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kottke.org posts about color

The etymology of “orange”: which came first, the color or the fruit?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Orange Painting

The human eye can see millions of colors but it can take awhile for language to catch up. Take the color orange. Until the 16th century, there was no word for that color in English and even then, when writers referenced it, they said something like “that thing that is the color of an orange”.

Orange, however, seems to be the only basic color word for which no other word exists in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit. Tangerine doesn’t really count. Its name also comes from a fruit, a variety of the orange, but it wasn’t until 1899 that “tangerine” appears in print as the name of a color-and it isn’t clear why we require a new word for it. This seems no less true for persimmon and for pumpkin. There is just orange. But there was no orange, at least before oranges came to Europe.

This is not to say that no one recognized the color, only that there was no specific name for it. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster Chaunticleer dreams of a threatening fox invading the barnyard, whose “color was betwixe yelow and reed.” The fox was orange, but in the 1390s Chaucer didn’t have a word for it. He had to mix it verbally. He wasn’t the first to do so. In Old English, the form of the language spoken between the 5th and 12th centuries, well before Chaucer’s Middle English, there was a word geoluhread (yellow-red). Orange could be seen, but the compound was the only word there was for it in English for almost 1,000 years.

Also, it has never occurred to me before reading this that “chromatically brown is a low-intensity orange”. !!! Anyway, this piece is an excerpt from the book On Color.

See also literature’s slow invention of the color blue. Orange painting by James Shull (via jodi)

In Search of Forgotten Colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

The Victoria and Albert Museum filmed this short four-part documentary about the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop near Kyoto, Japan. They make dyes using only natural materials, producing vibrant colors using little-used and often long-forgotten techniques.

Sachio Yoshioka is the fifth-generation head of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. When he succeeded to the family business in 1988, he abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of dyeing solely with plants and other natural materials. 30 years on, the workshop produces an extensive range of extremely beautiful colours.

Another great find from internet gem The Kid Should See This.

The most divisive work in all of modern art: all-white paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

Modern art museum patrons are often confounded by all-white paintings like those of Robert Ryman. Like, what the hell? It’s just a white painting? “I could do that.” In this video, Vox’s Dean Peterson talks with The Whitney’s assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman about how you might approach thinking about minimalist art.

The art critic Peter Schjeldahl, writing about a retrospective of Ryman’s work for the New Yorker, gets at what the artist is attempting to communicate with his work:

Always, Ryman invites contemplation of the light that falls on his paintings (which when I saw them, on a recent cloudy day, was glumly tender as it filtered through the Dia skylights) and of their formal relation to the rooms that contain them. There’s no savoring of style, just stark presentation. His work’s economy and quietness may be pleasing, but its chief attraction is philosophical. What is a painting? Are there values inherent in the medium’s fundamental givens — paint skin, support surface, wall — when they are denied traditional decorative and illustrative functions? Such questions absorb Ryman. Do they excite you? Your answer might betray how old you are.

And Ryman himself talked about why he uses white in an interview with Art21:

White has a tendency to make things visible. With white, you can see more of a nuance; you can see more. I’ve said before that, if you spill coffee on a white shirt, you can see the coffee very clearly. If you spill it on a dark shirt, you don’t see it as well. So, it wasn’t a matter of white, the color. I was not really interested in that. I started to cover up colors with white in the 1950s. It has only been recently, in 2004, that I did a series of white paintings in which I was actually painting the color white. Before that, I’d never really thought of white as being a color, in that sense.

On the psychology (and business) of color

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute’s executive director, teaches an annual class on trend forecasting and the psychology of color. She joined Pantone after publishing her 1983 book “Alive With Color,” and she created the color clock concept.

Eiseman believes that our reaction to colors “goes beyond the psychological into the physiological” and that colors carry inherent messages that all humans innately understand — the whispers of that “ancient wisdom.” She doesn’t deny the important influence of memory and social factors on color perception, but often, she says, “our response is involuntary, and we simply have no control over it.” 

Last October, Eiseman published her 10th book, “The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition,” her boldest statement yet on the psychology of color — and one that might rightly be displayed in the self-help section. Consider a chapter titled, “Personal Colors: What Do They Say About You?” which offers a kind of chromatic horoscope that locates truths not in the cosmos but in the spectrum of visible light.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Pantone Color of The Year comes to be, Bruce Falconer’s exploration of the business of color is the place to start.

N.B. I’m pretty sure lilac will be the next millennial pink, but I’m no expert.

How Technicolor changed movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands after being brought to Oz by a tornado, she opens the door and, bang!, Technicolor. It’s a surprising transition, one of the most effective in film history. But it wouldn’t have been a complete shock for audiences in 1939 because Oz was not the first film to feature the color technology. In this video, Phil Edwards details the history of Technicolor, how it works, and how it changed movie making.

Many people recognize Technicolor from The Wizard of Oz, but the technology existed long before then. Two strip Technicolor and three strip Technicolor both revolutionized the film industry and shaped the look of 20th century film.

But Technicolor also influenced movies through its corporate control of the technology. People like Natalie Kalmus shaped the aesthetic of color films, and directors redesigned their sets and films based on the Technicolor look that the company — and viewers — demanded.

Edwards also did a “director’s cut” video with further information that wasn’t in the first video.

Pure joy: a colorblind man sees color for the first time

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

66-year-old William Reed was born colorblind. For his birthday, his family bought him a pair of Enchroma sunglasses, which allows wearers with red-green colorblindness to see colors. His reaction when he puts the glasses on for the first time is something else, especially when you consider how grumpy and curmudgeonly he starts out. I lost it when he started rubbing and clapping his hands together and waving his arms…he is feeling all of the feels right there.

Update: Here’s a nice video explanation of colorblindness and how those glasses work for some people.

(thx, david)

The pattern for color names from around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

If you look at the basic colors from a variety of cultures & languages from around the world, there are differences in the number of colors represented in each language. Some languages only have words for black, white, and red while others have words for more than 10 basic colors. Surprisingly, there’s a pattern behind the development of these color words across many of these languages: the words for colors were often invented in the same order.

See also one of my favorite segments of Radiolab on the color blue.

Prince gets his own Pantone color

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2017

Pantone Prince

It’s official: Prince and purple are together forever. The Pantone Color Institute has created “a standardized custom color” to honor Prince.

The (naturally) purple hue, represented by his “Love Symbol #2” was inspired by his custom-made Yamaha purple piano, which was originally scheduled to go on tour with the performer before his untimely passing at the age of 57. The color pays tribute to Prince’s indelible mark on music, art, fashion and culture.

Prince’s association with the color purple was galvanized in 1984 with the release of the film Purple Rain, along with its Academy Award-winning soundtrack featuring the eponymous song. While the spectrum of the color purple will still be used in respect to the “Purple One,” Love Symbol #2, will be the official color across the brand he left behind.

“The color purple was synonymous with who Prince was and will always be. This is an incredible way for his legacy to live on forever,” said Troy Carter, Entertainment Advisor to Prince’s Estate.

Not that many other people have their own custom Pantone color. In early 2016, The NY Post reported that Jay-Z and realty company CEO Sherry Chris had signature Pantone colors, a blue and pink respectively. (via @anildash)

The colors of Mister Rogers’ cardigan sweaters, 1979-2001

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Mr Rogers Sweater Colors

Using data from The Neighborhood Archive, Owen Phillips charted the color of every sweater Mister Rogers wore on his PBS television program from 1979 to 2001.

Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991.

Some things about the sweaters and Mister Rogers:

- His mother knit the sweaters. Sorry, MISTER ROGERS’ MOTHER KNIT HIS CARDIGAN SWEATERS! I have not heard a more perfect detail about anything recently. He talks about his mom and the sweaters in this video — “I guess that’s the best thing about things. They remind you of people.”

- As you can see from the visualization above, Mister Rogers’ sweaters got darker as the show progressed. I will not speculate about what that might have meant.

- The Mister Rogers Marathon on Twitch is still going.

- But if you miss the marathon, there are plenty of episodes available on Amazon Prime.

The colors of friendship

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2016

When Ashley was a kid, she was legally blind. Her friends and family described colors to her in a wonderful way.

Yellow. I didn’t touch anything for this, they just told me that whenever you laugh so hard you can’t stop, that that happiness is what yellow looks like.

Green. I held soft leaves and wet grass. They told me green felt like life. To this day it is still very much my favorite color.

I love this list. (thx, nicholas)

A color palette of human skin tones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2016

Angelica Dass

Angélica Dass’ Humanæ project matches photos of volunteer participants with the Pantone colors of their skin tones.

Update: Turns out this really cool blog you guys should be reading covered this project almost 4 years ago. (thx, @djacobs)

The color thesaurus

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2016

Color Thesaurus

Color Thesaurus

Designer and author Ingrid Sundberg collects the names of colors and has compiled them into a color thesaurus.

Kubrick in Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

A video exploring Stanley Kubrick’s use of color in his films. See also Kubrick’s use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)

The varying wavelengths of colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2015

Rain Bros

Rain-Bros by Daniel Savage is a fun visualization of the different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, from the loping walk of red to blue’s energetic bounce.

Colorblind man sees colors for the first time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2015

…and he FREAKS OUT. I can’t tell if he’s laughing or crying or both. His reaction when he goes outside and sees green grass for the first time: “it’s so pretty!”

The glasses he wears to adjust his color vision are made by EnChroma.

Wes Anderson color palettes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2015

Color palettes derived from Wes Anderson movies.

Wes Anderson Palettes

Wes Anderson Palettes

Blue color without blue color

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2014

There’s no blue pigment present in the wings of the morpho butterfly. So where does that shimmering brilliant blue color come from? It’s an instance of structural color, where the physical structure of the surface scatters or refracts only certain wavelengths of light…in this case, blue.

Eye color is another example of structural color in action. Eyes contain brown pigments but not blue. Blue, green, and hazel eyes are caused by Rayleigh scattering, the same phenomenon responsible for blue skies and red sunsets. Blue eyes and blue skies arise from the same optical process…that’s almost poetic. (thx, jared)

ROYGBIV is arbitrary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2014

In a short video from The Atlantic, science writer Philip Ball explains why Isaac Newton picked ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) for the colors of the spectrum and not 3 or 6 or even 16 other possible colors.

Newton was the first to demonstrate through his famous prism experiments that color is intrinsic to light. As part of those experiments, he also divvied up the spectrum in his own idiosyncratic way, giving us ROYGBIV. Why indigo? Why violet? We don’t really know why Newton decided there were two distinct types of purple, but we do know he thought there should be seven fundamental colors.

Ball is the author of Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, which looks pretty interesting. His mention in the video of the changing perception of color throughout history reminds me of my favorite segment of Radiolab, which covers that very topic.

Traffic organized by color

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2013

Artist Cy Kuckenbaker digitally reorganized the traffic in this video by color.

(via http://stellar.io/interesting)

All the colors, once each

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2013

In the parlance of NYC graffiti enthusiasts, going “all city” means getting your stuff known all over the five boroughs. Now a group of designers are challenging each other to go “all RGB”, to make images that contain all of the 16.7 million colors that make up the RGB spectrum once each. This entry is amazing because it still looks like an actual photograph when you zoom out (many others do not):

All RGB

You can find many more entries on allRGB.com or make your own using this code on GitHub. (via digg)

Why isn’t the sky blue?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2012

This segment of the most recent episode of Radiolab about color is super interesting. It seems that people haven’t always seen colors in the same way we do today.

What is the color of honey, and “faces pale with fear”? If you’re Homer—one of the most influential poets in human history—that color is green. And the sea is “wine-dark,” just like oxen…though sheep are violet. Which all sounds…well, really off. Producer Tim Howard introduces us to linguist Guy Deutscher, and the story of William Gladstone (a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s, and a huge Homer-ophile). Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.

It’s worth listening to the whole thing…the bit at the end with the linguist’s daughter and the color of the sky is especially cool.

Pantone colors of human flesh

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2012

Artist Angelica Dass pairs photographs of people with the Pantone colors of their skin colors.

Humanae

More of the project can be found on her Tumblr. (via designboom)

How colors get their names

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jul 04, 2012

On this day full of red, white, and blue in the US, it’s interesting to note that, in a large number of languages, when colors start getting their own words, red is usually the first color defined after black and white (or light and dark), and that blue and green are often not defined individually, at least at first. Those facts and more in this super long/interesting article about color and language and how colors got their names and and and…just read it already. Here’s part 2.

The figure above is really telling a story. What it says is this. If a language has just two color terms, they will be a light and a dark shade - blacks and whites. Add a third color, and it’s going to be red. Add another, and it will be either green or yellow - you need five colors to have both. And when you get to six colors, the green splits into two, and you now have a blue. What we’re seeing here is a deeply trodden road that most languages seem to follow, towards greater visual discernment (92 of their 98 languages seemed to follow this basic route).

Also note the Wikipedia entry for “distinguishing blue from green in language.” (via The Millions)

Olafur Eliasson’s rainbow panorama

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2011

Olafur Eliasson’s latest project is now on display at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark…it’s a circular viewing platform with rainbow-hued glass.

Olafur Eliasson Rainbow

Crayon colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2011

This Wikipedia page has HTML hex codes for all of the 133 standard Crayola crayon colors, including Silver, Blue Green, Melon, Wild Strawberry, and Forest Green.

iPhone app corrects for color blindness

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2010

Dan Kaminsky’s iPhone/Android app corrects for color blindness (in anomalous trichromats anyway)…just point your phone at what you want to see in color and make a few adjustments.

The vast majority of color blind people are in fact what are known as anomalous trichromats. They still have three photoreceptors, but the ‘green’ receptor is shifted a bit towards red. The effect is subtle: Certain reds might look like they were green, and certain greens might look like they were red.

Thus the question: Was it possible to convert all reds to a one true red, and all greens to a one true green?

The answer: Yes, given an appropriate colorspace.

Andy Baio, who is colorblind, says emphatically: “it works”. (thx, derek)

Painted Greek statues

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2010

I remember reading that Greek and Roman statues were originally painted, but I didn’t know that through the use of modern scientific equipment, we actually know how they looked.

Colorful Greek Statues

(via @brainpicker)

Flickr seasons

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2010

This visualization represents a year in color (summer is at the top, winter at the bottom).

Flickr seasons

The images were taken of the Boston Common, courtesy of Flickr.

Coloring without the lines

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 26, 2009

Brooke Inman’s Everything Color Circle is mesmerizing. As somebody with limited organizational skills, I find it mind-boggling that she was able to put this together. And to think that it could be destroyed in a nanosecond if a sugar-addled kindergartner armed with construction paper wandered into the room. (via design milk)

Cory Arcangel, Adult Contemporary

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2008

Cory Arcangel has a new show opening tonight at Team Gallery in Soho called Adult Contemporary. I got a peek at it last night and my favorite piece is called Photoshop CS: 110 by 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1098 x=1749.9, mouse up y=0 4160 x=0. It’s easy enough to whip up your own by following those instructions in Photoshop but the print itself is gorgeous. When you get up close to it, there is no discernible gradation between the colors and, because it’s so uniform and smooth and glossy and big, you lose your sense of depth perception and you don’t really know how close you are to it. I almost fell over looking at it because I was so disoriented.