Smelling Colours – Results

If you read my last post, you will know I carried out an experiment where I asked a group of friends to smell some seasonal fruit and vegetables (blind folded) and then choose a colour (blind fold removed) from my NCS fan that best described what they could smell.

The results are interesting but not what I was expecting. I expected to see an array of Autumnal colours or at least colours that matched the highly chromatic skins of the fruit or vegetables.

Above are three representative samples from the experiment. At first glance I thought the experiment showed none other than a random set of colours which would not be totally surprising as smells are closely linked to emotions and are therefore bound to transport each person to their own unique place.  However, I found an interesting pattern did actually emerge.

The first sample smell was sliced raw artichoke.  The majority of colours chosen were “clean” colours as opposed to “muddied”. Colour psychologists like to group sets of colours and I favour Angela Wright‘s  seasonal groupings. In this test the results all fall very neatly into a “Spring” palette.

Sample two, a sliced lime,  was less successful because all my participants recognised the citrus smell and chose lemony-limey colours accordingly.


Sample three, a sliced pomegranate, resulted in several participants choosing a deep earthy brown. Interestingly, it was pomegranate seeds that Hades used to trick Persephone into eating while prisoner in the Underworld. Food and drink of course were forbidden in the Underworld so by eating the seeds, Persephone was condemned to spend six months every year back down in the Underworld. Perhaps this Greek myth is trapped somewhere in our psyche and makes us associate the smell with the deep brown of the Underworld…..

Sample four was a piece of sliced turmeric root. I found these results the most surprising of all. As turmeric is such a strong orange colour I expected warm colours to be chosen. Although all the participants chose different colours (and bear in mind they had the full 1,950 NCS colours to choose from), they all choose a “cool” colour and most of them chose some form of blue.

Sample five was a sliced fig. Again, all the participants chose different colours but all the colours chosen were “warm” colours. It might be that the participants recognised the smell and associated eating fresh figs during warm summer holidays but nobody confessed to knowing what they were smelling.

What I can conclude is that we do appear to associate smells with certain colour groups even when we don’t know what it is were are smelling. However, my experiment was not particularly scientific as my sample was small and all my participants were local. In a larger group from different geographical areas, the results may change considerably.

The main thing is that it’s been fun, surprising  and I’ve even gathered up some great new colour palettes some of which may well be the starting point for my next range of textiles. Result.

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……

Requiring the Nothingness of White

Having spent the summer pouring over my Pantone  Plus Series fan deck, I have reached a point of complete colour saturation. I feel totally unable to work with colour today which is deeply frustrating as I have some important colour work to finalise. However, it’s not an unusual situation for people working with colour and thankfully there are two routes to “recovery”.

Often a walk amongst green foliage can rebalance ones ability to look at colour with “fresh” eyes and is a technique I often use. Today though, I can’t even take green so I have opted for my second route to recovery – strip everything back to black and white.

Although black is fully saturated i.e it absorbs the whole spectrum and bounces nothing back, it forbids any of its captured colours to dominate. White on the other hand absorbs nothing and is therefore the cleanest and most pure backdrop on which to start. This tells us that black  has a very low  reflective”value” and white a high light reflective value (LRV) allowing high visual contrast when looking at black and white together.

High visual contrast allows the shape or form of the image to be more dominant and that is exactly what I am looking for in order to make good colour choices.

So I am stripping off colour and slowly adding it back in, a process that is making me fine tune every element in a measured and considered way. A spontaneous process no it’s not, but this is just the fine tuning at the end of a long process and it’s definitely working.

One word of warning though, you cant just convert a coloured image into black and white and gain a high visual contrast. If the original image is say, red and green, even though they are “contrasting” colours, convert it to black and white you will discover red and green have a similar LRV and therefore will give you very little contrast indeed – more about this in my previous  post.

So befuddled with colour don’t panic, enjoy the nothingness of white with the contrast of black and you will find yourself back on the colour trail shortly.

Your Personal Paint Palette from a Photo

It’s the fun part of decorating that many people find rather mind boggling – choosing a paint colour. If you regularly read my blog, you will know it’s a subject I frequently write about but today, I have found another way to kick start the inspiration required when selecting colours. Of course there are many things to take into account when choosing colours which I have discussed in detail previously but if it’s a starting point you are looking for, why not try this.

People tend to be naturally attracted to “colour groups”. The groups may be seasonal colours ( see previous post Finding your Dominant Colour Personality), or environments such as woodland, beaches or urban colours. However, why not flick through your photo collection and find an image with appealing colours. It may be tricky picking out individual hues so why not pixelate your image and discover a palette looking right back at you?

I very definitely fall into the “beach” category so this photo of a Isle of Syke beach throws back a palette which is ideal for me.

As nature is an expert in combining colours, you may find this wild flower meadow a good starting point.

Looking for some natural grays? What about this group of Parisian pigeons

Or your favourite piece of contemporary art?

You may find a palette in a surprising place. This serene palette is a photo of graffiti I saw in New York City.

As you can see there are infinite possibilities so have some fun with your own photo album. Why not have your pixelated image enlarged and printed onto a canvas, a unique artwork for your room – the colours will be perfect!

Flash, Aquaman and Batman, We Love Your Colours

If you are looking for a source of inspiration for decorating your kids bedroom, the United States Postal Service may not be the most obvious choice.

However, in 2006, they issued a set of postage stamps commemorating DC Comics super heroes. Paul Levitz President of DC Comics points out that the 1940’s comic book heroes were our personal friends. It was an era when “their battles were our battles. When their victories made us cheer and their defeats made us sad. When their values helped strengthen our own understanding of right and wrong”

The illustrators chose a highly saturated palette, often primaries, and certainly as bold as the characters themselves. However, be careful not to use too much of a good thing – just frame up some pages from a comic book to hang on the wall or paint some storage units using several of the colours or introduce some large cushions (the trick here is to let the colours “dance” off each other so incorporate at least five but in fairly small quantities). It’s certainly a palette to remember and one ready for battles to commence……

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.

The Best Tool in Design: Colour

If a designer told you they had a tool which could shrink, expand, adjust temperature, change your mood, create energy, reflect seasons, continents and cultures in your home without making any structural changes you may think they were mad. But they do have that tool. It is colour. It is such a powerful tool that even the smallest amount can create an impressive statement.

The other advantage (for me anyway who prefers simplicity over decoration) is that used in conjunction with beautiful natural materials and crafted in a time honoured fashion, simple colour placement can be all an item ever asks for. It’s akin to cooking with the best, local ingredients. There is little point in embellishing  a medallion of venison, when all is required is some seasoning and a hot pan. This is the philosophy I am using for my textile range. Quality local materials coupled with interactive colour – simple but fulfilling.

Bamboozled by Optical Mixing

Have you ever chosen a key colour for your interior by selecting it from your curtain or upholstery fabric but been disappointed with the colour match when you saw it in situ? If so, you may have been tricked by optical mixing.

The colour you chose may well be an exact match to the one in the fabric but our eyes tend to blend colours which sit next to each other.  Georges Seurat the post impressionist painter used this effect to his advantage in order to blend colours, a technique called pointillism.

Analogous colours (colours next to each other on the colour wheel) are particularly prone to this effect, whereas complimentary colours (opposites on the colour wheel) don’t blend but strengthen each other making them appear to vibrate.

So, rather than pick a colour at close range from a swatch on a mood board, remember to stand back and choose a colour that matches the perceived or blended colour.

analogous pattern, colours blend

complimentary pattern, colours strengthen

Looking at Net Packaging

I’m not sure why but lately I’ve become really fascinated with the simple net packaging around fruit and vegetables. At first I was attracted to the choice of colour the suppliers choose for the nets but then I became really interested in the three dimensional shapes of the discarded packaging. It may be due to the fact that I’ve lived with a Harry Bertoia chair for a long time. I never tire of my Diamond Chair as it supplies a never ending display of interesting shadows and shapes.

Here are some of the nets I’ve enjoyed looking at.

Creative Coffee

When I met a friend for coffee the other day, instead of the usual chat, he pulled out a note pad followed by a cylindrical 1980’s Pepsi vinyl pencil case from his rucksack and said “draw something”. Being put on the spot like this can curtail my creative juices somewhat but my fears evaporated as soon as I unzipped the pencil case revealing at least twenty Copic marker pens.

The rounded square profile pens with a fine and wide felt nib labeled with exciting names like “lightning yellow” and “stratospheric blue” I felt like a greedy toddler who wanted to snatch the best toys…. for keeps!

Nostalgia for long lazy days drawing as a young teenager or pure excitement from the array of magical colours displayed in front of me I am not sure but I did visit my local art & graphics store on the way home that day…. only to discover they are quite difficult to get hold of probably fueling my desire even further!

So what’s your favourite colour in the Copic range?