You only have to look on my bookshelf to see I have a fascination for colour.

Whilst I have found reading books on colour theory useful, it’s the least interesting aspect of colour to me. What fascinates me most is the social, cultural, commercial and political history of colour. That’s what I love to read about.

From the beginning man has been fascinated with colour, starting with the local naturally occurring mineral pigments used for cave and body painting. As man explored the world and developed trade routes, resources to create more colours were discovered and sort after as much as spices and gold.

Minerals, insects and plant material to make pigments and dyes were traded around the world. Colour became a commercial commodity, something to be traded just like gold and indeed in some cases worth just as much.

With developments in textile manufacturing the trading of resources to make fabric dyes became a very profitable business. Power and politics were never too far away.

While man managed to to scour the world for natural resources to make a good range of colours, some were more elusive than others. It was often difficult to achieve bright colours using natural dyes and many weren’t that colour-fast.

The first synthetic dye was discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin, quite by accident but it was the start of things to come. Previously colour had come from somewhere, a place, usually half way around the world. Not from a test-tube. It was usually time consuming and difficult to acquire and as such had a high value placed upon it.

Historically some colours have been associated with power, Emperors wore purple, Monarchy blue and Cardinals red. Many colours have become symbolic, we still associate meaning to certain colours. Red is for love, white is pure, green is envy, the list goes on. Colour allows us to express ourselves in everything we do. It effects our mood and reflects our personality.

Colour has played a huge role over the years and still does. Look at the weight the big companies put on their logo colours, trademarking them so that no one else can use them. Personally, I think it’s outrageous that a business can trademark a colour to stop anyone else using it. Colour belongs to everyone… apparently not in the corporate world. Just part of the rich ongoing history of colour I guess.

Here are a few books I have enjoyed on the subject… 

Colour… Travels through the paintbox by Victoria Finlay

Bright Earth… The invention of colour by Philip Ball

Colour… a journey by Victoria Alexander

Colours…what they mean and how to make them by Anne Varichon

Colour… Making and using dyes and pigments by Francois Delamare and Bernard Guineau

A fascination for colour



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