find the mere act of wearing a crisp white shirt can dramatically improve confidence and clarity? Perhaps it’s the lack of distraction, perhaps it’s the precious virginal nature of a clean white shirt, you know its “pristine time” is limited so your time feels almost sacred and special – not to be wasted.

However, I find what tops all these habits is sharpening some pencils. A sharp pencil looks ready for action, poised for whatever direction you may take it in. The pencil is sharpened and so is the mind.

It’s multi sensory. The evocative smell of fresh curls winding out from the sharpener can transport you to many places. The random pattern of fallen shavings are visually satisfying in their own right. And the quick touch of the new point, sharp and ready to go……only to be placed in a jar on my desk while I get on with my work at the keyboard. This doesn’t matter, they have done their job, I am now ready to work.

Actually, before I sign off I must tell you an interesting story about pencils I discovered in Victoria Finlay’s book, “A Natural History of the Palette”.

For a long time pencils made from the high quality graphite deposits in the British Lake district monopolised the European art market. But in 1794, a Frenchman, Nicolas Conte , was commissioned to find an alternative to the English graphite. He did this by mixing low grade graphite (France did not have high quality graphite deposits) with clay and his pencils were quickly favoured by many prominent French artists. Then in 1847, Jean-Pierre Alibert discovered high quality graphite in Botogal Peak, Siberia close to the Chinese border. The graphite was of such high quality that the world clamoured to use pencils with this graphite. Later when pencils were mass produced in America, the manufacturers painted them bright yellow to reflect the colour of the Manchu imperial robes linking the mass produced pencils to the high quality graphite from the Alibert  mine (whether they used the Alibert graphite or not).

Interestingly, yellow is so symbolic that most pencils made in America even today are still painted yellow! The power of colour in marketing is of course enormous and as Mark Woodman of Global Color Research said, “perusing the selection in a sale bin recently, I was reminded how imperative it is to get the right colour on the right product”. It is difficult to over exaggerate the importance of colour selection – get it right and a product can fly, get it wrong and that sale bin beckons.

Back to my original note. Do you have a habit which helps you find your focus? It would be great to hear some of your ideas.


Colour Clarity

What is it about a tube of UHU that is just so appealing? Is it a nostalgic attraction? After all it has looked like this for decades. No, I believe it’s more than that. It has to do with colour selection.

All colours have a “value” which refers to the lightness or darkness of a hue, in other words how much black or white they contain. A hue with no black or white is a pure hue. Red is a pure hue but if you add white you create pink which is a light value of red.

However, pure hues all have different light values. Yellow happens to have the lightest value in the spectrum, in other words it is closest to white. Violet has the darkest value i.e it is furthest from white and closer to black. However, you can change the value of say violet by adding white thus creating lavender. Lavender has a light value which is opposite to it’s natural order so it is referred to as a “discord” colour.

I seemed to have digressed….back to UHU.

Pure yellow has been selected for the background (the lightest value hue), with the graphics in black (strong contrast to yellow). Research carried out by Walter Sargent and M.Luckiesch in the mid twentieth century discovered that the most legible combination of colours proved to be black graphics on a yellow background (black on white was only ranked fifth). So there we have it, a perfect colour combo for trusty old tube of UHU.

Colour expert Edith Anderson Feisner expands on this topic in her book, “Colour, in Art & Design” – a great read.

Big Yellow Taxi

Not a lot of colour out there today so I am testing out the psychological properties of yellow. Well known for its ability to make you feel happy, hopeful and optimistic, it’s also a colour with plenty of energy (advancing colour) and studies have shown it can improve communication and creativity levels when used in interiors.

This yellow paint blob certainly radiates optimism and would certainly perk up a dull room!

Slicing off the top of my warm soft boiled egg this morning and watching the yellow yolk spill out filled me with happiness!

Just to complete the experiment I am listening to Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell , brilliant, ready for the day now!

Yellow paint blob