My favorite books about colour…

Here is a list of my favorites. I’ve given them a number C (for colour) 1 / 2 / 3 etc so that if I quote them somewhere else in the blog, I don’t need to retype the whole reference… I hate typing (haha for a former secretary, graphic designer and now blogger). Please remember that I only choose to talk about books that have the angle I’m interested in here (ie not books about colour theory or colour mixing for example, but books about how men made/make colours and have devised ever more sophisticated ways to use them, spread them, preserve them…)

This page is from a anonymous Indian Sha-lagra-ma manuscript. These are devotional stones representing certain aspects of nature and can influence your life through their colours. Yellow brings you wealth, reddish brown power, bright red illness, black fame, dark blue strength and growth, white freedom, orange red is a bad sign for the newly wed woman, blue brings wealth.

C1 Ball, P. (2001) Bright Earth: Art and the invention of Color. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

This one is truly my favorite. Perhaps because it was not written by someone from the art world (this man comes from the world of chemistry) and because it actually includes art -the end result- into its more theoretical considerations. Personally I would have enjoyed more art reproductions but the text is a delight in itself. I’m presently re-re-reading it and its still bringing me tonnes of info I was not savvy enough to enjoy the first times round. The book’s intent is vast and its 382 pages just about covers it all.

C2 Varichon, A. (2000) Couleurs: Pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples. Paris: Editions du Seuil / Colors: What they Mean and how to make them. (2007) New York: Harry N Abrams.

This book is not specifically written for artists and could be “just” a coffee table book it’s so lovely, great choice of photos and art reproductions and the general presentation is really yummy (how could you do a dull book on that subject, you might ask? Well, some seem quite capable of just that!). When you begin to read it, you actually discover tonnes of things and that it’s a lot more than a pretty book (It is not however a comprehensive or systematic¬† study). I also like to see things when I read about them, then they kind of imprint better in my memory. I then KNOW what the author is talking about… are you like that? What I also like in the book is the symbolic approach to colours and the recipes… most you wouldn’t try in a million years but they actually tell you what our ingenious hardworking ancestors had to actually do to extract all these dyes and pigments!

C3 Finlay, V. (2004) : Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House

This is more of a travel book than anything else. It’s a great starting point on colour though or simply a good non fiction read. If you’re not the academic type but would like to know a bit more about the colours you use, this one could be the one. Again, it’s a bit random and not comprehensive or systematic but the human approach is great. Basically Victoria, a journalist with unlimited free time and dollars it seems (am just jealous), sets out on a series of journeys across the globe in pursuit of the rainbow. Here and there, she does find some people still capable of finding the little sea-snails that Phoenicians fished to make the most desirable purple pigment, or some last cochineal harvester in Chile rearing the insects for their beetle blood red but a lot of her searches seem to end up in bygone lanes in which no cow has urinated Indian Yellow in a long time! Nevertheless, the wealth of anecdotes and meetings with dedicated lovers of colour makes the book a really worthwhile one to have in any library.

C4 Greenfield, A.B. (2005) : A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York: HarperCollins

There seems to be a book about this or that specific color coming out every year! Obviously, this one is about Red, (I will read in due course the one on Mauve, Black and Indigo and come back to this list if they are worth it.), or more precisely about the human lust for a perfect red and the lengths men went to in order to discover it and then to secure the trade of it. Battles were fought, slavery was enforced, lies were told and myths sustained. It really is quite remarkable how much men have loved their colours and the research behind the book is very impressive. I still don’t really think it makes a great read, perhaps someone should have culled it down a bit… The most sexy part is the subtitle and then you fall asleep a bit BUT, if red is your thing, then go for it cause you’ll know EVERYTHING about it after reading this one.

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