… There the electrons are, floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them.
… as consumers speed down the market aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds.
This first two segments below are from the introductory chapters of Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay (2004):
… one day, I arrived in Melbourne to cover the city’s arts festival for the South China Morning Post. I spent a spare hour between shows in a university bookshop. Casually picking up a heavy art book, I opened it at random and read these words: “INDIAN YELLOW: an obsolete lake of euxanthic acid made in India by heating the urine of cows fed on mango leaves.” And then these: “EMERALD GREEN: the most brilliant of greens, now universally rejected because it is a dangerous poison . . . Sold as an insecticide.” Art history is often about looking at the people who made the art; but I realized at that moment there were also stories to be told about the people who made the things that made the art.
My heart started beating, and I had a bizarre sensation that was rather like being in love. This was an annoying feeling to have in a bookshop so I tested myself. Even the (arguably) more boring “DUTCH PINK: a fugitive yellow lake made from buckthorn” made me swoon with its paradox. I was smitten …
… The first challenge in writing about colors is that they don’t really exist. Or rather they do exist, but only because our minds create them as an interpretation of vibrations that are happening around us. Everything in the universe — whether it is classified as “solid” or “liquid” or “gas” or even “vacuum” — is shimmering and vibrating and constantly changing. But our brains don’t find that a very useful way of comprehending the world. So we translate what we experience into concepts like “objects” and “smells” and “sounds” and, of course, “colors,” which are altogether easier for us to understand.
… When light shines on a leaf, or a daub of paint, or a lump of butter, it actually causes it to rearrange its electrons, in a process called “transition.” There the electrons are, floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them. Imagine a soprano singing a high C and shattering a wineglass, because she catches its natural vibration. Something similar happens with the electrons, if a portion of the light happens to catch their natural vibration. It shoots them to another energy level and that relevant bit of light, that glass-shattering “note,” is used up and absorbed. The rest is reflected out, and our brains read it as “color.”
… The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something “being” a color but of it “doing” a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering — or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe — in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red — meaning paradoxically that the “red” tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance — absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.
The rest of Finlay’s book is about “the people who made the things that made the art.” Before settling down to do individual colors, she skims over art history to give a sampling of how the crafting of colors has affected art history. For example, talking about developments in painting alfresco:
… For centuries, artists had stored their paints in pigs’ bladders. It was a painstaking process: they, or their apprentices, would carefully cut the thin skin into squares. Then they would spoon a nugget of wet paint into each square, and tie up the little parcels at the top with string. When they wanted to paint, they would pierce the skin with a tack, squeeze the color onto their palette and then mend the puncture. It was messy, especially when the bladders burst, but it was also wasteful, as the paint would dry out quickly. Then in 1841, a fashionable American portrait painter called John Goffe Rand devised the first collapsible tube — which he made of tin and sealed with pliers. After he had improved it the following year and patented it, artists in both Europe and America really began to appreciate the wonder of the portable paintbox. Jean Renoir once told his son that without oil paints in tubes: “There would have been no Cézanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissarro: nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism.”
… as consumers speed down the market aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds. In that blinking-of-an-eyelash timing, the package must rivet the observers’ eyes, inform them of the package contents and, more importantly, appeal to their psyches.
After earning the shopper’s attention, the package must visually express the value of the goods. If a product is more expensive than a competing product, the color must convey that it is worth the cost and, when goods are priced competitively, the appropriate colors can make a greater impact than the competition’s product. With thousands of products lining the market shelves and millions of dollars frequently at stake, the clever use of color can make or break a product line.
For truly effective marketing, package colors must satisfy a “wish fulfillment” or need that the product promises to fulfill.
I plan to post further from Finlay’s book, and to pair her book with the Pantone one, color for color.