An awful lot of my photography over the last year or two has ended up being black and white. I never set out to do this – it just sort of happened, largely due to there not being much colour around a lot of the time. Vivid colour really used to be my thing, and I seem to have become a bit set in my ways with the black and white and find it quite difficult to produce colourful images these days – I’m so tuned into black and white tones that I’m not really seeing the colour any more. This is something I’m going to work on, and in the meantime I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking and reading about colour and its uses. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting stuff with you.
Even as a little girl, I understood that one person’s perception of a colour might not be another’s. There’s good reason why I ended up studying philosophy, and you could easily have spotted the nascent philosopher in me at a very young age, when I went around wondering if the red I saw was the same as the red someone else saw. This surely isn’t normal for an eight-year-old, and obviously I had no idea how to actually answer that question. Recently I came across this article on colour dictionaries. It doesn’t entirely solve this particular problem, because there’s still no way of knowing if the colour you see in the dictionary looks the same as the one I see, but it does provide a means for figuring out if the thing you saw was the same colour as the thing I saw (even if we saw the colour differently – I hope you’re following). For example, colour dictionaries were used for bird identification and even to catalogue things like chrysanthemums. The modern version of the colour dictionary is Pantone’s colour chart, which is used by graphic designers, the fashion industry, interior designers, and anyone who is anyone in the creative world. And if you’re interested, Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2017 is Greenery, a rather pleasant mid-green – according to Pantone it’s a ‘life-affirming shade……emblematic of the pursuit of personal passions and vitality’. Well, there you go.
I love to use a lot of colour in my home, and our walls are painted various shades of terracotta, aqua blue, coral, green (a bit brighter than the Pantone colour above) and scarlet. When we moved into this house, what is now our snug was painted a kind of dull mushroom brown. The room gets very little natural light due to an extension on the back of it and I found it really quite depressing to be in. I pondered over what to do with it – it was never going to be a light and bright room whatever colour it was painted, so I reckoned we should work with it and do what we could to make it feel warm and cosy. I’d seen a colour I loved but didn’t know where I could use it. It was a warm, deep coral and I had a little tester pot to hand. One day I couldn’t stand it any more and I whipped it out and painted the chimney breast. I loved it. In the end we decided to go all out and painted all four walls this colour. You can see the result below. Everyone says they really like it, although there’s always a second or two of shock when they walk in.
And if you think this is a bit tame and you’d prefer a tad more colour in a house, try this one. I think that’s more than I could live with myself, but I love its happy, cheerful spirit.
Adult colouring books are the thing at the moment, but the MapYourProgress site has a whole new take on them. They supply Creative Progress Maps – each black and white picture is made up of ‘swirls’ that represent steps towards your goal, and you colour in each swirl as you achieve that step. You might use them to record your progress in paying off a debt, losing weight, moving closer to an important date, or anything that’s measurable in small increments. This really appeals to the child in me, although most of the things I want to achieve don’t lend themselves to such uniform incremental steps, but I guess I could allow myself the pleasure of colouring in a few swirls every time I take a step forward.
The film director Derek Jarman once wrote a book called Chroma which is, as you might guess, about colour. It’s a strange book because it mostly consists of him free-associating around one colour at a time, with scraps of proverb, myth, legend, facts, and autobiography thrown in. I didn’t think I’d finish it, because there’s no real story, no plot, no feeling of getting anywhere, but it’s strangely compelling to read. It’s made all the more moving by the fact of Jarman’s growing blindness as he wrote it. Jarman is famous for his film Blue, which showed only a single shot of a vivid blue colour, accompanied by a soundtrack describing his life and vision. He was already partially blind when he made it.
Something I’d never thought about much is the role that colour plays in writing. It’s true that I’d always liked Tennyson because he uses colour so much and so well in his poetry – he paints a scene with so much sensual detail that you feel as if you’re there and can forgive him for his rather Victorian sentiment – but I hadn’t considered using colour in a more metaphorical way when it comes to writing. Then I came across this blog post from Cigdem Kobu where she interviews Monika Cleo Sakki, who has this to say:
‘Another way to “write with color,” is to be guided by the energy of a color. To embody it in the way you write, the style you go about it, and the atmosphere you create.
Let’s say you want to write with a fiery Red: Write fast. Seek action. Introduce a major event upfront. Use short sentences and to the point. Tempo. Momentum. State bold opinions. Strike taboo subjects and daring concepts. Include blood, speed, sweat, or tears.
And of course, color can be a source of inspiration. What stories come to your mind when you think of Blue? Or Brown? As themes?’
‘One of the most important things when it comes to design is to choose your palette. A limited palette, that is. Of course you can decide to go rainbowy and all, but then you dilute the power of each color, and the bounty of colors becomes your one color, one message, one mood.
So, when you start to write, ask yourself, “What is the leading color of this scene/feeling/memory and so on”? Your answer will intensify how you see scene/feeling/memory and how you make it come alive, even without using one word that describes a color… It’s like your secret weapon!’
And finally, I’ve got some photographers for you who really know how to rock it in terms of colour. The first is Floto+Warner, who produced their incredible Splash of Colour series. They froze the action of colourful paint as it was thrown/projected into the air, and refer to the results as ‘floating sculptural events’. Quite spectacular.
The second photographer is Ursula Abrecht, whose work I came across and immediately loved some time ago. Her images are highly abstract landscapes dissolving into soft swathes and swirls of gorgeous, luscious colour. Lately she’s applied the same techniques to shots of modern architecture, with interesting results, and some of her flower images are exquisite, but my real love is for her colourful landscapes. I hadn’t realised till I went and had another look at her site that you can buy prints of her images for very reasonable prices – eg, an A4 print for £11. All I have to do now is decide which one……….
‘Colour is joy.’ Ernst Haas