The narrative in colour

Galina Arbeli, a good friend who was over from Israel to speak at a conference, has planted a seed in my mind.  We had spent a brilliant day tramping around London Craft Week and found ourselves at L Cornelissen & Son, colourmen to the artistic great and good, watching a demonstration on colour charts.  What we thought was going to be a talk about the colour spectrum was in fact a talk about a series of charts that demonstrate the actual colour a product produces.  There are three types of chart that L Cornelissen & Son’s make, explained Cathy and Nicholas, a rather marvellous and unlikely double act: they make them because no one else does, or if manufacturers do make them, they often make them badly and lastly to compare a similar product across a range of manufacturers.

This seems a rather straight forward proposition – the creation of charts that ensure that the very specific blue pencil you bought last year is the same as the one you bought this year and that it is exactly the right shade of blue that you require for the particular job in hand.

What this means is that rather than choose a blue pencil because it is the only blue in the pack, you, instead, make a very conscious decision about what blue is the right blue.  What are you trying to say with blue? How is that very specific blue going to help whatever it is that you are doing?  Is that blue truly representing the same blue in reality or the feeling that your work is invoking.  Is blue even the right colour.  Maybe a shade of green or purple is better?

You see, as Galina pointed out, by separating out each individual colour – the pure pigment of colour – available to an artist, you are giving that colour a narrative.  At it’s very basic level, colour can infer peace, joy, anger – a whole palette of emotions.  When doing design workshops with primary schools,  this is what we cover before exploring how we can use colour as part of an interior design so the pupils are making more of an informed choice rather than deferring to pink for girls and blue for boys.  However, perhaps we need to take this a step further as colour is so much more than guttural emotions.  Each specific pencil in the pot (read any medium in any storage container) has a whole back story waiting to be discovered which in turn adds whole new layers of narrative to the work.  For example are you choosing that shade of blue because it’s the colour of a misty morning in Venice?  Because it’s the colour of your favourite scarf? Because it’s the colour of your lover’s eyes?

Likewise the use of that shade of blue works in the opposite.  The viewer, seeing that piece of work on the wall in a gallery buys it for her husband because it reminds her of his eyes – a decision that is clearly nothing to do with the reason why the artist chose that blue in the first place, thereby adding a further layer to the colour’s narrative.

The lesson?  Do not be lazy with colour.