Dynamics of Metal Surfaces

Although it’s normally colour I look at, today I am taking a look at metals and their various properties.

I am currently working on a large semi derelict building which reeks of character and punches it’s industrial past at you straight between the eyes. The space will become an edgy new restaurant, its colour palette nodding to its industrial past (the decayed properties of the space make it very alluring ), but should also transport visitors to a new set of urban aesthetics. The building has attitude and the colours and surfaces must acknowledge this.

Our chosen colour palette may require some metallic “lift” so I need to consider various properties that metals can display. Polished metal  has a high light reflective value (LRV) an effect which is magnified when placed next to a dark colour. If for example a gold panel is hung on a black wall, the gold will appear particularly bright. The black wall will absorb light and the gold panel will reflect light so the gold’s will appear luminous in contrast to the black which is absorbing the light.

Placing a reflective metal on a dark background will  make the edges of the metal more defined and the metal will appear “contained”, smaller but very bright. If you place the gold panel on a white background however, the gold panel will appear larger because the gold will “spill” or “grow” onto the surrounding lighter surface.

I also need to consider the “temperature” of metals. Silver is “cooler” than gold although it can be “warmed up” if used next to black. However, place silver against white and its “temperature” drops like a stone.

Silver is also highly influenced by surrounding colours and will actively seek out and reflect other colours in the room – much more so than gold. The Tony Cragg sculpture below is reflecting an adjacent yellow sculpture – also a Tony Cragg piece – presumably the curator has positioned the sculptures carefully in order to create another interactive dimension to the art work.

So now I have considered some of the dynamic properties of metal, I can’t wait to mix them into the equation and use them to breath another dimension into the project – a project I hope to post more on in the coming weeks.

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.

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.