Seven Coats of Paint Later…..

If you regularly read my blog, and thank you if you do, you will know that colour is of great interest to me. When you immerse yourself in a topic like colour, you can go quite far along many fascinating and often quite complex paths but something very simple occurred to me this week.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 1136

There are an endless number of books and magazine articles available instructing us  how to ‘be happy’ but this week I witnessed numerous people entering a room looking pretty serious, glum even, and emerging from the other side transformed into carefree smiling happy looking people.

This remarkable room they entered is in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art,  Edinburgh which currently has a Sol LeWitt installation, Wall Drawing 1136, painted directly onto the gallery walls. Wouldn’t it be great if the gallery filmed visitors as they entered the room and showed the footage as a separate installation? The transformations were really quite marked.

Wall Drawing 1136 contains the seven colours of the rainbow and it literally dances around the room. Sweeping through the bold vertical bands of colour is a wide, playful curve. Complementary colours red and green are the only two colours which are repeated in the curve boosting the energy levels of the curve even further. Interesting that such a colourful, dynamic, powerful and happy work should be designed by Sol LeWitt in 2004 when he was 76, which was close to the end of his life in 2007.

Considering part of my job is to specify paint, I was intrigued by the process of translating Sol LeWitt’s detailed instructions into the physical artwork that appears in the gallery. It took a team of eight one month to complete. The gallery walls were re- plastered, then washed with a fine adhesive paste making the walls smooth and hard. Eight coats of white paint were then applied before the process of masking (150 rolls of tape were used!) out the bands could take place. Each band of colour then had seven coats of paint applied! The process can be seen on the gallery’s flickr stream – looks like they had some fun too.

The  water based acrylic paint they have used is Lascaux, a Swiss paint company – the first European company to produce acrylic paint for artists. An interesting company who pride themselves in their water based production methods. All the water that leaves the factory is cleaned in their own purification plant.

But back to my initial point. Colour, especially the colours we associate with childhood (we all loved our packs of crayola‘s after all) can create intensely powerful emotions. Couple this with the imaginative and detailed instructions from Sol LeWitt which are then perfectly executed by a dedicated team of craftsmen  and you create a heady installation of pure joy.

Colour makes you smile.

London: a Riot of Colour

I have to admit to not quite knowing where to start with today’s post. I spent last week in London, a city that never fails to blow my mind, and last week was no exception. It was of course in the throws of London Fashion Week and the The Brit Awards which meant that the shop windows were groomed and styled to perfection.

Strong colour trends were clearly visible throughout London. Blocks of coral crashing into great chunks of Klein blue and 70’s purples anchored by spicy tans and cinnamon hues – tribal colours without the pattern, instead emerging in great blocky geometric shapes.

As if I needed any more colour stimulus, I made a trip to the David Hockney exhibition ‘A Bigger Picture’. Suddenly you find yourself looking at the English countryside though a new set of eyes. To say the exhibition is vibrant, energetic, zesty would somehow be an understatement. This huge exhibition positively bursts off the walls of the Royal Academy with a ramped up sense of optimism and freshness. I would strongly recommend you to watch Andrew Marr’s interview with David Hockney on last nights The Culture Show – so much can be learnt from the mind of this artistic genius. As Hockney says, ‘everything becomes interesting if you really look’, I couldn’t agree more.

looking at patterns and exaggerating colour in Fife

Space is something David Hockney often talks of, particularly where one thing stops and another thing starts. Where two colours meet is something I am intensely interested in as the energy created at the boundaries of adjoining colours is the perfect fusion of art and science. But infinite space is one of  Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s enduring obsessions.  Her show at Tate Modern is one of the most fascinating exhibitions I have ever seen.

It shows her work constantly changing over the decades which probably mirrors her life which includes living in rural Japan, New York, Tokyo and for the last thirty years living voluntarily in a  psychiatric institution where she has created work hoping to show the psychological trauma she so often feels and wants to escape from. Leaving the exhibition you must navigate through a darkened room covered in mirrors and tiny coloured lights which completely disorientate you and seem to stretch out to infinity. It really is something you should experience if you are in London.

Apologies for the lack of photographs on this post but I couldn’t take my camera into the exhibitions. I’ve also been very busy creating some new products – I’m still at the messy stage but I am really pleased with the pieces that I started in Iceland last month.  I hope to have images up soon!

Working the New Neon Micro Trend

There are many people in the design world who are steadfast against colour trends. I hear what they say and agree to an extent but there is no doubt that colour trends, especially micro, quick, fleeting trends can add a lot of fun and a great ‘edge’ to an interior. I am not suggesting you embark on an interior makeover every time a colour trend emerges, that would be ridiculous and very expensive, but interiors should inspire, excite and explore new techniques in order to keep them alive.

Perhaps I just have a low boredom threshold but can you imagine your favourite interior shop where and the products remain the same colour every time you visit? I really don’t think that would be much fun.

Enter ‘new neon’. We are talking,  ultra clean-cut, sharp, pulsating colours. Use it in really small areas and it can literally transform a space from dowdy to cool without much effort. The obvious way to do this is with small accessories like a vase or a cushion or even just a zip but I have been trying to source a neon paint to use over a few old randomly shaped glass bottles I was going to dump in recycling. I rather fancy a still life, Giorgio Morandi style but within the group of ever so chic well balanced neutrals slotting in an unhinged neon.

Glowtec UK  have a neon paint range which they claim can be used outdoors too. The trick with this micro trend is definitely less is more. The fashionistas are wearing it on nails, belts or satchels along with ultra femimine tailoring worn in baby soft neutrals tones. It’s the shock factor that this trend is trading on.

Pantone of course have a range of neons (801 to 807 being some of the punchiest) but they are designed for ink printing so most paint stores are unlikely to have the formulation to mix them as paint.

You may have spotted the image below in last weeks post – it was the neon window frame of this design store in Reykjavik that lured me into the workshop. A great example of really working this trend to full advantage.

The problem is, I have now created a dilemma for myself……. can I justify the addition of a neon edge to the profile of my  business card………

Short of Inspiration? Visit Reykjavik, That Will Fix You

Having spent the last few nights standing on a remote snow covered lava field in Pingvellir National Park Iceland, I had hoped to be posting magnificent images of the aurora borealis but I’m afraid the famous Northern Lights did not play ball despite the near perfect conditions.

There are however, enough colours in Reykjavik city centre to melt the head of any colour lover.

Coloured facades, Reykjavik.

Iceland is well known for it’s contrasts – fire and ice, dark winters light summers but I hadn’t expected to find so many contrasts in the world of design. I didn’t spot a single international chain shop or restaurant, instead I found row upon row of individual shops/work spaces with the makers living above or behind their showrooms. The designers are using a huge range of ancient craft techniques and creating cutting edge designs to satisfy the hunger of the design conscious locals but also to ship to the best galleries and design stores in New York. In short, very traditional techniques are being used to make ultra contemporary styles.

design spaces Reykjavik

The Icelandics don’t appear to be influenced by design trends abroad, they have their own unique and extremely strong sense of design and as a result are producing some of the most exciting pieces I have seen in years. One of the most impressive workshops I visited was one which was attached to restaurant Forrettabarinn. There, four designers make and display their furniture, jewellery and textiles. It felt a little like some of the venues at London Design Festival, a smaller version of Tent London perhaps but with designers I had never come across making very powerful pieces that I would loved to have taken home with me.

Another striking contrast were the deeply minimal, squeaky clean public buildings (lots of black concrete and stainless steel) which were peppered with tiny elements of highly decorative antiques especially crockery. Oddly enough this gave the sometimes fairly austere and rather serious spaces a fantastic sense of quirky humour.

Minimal working with decorative

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the ridiculously cool Kex Hostel in downtown Reykjavik. It’s housed in a converted biscuit factory and is stuffed full of twentieth century design classics. It has one of Reykjavik’s best bars where jazz bands play and many a celebration takes place. It summed up Reykjavik to me – work hard, play hard and always, always creative.

Kex Hostel

Colour Specification, a Female Occupation….. Really?

I’ve never been particularly interested in gender traits and try to avoid stereotyping but someone made a comment to me last week that inspired me to do a little research around colour and gender.

I’m not talking about which colours males or females prefer – there is plenty written about this already, I was intrigued to read that throughout history, scholars have claimed that females respond to and feel colour more than their male counterparts.

However, when reading a little deeper on the subject, this theory seems to have stemmed or perhaps been reinforced by nineteenth century French art critics such as Charles Blanc who valued drawing skills over colour and as far as I can interpret,  assumed males to be the dominant sex and so ‘delegated’ colour which was of secondary importance in his eyes, to the female sex. In his book Grammaire du Dessin he writes, ‘drawing is the masculine gender of Art, colour its feminine one’ and goes on to state, ‘painting courts its own destructions and will be corrupted by colour as humanity was corrupted by Eve’ . Wow, strong opinions there then but on a positive note just shows how far we have moved on with regard to equal rights.

There are countless other texts written in a similar vein so I think it may help explain the comment made to me last week which triggered this research.

I was waiting in my local paint shop while the technician mixed my NCS paint colours. The very helpful and friendly manager popped out to chat to me and asked about my latest project. I told him I was specifying colour for a new restaurant and he responded, ‘ah, girly stuff then’. I don’t think he meant to be rude, and I  wasn’t offended, I was just curious that he perceived this type of work to be ‘girly’. If in the twenty first century, colour consultancy is perceived as a female domain, (and this comes as a surprise to me) could it really have just stemmed from sexism in the art world where colour was viewed as secondary to form and therefore dished out to the ‘weaker’ sex?

John Gage in his book, Colour and Meaning  highlights the fact that even the leading mid twentieth century German colour theorist Rupprecht Matthai actively left all judgements of colour harmony to his wife, again reinforcing the notion that colour somehow belongs in the female world. However, Gage also queries whether views on colour and gender may also have a biological as well as cultural basis. He refers to the work of M.Sahlins, ‘Colour and Cultures’,  where it was found that colour defective vision is nearly one hundred times more common among white males than among white females.

I think wherever our views derive from about colour and gender, they all need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. I certainly know many expert males and females working in colour specification so once again, I think I will steer away from any form of stereotyping and assume that there are talented people from both genders working in the fascinating and powerful world of colour.

What Colour for a Salvaged Interior?

Today, I find myself completely immersed in NCS colours as I am at the final stages of colour selection for a restaurant opening later this year. Key to the project is salvaging the fascinating semi- industrial building which is full of beautiful hinges, old bricks, timbers and worn and faded graphics. To keep the spirit of the building intact, the furniture and lighting has been sourced from redundant premises and recycled, stamping a clear message of sustainability and authenticity.

It is therefore crucial not to overpower the project with paint that looks in anyway synthetic. It must be strong and edgy but in no way contrived. As the building is such a large shell which will shortly harbour and protect it’s diners, I decided to look at containers, both man made and in nature to give me a steer.

I will be reporting back on this project as it progresses but please read on for some very good news.

It appears that there are some very exciting developments in the world of vision. As I’ve written about before our ageing eyes changes the way we perceive colour. Building regulations Part M, dictates what colours can be specified for buildings for the elderly as it is assumed that the yellowing of our eye’s lens alters the way we see colour and our ability to differentiate colour contrasts weakens. Particular colour combinations must be specified for door frames and walls to increase the visibility of doorways for elderly residents.

However, I have just received an e mail from  Professor Stanton Newman,
Dean of School of Health Sciences, City University London forwarded by Colour Group GB announcing a lecture tomorrow in London by the distinguished Professor John S Werner from the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science at the University of California, Davis.

His lecture, “What the aging eye can teach us about how we see”, will explore the misconception that with ageing colour perception is altered due to filtering by the ageing lens.

Using the one of the most celebrated case studies, the cataract and
paintings of the French Impressionist Claude Monet, Professor Werner
will demonstrate how the visual system continuously renormalises
itself to maintain stabile perception throughout the life span.
Monet’s paintings alongside recent laboratory results (including
high-resolution retinal imaging with adaptive optics).

I very much hope this is the case as working in colour myself, the thought of changing colour perception with age really concerns me. So, possibly some very good news to come out of this lecture. For those living in London, the event is free and is open to the public, details are as follows:

Title: “What the aging eye can teach us about how we see”
Time and Date: 1:15 – 2:15pm, 10th January 2012
Location: Room AG07 College Building, St John Street

Lisbon’s Light and Colours

For anyone who is even vaguely interested in colour and light  you really must visit Lisbon.  The clarity of the light is close to perfect helped of course by the  Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River reflecting light back on to this elegant city.

Old crumbling surfaces steeped in history, parched in the sun and beaten by strong salty winds present the most magical array of colours.

 

 

But in the same city, visit the Expo site built in 1998 and you will see squeaky clean shiny surfaces covering imaginative office buildings and pavilions.

And if this is not enough and interiors are more your thing, you will not be disappointed by the imaginative and often cutting edge designs gracing the city’s food havens – more about that in my next post….

Finding Your Dominant Colour Personality

Scientists, philosophers and artists have been working on colour theories since the beginning of time but the Swiss artist Johannes Itten is the one I keep returning to.

Itten, one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus school of design, approached colour theory not in a purely scientific way like Sir Isaac Newton but from an angle that incorporated a human element. Of course he studied the physics of light waves and the chemistry of how to mix and produce colours but he also acknowledged that “the deepest and truest secrets of color effect are, I know, invisible even in the eye, and are beheld by the heart alone”.

Each quarter depicts a season

While teaching colour harmony to a class of students in 1928, Itten realised that what he found pleasing may not in fact be pleasing to his students. In fact some of them found his harmonies quite discordant. He realised that colours are subjective and individuals have their own personal harmonies.

Itten carried out an interesting experiment with his students. All the students had access to a large array of colours and he asked them to depict (in abstract form) the four seasons using whatever colours they wanted. To his astonishment all the students used completely different sets of colours from each other but everyone could easily depict which seasons their piers were expressing – I am sure you can figure out the seasons I am depicting above.

Following this revelation, he encouraged his students to paint using their own personal spectrum of colours from their four seasons and their paintings that followed were some of their most successful they had created.

Itten’s experiment is such a good example of why it is so important to work out which colours you alone are attracted to. A designer should not push their personal spectrum on to their clients because if the clients are not attracted to the colours they will never feel comfortable no matter how well the project is composed. A designer should encourage the client to find their own spectrum and from there help them to work with their colour palette. Or as Itten put it, “to help a student discover his subjective forms and colours is to help him discover himself”.

The Importance of Seasonal Colour

I rather liked this “test” Resene Paints have added to their site to help clients discover their colour personality (although I came out two seasonal….I always wanted a Winter and a Summer home……

Classic and Cool

The signal has been made. It’s official. It is blue and white season. It takes the place of vibrant spring greens and citrus yellows. It happens every year without fail and is actually the only truly timeless combination I can think of. It’s not a trend it’s a national treasure.

So versatile you will see it in classical interiors as well as ultra-hip hotels. It was popular in Britain as early as 1750 to decorate pottery. It’s fresh, it’s cool and it’s classic.

Shop windows are stuffed with blue and white combos – clothes and home wares, and not many of us can resist. Perhaps it allows us to shake off the last of that winter feeling or dream of summers on Greek islands or picket fences in Maine.

Whether you paint your floor boards white or spray some old wicker furniture blue, it’s a budget combo that won’t let you down whatever decade we are in.

Colour Perception and Ageing Eyes

Have you ever wondered if your perception of colour changes through your life span? Well the answer is yes it does.

Red is the first colour recognised by babies and toddlers are most attracted to both red and blue – important if you are designing products for the young.

But as we mature into old age our eye’s lens tends to “yellow” and our pupil size shrinks which results in colours looking dimmer and slightly brownish. Also, most of our lives we see colour before form but mature eyes begin to see form before colour (although creatives often continue to see colour first).

Colours with short wavelengths such as blue are particularly difficult for older people to discriminate. Designers therefore need to pay attention to tonal contrast rather than colour contrast when designing for the elderly. We know that opposite colours on the colour wheel (e.g red and green) have excellent colour contrast but they often don’t have much tonal contrast. The easiest way to see if something has good tonal contrast is to convert an image into black and white.

Look at the pheasant- the coloured image shows excellent colour contrast (complimentary, eye-popping colours of red and green) but convert it into black and white and you will see very little contrast at all. So if older eyes don’t pick up colour contrasts easily, it is important to create tonal contrasts and choose colours with high LRV (light reflectance value) levels to maximise the amount of light that enters the eye. The NCS colour system is able to give percise LRV readings for all their 1,950 standard colours – a necessity because as you can see it’s not as easy to check for tonal contrast as it is for colour contrast.