Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Color as Evidence of Rising Optimism?

Image: Metropolis Magazine

During the Depression of the 30’s, the color palette became dour, dark and subdued. At the end of the Second World War the palette became energized and uplifted by the introduction of pinks, turquoise and minty greens. The earthy grounded colors of harvest gold and avocado of the 50’s and 60’s gave way to the vivid and high contrast psychedelic colors of the 60’s and 70’s. Hippies, drugs, electric guitars energized the palette and the culture. The excesses of the 80’s brought us the Post Modern palette of mauve and grey. The environmental movement ushered in the age of green hues that previously had been relegated to institutional applications. Have you noticed the chromatic intensity of colors in art, graphics, fashion and industry being turned up?

Photo: Jerry Levy_San Francisco, Ca

In the New York Times this Sunday Bill Cunningham’s column, On the Street, was titled HUE. The photographs of vivid color found in nature juxtaposed to brightly dressed New Yorkers illustrated the transcendental link to color stimulus and the unconscious.

Image: New York Times

Cunningham starts his narrative referencing the new High Line, the 1.45 mile section of the former elevated freight railroad located on Manhattan’s West side. The architectural team of Diller Scofido + Renfro executed the project with landscape architects James Comer Field Operations. The concept that strolling in nature would enhance New Yorkers mental perspective seems to be taking root. The planting of amethyst daisy chrysanthemums, which have bloomed prolifically this season, is credited with influencing the abundance of purple fashions visible on the street. The color associations assigned to purple emphasize the spiritual and seeking nature of man. Could we be looking for some interior safety in an increasingly stressful world?

Image: New York Times

In Central Park as well as the other green sanctuaries throughout the city, the trees are ablaze in reds and gold’s. Cunningham states, “On the backs of a few imaginative women in a city known for dressing in black” color is highly visible. Could the grounding qualities associated with reds be assisting these individuals in feeling connected and balanced? Could the mental energies inherent in the gold hues be helpful with focusing ones mind and thinking clearly in chaotic times?

Carl Jung stated there is a collective unconscious connection to color in ones environment. Color response is not learned but is part of the hard wiring of the human mind. Could crosscurrents of thought be permeating our choice of colors that we choose to surround ourselves with in our built environment, our wardrobe, and our art?

Could optimism be consciously penetrating our culture through the vehicle of color? Could we reframe our thoughts by merely applying a coat of paint to our walls, by purchasing a colorful accessory for our wardrobe, by attending the movie Avatar that is laden with saturated color?

I think its possible. Color has the ability to shape behavior and influence experience.

Photo: Jerry Levy_San Francisco, Ca

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Life In Color, Colour Studio

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Color In The City

I was having cocktails with friends at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, and some architects from Korea joined us. One of them asked what I did for a living, and when I told him I was a color consultant, we talked about the relationship between color and architecture. He asked me to submit a paper for an exhibit he was preparing in South Korea for the 2009 Gwangju Design Biennale. He wanted the color perspective to relate to his theme Global Living, One Earth, One Sun.



For this second blog entry, I thought I would share a modified version of what I prepared for him. I added some extra visuals for your viewing pleasure. Every so often (well, at least four times a year), I hope to share my process or observations. Your feedback is welcome.

In the same way that customs, language, and food define a culture, color and light contribute to the experience of place. Careful observation will reveal a location’s visual impression. Cities and towns are distinctive and unique. People select colors in their surroundings, preferring certain combinations and avoiding others. Color sense and color experience appear to be collective vernacular expressions. Color choices respond to a location’s specific physical characteristics and the natural environment.

Why do the bright colors of a sun-drenched coastal city look garish in a foggy landlocked metropolis? There are many answers.

First, the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays determines the quality of a region’s light. It shifts daily and seasonally. It controls the depth and intensity of shadow. It also influences the apparent intensity of environmental color. Polar locations such as Nome, Alaska, receive much less sunlight than an equatorial location like the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. When the sun’s light is perpendicular to the earth, the colors are evenly illuminated and have an overall flatness. In Ireland, the angle of light incidence grazes low across the horizon. Each blade of grass appears to be vivid emerald green.

Photo: Jerry Levy_Tiburon, Ca

Photo: Jerry Levy_Tiburon, Ca

Second, around the globe, sunlight varies in duration and intensity. There are locations we can describe as having bright light, median light, and shadow light. In Clue One: “One Earth, One Sun,” bright locations would be Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Cairo, Egypt. A median light location would be Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and shadow light cities would be Osaka, Japan, and London, England.

Third, all wavelengths of color race toward the earth’s surface at the same speed, the speed of light. But earth’s atmosphere sets up an obstacle course containing dirt particles, dust, pollution, and water molecules. The long wavelengths with slower frequencies such as yellow and red have an easier time avoiding obstacles. The short wavelengths such as blue have a high frequency, and they oscillate quickly. When the blue wavelengths hit an obstacle, which they are more likely to do, they are thrown off course and scattered, causing the sky to appear blue. Less blue remains in the light as it reaches the earth’s surface, so the light appears sunny to our eyes. Its main components are the longer wavelengths of red and yellow.

Fourth, the climactic conditions of our atmosphere—dry or moist, hot or cold—influence the molecular shape and size of the air molecules, which interact with the sun’s light. When the sky appears white, not blue, it is because the airborne molecules of water, sand, and snow in the atmosphere are large enough to bump all of the wavelengths off course. Dry air molecules, which accompany hot temperatures, are small and dense. They can also deflect light rays. The rays are refracted into a shimmering mirage of colorless light.

Finally, the altitude of a location influences the clarity and intensity of its light. At higher altitudes, the light is more reflective. Conversely, lower altitudes will have softer light as more obstacles interrupt the light’s path to earth.

Lois Swirnoff writes in her book The Color of Cities that our collective color reactions to our environment develop as an expression after prolonged exposure of the eye and brain to the conditions of environment. The specific colors common to a particular place arise because everyone living there has similar reactions to the qualities of light and local color in their environment. Regional color is not a product of designers or planners applying subjective color preferences or their individual tastes. As geographic markers, the colors of regions reveal the global range and diversity of vernacular expression.

Here are two specific descriptions of regional and local color characteristics.

Shadow City

Photo: London

London, England, at latitude 51 north, longitude 0, and an altitude of 49 feet, is one of the world’s foremost global cities. It is also the embodiment of a city of shadow light. The temperate climate, with its characteristic fog and light precipitation throughout the year, lowers the intensity of the sunlight and subdues color contrasts. Large areas have been left to gardens and parks. The parks contribute the largest areas of color to the urban fabric. London is physically large, with distinct neighborhoods. The medieval layout of the streets either meanders randomly or originates from a central point and radiates outward in an orderly pattern. The impression of the architecture is heavy, solid, and formidable. Sand-colored limestone was quarried near London and used on many of the major structures. Smaller structures were built with London stock bricks, whose distinctive color and soft appearance came from yellow Kent clay. These natural materials have matte surfaces that absorb the light. Over time, pollution has turned both stone and bricks grey. The visual memory of London is dark. Stoic humility and understatement are character traits of the British. Color comes mostly from the pageantry and ceremonial monuments that represent the traditions of the culture. The local color of London illustrates a palette that is staid and reserved, with bursts of strong color found in small accents on uniforms, family crests, ornamental shields and banners.

Light City

Photo: Jean-Philippe Lenclos_Colors of the World: A Geography of Color By Jean-Philippe Lenclos & Dominique Lenclos_Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, sits on a plateau at an altitude of 2600 feet. At 45 west longitude, the Tropic of Capricorn bisects Sao Paulo at 23 south latitude. This location marks the most southerly latitude at which the sun can appear directly overhead at noon. This occurs at the December solstice, when the southern hemisphere is at its maximum tilt towards the sun. The climate is tropical and moist. The city lies between two rivers, and is a fertile plateau where coffee plantations thrive. The region was subject to flooding. Alluvium deposits provided the clay cladding the exteriors of early rustic buildings. Later, the clay was fabricated into brick and masonry materials to construct larger and more substantial structures. To resist deterioration caused by the moisture and humidity in the region, the buildings required painting on a regular basis. At this altitude, the bright light causes the pastel palette to appears lively and energetic. Frames, cornices, and moldings on the building exteriors are typically white, while the building colors range from cool blues and greens to warm yellows and terra cottas. With traditions that embrace music, festivals, and celebrations, weather that supports an outdoor lifestyle, and a spirited cultural attitude of joie de vivre, the streets have an air of vibrancy. These conditions make for a visually stimulating experience of local color.


Every region has a unique sense of ambient light and color. Although each of us experiences the colors from our individual perspective, everyone shares the collective experience of light and darkness regardless of where we are located on earth. Developing an awareness and sensitivity of different cultures is important to further our global understanding. Color can be a teacher, because it can reveal much about traditions, culture. and the natural setting of place. When we embrace both our universality and acknowledge our differences, we can appreciate the power of color and light in the environment.

Photo: Jerry Levy_Australia

Photo: Jerry Levy_Chicago

Content & Writing: Jill Pilaroscia, Life In Color, Colour Studio
Design & Production: Naomi Kuhmann

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall Colors

Fall brings a change to color palettes in all areas of our life. The colors associated with holidays, merchandising, and nature take on the hues of a smoldering fire. Science, weather, myth, and symbolism all play an influential role in the colors we experience.

What causes the orange moon of autumn? During the fall, the moon lies close to the horizon. From this position, its light has to travel twice as far to reach our eyes than it does when the moon appears directly overhead. Pollution, smoke, and cloud particles, along with dust stirred up during the crop harvests, creates an obstacle course and scatters the light. The short wavelengths of blue, green, and purple are pushed off their trajectory toward earth. As a result, the long, strong wavelengths of yellow, red, and orange win the honor of bathing the moon.

Weather and biology control the intensity of fall foliage color. As the days shorten and temperatures drop, trees signal their leaves to seal off their connection to their stems. The process of photosynthesis stops, and the radiant green hues start to lose their vibrancy. The lack of water triggers chemical reactions. Carotene, a pigment also found in corn and carrots, causes maples, birches, and poplars to turn yellow. Anthocyanins, also found in all red and blue berries, black currants, and purple sweet potatoes, are responsible for brilliant red and orange foliage. Tannins give the oak leaves their distinctive brown color.

All Hallows’ Eve on October 31 marked the end to the old Celtic calendar year. Celts hollowed out turnips, beets, and rutabagas, placed a candle inside. They decorated windowsills and porches to welcome home spirits of dead ancestors and ward off evil. American immigrants adapted the tradition, and the bountiful, large pumpkin offered a super-sized lantern. Because Halloween was celebrated after sunset, the blackness of night came to be associated with the holiday. The pumpkin signifies the radiance of light.

Mother Nature branded the fall palette and imprinted it deeply on our unconscious. We can take the associations we have with fall colors—the bountiful harvest, the completion of a cycle, the warmth of the fire, the celebration of magic and mystery—and apply them to our built environment, using them to influence behavior and create mood.

Autumn colors can be gregarious, open, adventurous, intoxicating, glowing, and sustaining. Who wouldn’t like to experience that?

Colour Studio's favorite fall colors...

Dramatic Oranges
Benjamin Moore: 2167-20 Pumpkin Pie
Pratt & Lambert: 8-16 Orange Spice
Brilliant Golds
Benjamin Moore: HC-7 Bryant Gold
Benjamin Moore: HC-10 Stuart Gold
Deep Reds
Pittsburg Paints: 331-7 Autumn Ridge
Pittsburg Paints: 432-7 Brick Dust
Warm Browns
Pratt & Lambert: 33-22 Dansbury Downs
Pratt & Lambert: 33-20 Cafè Gris

Content & Writing: Jill Pilaroscia
Photos: Jerry Levy
Design & Production: Naomi Kuhmann