21st March 2013 is International Colour Day!

Did you know it is International Colour Day this Thursday 21st March?

Logo designed by Hosanna Yau

Logo designed by Hosanna Yau

President of the Association International de la Coleur (AIC), Berit Bergström explains very well in this extract why we should celebrate this day.

An international colour day has been considered as appropriate since colour is, thanks to sight, one of the most influential phenomena in people’s lives and also one of the channels that most greatly contributes to the perception of reality. All around the world memorable colour activities are developed during the same day.
The proposal to establish this international colour day is spread throughout our international network and has been supported by its members. AIC is today represented by 38 different nations and I hope that you all will start your preparations for celebrating March 21st 2013!
The adoption of an international day of colour and light was proposed in 2008 by Maria Joao Durao, the Portuguese Association. Light and colour are inseparable. Colour is always connected with light, without light no colour therefore an international colour day will also celebrate the light.
Few things affect us as much as colour. It plays a vital part in our surroundings, whether at work, in public spaces or in our homes. Colour and light seem to interest everybody and are such a common component of our existence that we don’t give it a thought, in spite of all vision. All surfaces are coloured.  Colour has an outstanding role in our society and tells us much about different cultures as a crucial aspect in defining our identity.
WHY MARCH 21ST?
March 21st, every year the “equinox” – aequus (equal) and nox (night).
Around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long, symbolically relating to the complementary nature of light and darkness, light and shadow expressed in all human cultures.
Many different colour activities can be arranged worldwide in such a day. Here are some of the activities and events that could be unfolded on the International Colour Day:
•       Arts exhibitions, architectural projects, design, decoration, fashion….
•       Meetings, debates, scientific events…..
•       Workshops on the use of colour and light for both adults and children.
•       Contests on colour and light design.
•       Decide your identity colour, and wear it and use it during this day!
•       Start discussions…..
 
I realise it will be difficult to think more than usual about colour on Thursday because I   analyse colour and colour combinations all the time, every single day. I find it impossible to go anywhere without giving the colours around me a lot of thought. It’s a habit that can on occasion be quite tiring because I find it almost impossible to stop analysing and have a clear or empty head. I was attempting to explain this to a friend last week to find out if she did this too. I have come to the conclusion that we all look for different things despite looking at exactly the same view. I tend to immediately get rid of the detail and pull the view into simplistic flat blocks of colour. I didn’t think it was an odd habit until I started talking about it! I expect some people will be more interested in intricate details and be inspired by ornamentation or light and shadow. I think perhaps it is because I get confused when I am surrounded by too much detail and I therefore automatically start simplifying my surroundings.
How do you look at things?
I have tried to demonstrate in the photos below what I tend to do, let me know if you do this too!
Primary blocks
Teal, white grey
Red, white and blue
pink roses, deep door
On  Colour Day this year, I have decided to do a quick tally on what colour interior magazines are using on their front cover titles – should be a fun task and interesting to see what they think we are currently responding too.
How will you celebrate it?
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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

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.

Smelling Colours

There is nothing more energising that a sudden, clean cut change of season – as we have today. Summer gone, in comes Autumn and with it a real sea change in colours. Even the air smells different – earthy, smoky, mossy and woody.

So today I am testing a theory. I’ve sliced some heady seasonal fruit and vegetables, all of which display highly saturated colours. I am asking a sample of friends to smell the veg blind folded and then choose an NCS colour from my colour index fan which best represents the smell they have just been exposed to. I am pretty certain they will choose fairly saturated colours and probably pick a great Autumnal palette, but we shall see (results in next post).

Below are the fruit and vegetables in the experiment. I’ve chosen to photoshop the images purely because it simplifies the colours in each photograph.

Fig

Turmeric root

Artichoke

Pomegranate

Selection in experiment

If you are interested in other ways to describe scent, you may enjoy yesterdays Culture Cafe programme on BBC Radio Scotland where two poets were asked to write a poem inspired by smells they were exposed to by Erika Duffy, Scent Technician at Lush.

Meanwhile, I am going to take some of these raw juicy colours and start designing my next range of textiles – first collection currently being screen printed and should be ready early November…..more on that 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.

Colour Notation: the Key to Describing Colour

Considering we can see approximately 10 million colours but only have eleven non- ambiguous names for them – white, black, grey, yellow, red, blue, green, brown, pink, orange and purple, it’s obvious we need a system to accurately describe what we see. Systems such as the German Ral, American Pantone and British Standard (BS) are all widely used to specify colour but the Scandinavian system NCS (Natural Colour System) I find the most logical  by far. When looking at an NCS notation, you can actually visualise the colour (without a key or fan), a very useful trick which I have not come across in any other system.

I’m looking for a blue that reminds me of this magnificent blue sky – a colour I found quickly in the NCS fan because I knew it was a blue with a touch of red (ie purplish blue) rather than a blue heading towards green.

S2060-R80B fits the bill perfectly. I shall briefly explain this notation to you.  “2060” refers to the nuance. The “20” tells me there is 20% blackness (perceived amount of blackness relative to pure black), the “60” tells me there is 60% chromaticness (saturation of hue). R80B tells me the degree of resemblance between red (R) and blue (B) in my colour. I can see that it’s red with 80% blueness and 20% redness.

NCS also have a fantastic colour picking tool which is free to download – one word of warning though – as it includes an excellent space to create palettes you may find that’s your day gone….