Friday, February 12, 2016

Collected Color: The Harvard Pigment Library

As color experts, we're always excited to share new developments in the field with our readers. This month we're delighted to report that the Forbes Pigment Collection at the Harvard Art Museums is is now open to the public. 

The precious pigments are newly assembled in floor-to-ceiling white cabinets based on the color wheel. Some are stored in their original delicate glass containers. Library visitors can even watch art conservators at work.

Photos courtesy of Zak Jensen & Andrea Shea/WBUR 

Photo by Andrea Shea/WBUR

The collection was conceived as a "laboratory for fine arts" in the 1920s by Edward Forbes, who later founded the Fogg Art Museum.  It contains more than 2,500 pigments, including Egyptian blue glass from 1,000 BC and rare nuggets from Pompeii, as well as modern synthetic pigments.

Photo by Peter Vanderwarker

Some pigments have colorful backstories, as the Harvard Gazette recently reported. Lapis lazuli stone, mined from quarries in Afghanistan, was used in medieval paintings and considered more precious than gold. A deep blue-red extracted from predatory sea snails was so costly Byzantine emperors banned its use outside the imperial court.  The color later became known as “royal purple.”

Photo by Stephanie Mitchell

As for the history of the collection, Edward Forbes became interested in pigments shortly after he purchased the 14th-century Tuscan painting Madonna and Child with Saint in 1899. When the piece began to deteriorate, Forbes sought out pigments to help restore it. By the 1920s he was traveling the world in search of rare pigments. 

Portrait of Edward Waldo Forbes (1873-1969) by Charles Hopkinson, 1940

As the Harvard Gazette writes, Forbes’ fascination with a painting’s colors fueled his desire to use science to understand and study great works of art. He is often referred to as the father of art conservation in the United States.

Photo by Andrea Shea/WBUR

Narayan Khandekar, Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Research, which houses the Forbes Pigment Library/Photo by Stephanie Mitchell

In 1927 Forbes established the Department of Research and Restoration at Harvard’s Fogg Museum.  By the 1940s the department was being used to both authenticate and restore important works of art. Since then, samples of the precious pigments have been loaned to many museums and research facilities around the world.  In a widely reported case in 2007, the research facility was used to invalidate two paintings attributed to Jackson Pollock. 

We at Colour Studio look forward to a first-hand visit to the collection, so stay tuned for field notes. In the meantime you can find information on visiting the library or attending a workshop at Harvard Arts Museums.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rich Color: Top Boutique Paint Brands

It's hard to conjure colors more evocative than those found on the English coast.  The earthy palette of brooding grays and moody blues are the hallmark of Farrow & Ball, the beloved boutique paint company founded in Dorset, England in 1946.

Why bother with boutique paint? To start, many luxury paint brands offer deeper, richer and more complex colors based on high quality pigments derived from minerals and clay. More complex pigments make for more interesting colors, and these paints can often provide better coverage and durability, too.  Low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are yet another benefit, as are a much wider variety of finishes. Here, we've chosen five of the top boutique paint brands we think you should know about. 

Farrow & Ball

The best known of the bunch, Farrow & Ball's paints are largely based on historic color palettes and archives. F & B has worked with the National Trust in the UK to formulate matches for the restoration of historic building interiors and exteriors. Their evocative color names such as Elephant's Breath and Dead Salmon are as unique as the hues themselves.

Farrow & Ball's historic colors for the National Trust

Farrow & Ball's Brassica No.271

Farrow & Ball's French Gray No.18, London Sone No.6, and Blackened No.2011

A fiery red from Farrow & Ball: Blazer No.212

Little Greene Paint Company

Another British manufacturer, Little Greene Paint Company began as the Little Greene Dye Works of Collyhurst Wood on the outskirts of Manchester in 1773. Joshua Rowlands, the earliest identifiable proprietor of the works, drew upon his experience making dye solutions for the cotton trade. Today their stable of palettes includes the England Collection of 128 classic and contemporary colors, and Color Scales, an assortment of 48 sophisticated neutrals in 12 families. Little Greene Paint Company claims to contain 40 percent more pigment than ordinary brands, which result in richer color.

Little Greene Paint Company's Citrine (71) and Slaked Lime (105)

Little Greene Paint Company's Deep Space Blue (207), Jack Black (119), Mocha, and Tan

LIttle Greene Paint Company's Mazarine (256)

Ecos Paints

British-based Ecos Paints, whose client list includes the Louvre, contain no VOCs, toxins, or solvents. The water-based paints are all organic, and are completely odor and fume-free. This company gets the British Allergy Foundation seal of approval and offers 108 colors as well as a color matching service.

Ecos Paints are 100 percent organic.

KT Color

At KT Color in Switzerland, Katrin Trautwein and her team handcraft pigment paint colors that are truly unique, using such rare pigments as chalk in Champagne, ochres from Burgundy, and lapis lazuli from the mountains of Afghanistan. As the company states on its website, "Connoisseurs of exclusive paints find theirs in our manufactory. While most others make paint with 12 tinting pastes, we scour the earth to find rare pigments."  KT Color is the sole marketer of Le Corbusier's 120 colors, based on palettes he created in 1931 and 1959.

KT Color's founder, Katrin Trautwein

KT Color describes their paint colors as those that "sparkle like freshly fallen snow. They reverberate into niches and corners, fill space with the sounds of silence, and glow like moonlight."

KT Color's Le Corbusier collection includes 120 colors.

Pops of vibrant color from KT Color's Le Corbusier collection

KT Color's paints are handcrafted in Switzerland.

Fine Paints of Europe

A US-based importer of high-end paints made in the Netherlands, Fine Paints of Europe has developed paint palettes by Martha Stewart and Pantone.  The company offers a range of international color palettes including the National Color System, developed in 1750 by the Scandinavian Color Institute; and RAL, a color space system developed in 1927 with 1,900 colors. Fine Paints of Europe has a number of curated paint collections, including the Guggenheim Colors.  These are inspired by much-loved paintings at the Guggenheim Museum and favored by curators, artists, and designers, including Frank Lloyd Wright himself. Fine Paints of Europe's owner John Lahey claims that paints made by his brand will last 8-20 years.

Fine Paints of Europe are crafted in the Netherlands and sold in the US.

Fine Paints of Europe is a 25-year-old family-run business whose paints should last up to twice as long as many commercial counterparts, owner John Lahey says.

Boutique paint companies such as the European brands highlighted above are crafted to create richer, more complex colors.  They offer a personalized approach to color that emphasizes quality of hue over quantity of colors. The paints are also made to endure.  While the average American moves approximately every 4 to 7 years, Europeans are more likely to stay put for up to 15 years and expect their paint to last just as long.  It's one of several reasons these specialty paints can outshine many of their more commercial American counterparts. Contact individual companies through their websites.  Most offer fan decks and sample pots for purchase.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Best of the Year: Eye-Popping Books on Color

For the holiday season, we’ve selected a few gorgeously illustrated new books in which rich color takes center stage.

In her new book on color, Abigail Ahern encourages readers to banish beige, boost color, and transform their home.

Abigail Ahern’s Colour takes readers on a journey into the deep with its emphasis on dramatic aquamarine hues.  Awash in blues and greens, the book is a celebration of the British interior designer’s signature palette, which she describes on her website as “an array of intoxicating, dark, inky bottom-of-the-lake hues, all tempered with the odd bright pop of color and ultra lux new neutrals.”

Photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes

Photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes

Ahern, who also owns two retail shops in London, is known for her fearless use of color and seductively stunning interiors.  Beautifully photographed by Graham Atkins-Hughes, Colour exemplifies Ahern's confident style as she encourages readers to be bold, take risks, and have fun with color rather than fear it.  She outlines many practical strategies for color, such as using it in unexpected places like inside kitchen cabinets, or building the illusion of space by blurring boundaries between walls and ceilings.

Organized by room and by specific color combinations, Colour illustrates gorgeous uses for black and white, bold and dark colors, and even neon. 

A young Jane Fonda graces the cover of Michel Pastoureau's new book.  Photograph by Horst P. Horst/ Conde Nast Collection

French historian Michel Pastoureau plumbs the depths of a single hue in Green: The History of a Color. A follow-up to the author’s previous two volumes, Black and Blue, the book examines the evolving place of green in art, clothes, literature, religion, science and everyday life.  As this thoroughly researched book so elegantly illustrates, over time green has been a color of contradictions -- a symbol of life and luck, but also one of decay, greed and poison. 

From The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz

From The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz

The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz is a compendium to Wes Anderson's critically acclaimed film released earlier this year.  This is a visual feast for the eyes with rich illustrations of set design, costuming, and art direction. The book includes interviews with lead actor Ralph Fiennes and key members of the production cast, making it a worthy read for any film buff or creative.

Photo of Architectural Color Design courtesy of Les Couleurs Swisse AG

Architectural Color Design brings together all of Le Corbusier’s 63 color palettes in one beautifully published volume.  The palettes, created in 1931 and 1959, are the basis of Le Corbusier’s comprehensive theory of colors known as the Architectural Polychromy.  The book is not currently sold in the United States but can be ordered through Les Couleurs Swisse AG.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Artist Creates Visual Diary of Color-Coded Emotions

Portuguese designer Luis Giestas recorded his emotions, at every hour, for 300 days, and laid out the result in a series of color-coded diaries.  The project started as an exercise in dealing with anxiety, and unfolded to explore and document the whole range of basic universal emotions as represented by distinct colors.

photo courtesy of the artist

The artist’s color-coded matrix, entitled “Soft Cover Emotions,” is largely based on psychologist Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

photo courtesy of the artist

The result is a series of three visual diaries, each one adding a twist to the initial premise. The first volume displays the sheer variety of emotions one goes through in a single day.  The second version shows us that the emotions we feel and the ones we express are not always the same, while the third volume plays with expectations, reality and memories.

photo courtesy of the artist

The emotions range from serenity to ecstasy, or from pensiveness to grief. The unconscious hours of sleep are represented in black.

photo courtesy of the artist

The second volume introduces a twist to the premise: each page is divided in two; the bottom half showing the emotions that are felt and the top half displaying the emotions expressed.

photo courtesy of the artist

Whenever there is a discrepancy between what is felt and what is expressed, a split line is created in the middle of the page.

photo courtesy of the artist

The third volume explores the issues of expectations and memory.  The top third shows the emotions expected the following day; the middle section displays the emotions felt in the present moment; and the bottom shows the emotions recalled 24 hours later.  The emotions that cannot be recalled or predicted are displayed in white. 

This exhaustive and repetitive process of recording ended up inspiring other issues, such as the expression of our feelings, how we are constantly surprised about what we expect to feel even during our daily routine, and our capacity to have a clear image of our emotions and store them in our memory.

This color-based project resulted in some important insights, the artist points out.  “Before starting the project I thought I had a clear sense of how I feel, and now I know that the image I have of myself is a very unstable approximation of an ever-changing stream of emotions.  This is something we all know in a way, but to be able to see the graphical evidence of it as represented by color made the painstaking process of recording completely worth it."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Colorful Dynamics of Glass

As the San Francisco skyline welcomes new silhouettes to its configuration, Colour Studio has had the opportunity to be involved in color selections for various high rises going up in the area.  This has presented the interesting challenge of selecting glass color in conjunction with exterior colors, materials and finishes.

Over the past years, requirements to meet Title 24 regulations and earn points toward LEED accreditation,  glazing systems have become critical factors in building performance and ultimately to regional building approvals.  Even in cases of high performance glass, there is still a perceivable color cast that needs to be factored into the overall color program.  Selecting glass color is a multi-layered process, encompassing both function and aesthetic.  In this post, we look at the elements that impact the way glass color makes itself apparent in our constructed landscapes.

One World Trade Center : New York City, NY

Glass in the Sky

The surrounding sky is an important aspect when considering glass color.   Every geographic location has its own unique sky color.  It is important to select glass colors that work with the sky in the specific region.   If the glass color is not complementary to the surrounding sky, it will drastically affect how the glass color is perceived.

W Hotel : Barcelona, Spain

Glass in Urban Settings

In dense urban environments, characteristics such as reflectivity and transparency will affect the way glazing system is experienced.  Highly reflective glazing systems will create a mirror effect, magnifying the surrounding conditions that may clash or complement other building elements.  Considering neighboring buildings is always important when making material color selections, but especially so when selecting glass color.

Seagram's Building, London, England

Clear Glass

Even in the case of clear glass, there will still be at least a hint of color.  Hardware becomes more of a design component in these instances, and sophisticated structural hardware and fastening systems  have more of a visible impact.  Selecting complimentary fixtures in appropriate sizes can be equally as important as paying careful attention to the coloring of the glass itself.  Both will work together to create an overall aesthetic.

Apple flagship store, New York, NY

Colored Glass Accents

Colored glass can be playful yet functional way to enliven a building.  This strategy can have a dynamic impact on the project as it not only impacts the exterior skin, but will filter into interior spaces as the light changes throughout the day.

International Management Institute, Kolkata, India
Miami Airport, Miami, FL

As colorists, we can not rely solely on glass as a passive, decorative element in building composition.  We must make selections for glass surfaces that enhance performance and lessen the impact of the built environment on our planet.  Objective color takes into consideration all variables, both environmental and project driven.  They challenge is to find the balance.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brutal Color: Influencing The Human Experience of Architecture Through Color

Bucolic Brutalism by David Evers
As architectural colorists, we are interested in the role color can play in creating humanized spaces within our constructed environments.  One example of architecture enhancing the relationship between color and the user is Brutalism.  Brutalist architecture is often perceived as austere and unemotional.  Its name comes from the french "b├ęton brut", or raw concrete.  Born as a response to post World War II ideals of strength, functionality, and social homogeneity, Brutalism is characterized by an aesthetic of form following function with a purist sense of materiality.   Designs typically use formidable monolithic masses of concrete, glass and steel that dwarf the human scale.  The  materials  provide a neutral backdrop which can provide a canvas for color to shape human response.

Color Fuses by Milton Glaser
Indianapolis, Indiana 

Milton Glaser's mural Color Fuses wraps the ground floor of the Minton Capehart Federal Building and is a spectacular example of how color can tranform a cold and bare space into one that is both stimulating and inviting.  Originally completed in 1975 and restored in 2002, the piece celebrates the interplay of color and light. 

Glaser programmed the exterior perimeter lighting to illuminate his mural with a slow rise and fall sequence. This rhythm alludes to the gradual rising and setting of the sun and the timeless wonder associated with the qualities of light as it shifts and reveals itself on the horizon.  The otherwise barren space glows with warm color, creating a dynamic pedestrian experience.  

Albert Einstein High School by NJB Architects and Francois Privat Architects
 Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Albert Einstein High School is an example of color as a tool for creating human scaled dimensions within large scaled environments.  Built in the 1960s, the complex is made up of large linear buildings.  Concrete framed volumes with three to four story curtain walls organize the regimented site in a strict grid with indifference to the human condition.

 NJB Architects with Francois Privat Architects have redesigned this lifeless campus with an energetic color palette that breaks the regularity of the organization, creating a stimulating visual quality to the otherwise mundane environment.  The monolithic structures are softened by bright colored stripewhich both reference and break the defining regularity of the project.

Unite d'Habitation by Le Corbusier.
Marseille, France

Corbusier's Unite d'habitation is arguably one of the most widely recognized brutalist buildings.  Designed as a "machine for living", the 18 story concrete block was completed in 1952.  The massive concrete structure allows for high density occupation while a strict grid divides the building into a more human scaled module.  Color introduces a layer of individuality between the units, enforcing the human dimension within the project.  The palette includes sixteen different tones, which yield a large number of color combinations that individualizes the 336 apartments. Different from Le Corbusier’s purist buildings, where he used color mostly as a tool to articulate and modify space, the Unite d’habitation in Marseille marks a shift towards the independence of color from form, and the social dimension of color.

The brutalist structures that dominate their surroundings provide exemplary models for the role color plays in creating environments.  The architectural composition of these projects are sometimes perceived as severe and foreboding.  However, when paired with a rich color program, the buildings come to life, illustrating the relationship of color and its ability to inform human experience.