#Thinkingincolour: Part II

When we describe a colour, we are poets.

Read about someone who creates colour, talk about its essence.

Thinking about the phenomenon of colour experience and the science of colour vision together, I thought it perfect to ask someone both in adoration of colour and with the knowledge of how to create it.

Michael Harding is a paint manufacturer and hand makes artist oil paints. I met him at a launch for his new colour ‘Amethyst’ at Cass Art in Bristol. He manages to combine analytic knowledge of colour pigment, and how it affects colour vision, with a romantic perspective of our experiences of colour.

When describing the paints he makes, he explains how their colour intensity depends on how close the particles of the paint are. The paints are less rich when substances in the paint interfere with the reflection of light bouncing back into your eye. In bad paint only 75% light is reflected. It is a bit like a muffled note, instead of a clear, crisp sound: “more pigment= more BANG to the eye”.

It always amazes me how we have few words that describe colour yet our eyes can perceive billions of shade differences, maybe because our vocabulary would be so redundant if we attempted to use words. Music has greater order through the discipline of written material notes.

The way Michael talks of colour vision in comparison to music and language points to the idea that there is a huge range of colour experience, which we have no means to express. He referred to Sean Scully who claims that even black paint is luminous.

Sean Scully, Wall of Light series, oil on linen.

Sean Scully, Wall of Light series, oil on linen.

People who were blind from birth and [attain sight] after medical intervention are very interesting, they find the sky the most under described and taken for granted by those who are used to its colours and changes.

I briefly introduced Michael to the philosophy side to this project, (for more on this see my previous post) and asked which of the contrasting theories, depicting the essence of colour, he intuitively sided with.

Is colour…

(A) reducible to the process of colour vision?
(B) a fictional device to explain our responses to colour vision?
or (C) a phenomenon that we experience, different to the colour vision process?

Harding seems to take truth from all of them.

I know colour is there but I do not know how it exists for us, subjectively…. Colours I think change their meaning for us because our emotional state is changing constantly. Our relationship with a colour shifts even if the colour is constant.

This is what makes us human beings, what scares me is the way I can change how I respond to the slightest of changes. I am not sure I can answer these question as there are no definitive answers.

It seems that the relationship with mood and colour might work both ways. It’s widely understood that colours can calm, excite and aggravate our emotional state. In fact one can distinctly label moods with colours, blue with calm, red with passion and danger, yellow with happiness. But perhaps there is something we have not already picked up on, if our emotional states also affect how we experience colours.

Since Michael has launched his oil paint Amethyst as a brand new ‘colour’, I asked him how new colours can be discovered. He likens the new paint (a combination of three pigments) to a new flavour combination.

As I experiment with mixing colours I often see wow moments of what I consider extraordinary beauty, of course those moments might be subjective. Think of it another way, supposing I am a chef recreating old dishes, I stumble upon a special combination taste along the way.


I had expected to receive criticism from some of my purist consuming artists but it has not yet happened. I can be criticised for the way I might one day describe a colour semi-opaque rather than semi-transparent the next day, To me every day and every colour moment is different.

From my interview with Michael I noticed a resounding sense of subjectivity in his ideas about colour; an individual, unique perspective on colour that is dependant on time and place. For Harding, it seems there are not so much ‘colours’ as there are ‘colour moments’. Perhaps these colour moments make up the phenomenon of personally experiencing a colour; incorporating your mood and anchoring it to that moment in time.


Flickr, Mark Chadwick Art

If you think colour has a subjective essence, do you then agree with the following notion: if there were no eyes to see anything, there would be no colour?

Thank you for reading my post and feel free to comment to share ideas or questions. I’d love you to use the hashtag #Thinkingincolour and please take my poll so I can see what you all think!

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @hattiebottom and subscribe to my posts via email, below.


2 responses to “#Thinkingincolour: Part II

  1. Pingback: the filters; colour in a ‘techno-scientific world’ | Thinking Hatt·

  2. Pingback: The artist with an appetite for colour | Thinking Hatt·

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