I am passionate about sharing my knowledge about colour to anyone who is prepared to listen. I work as a professor of colour science at the University of Leeds, in the School of Design, but I have held academic posts in departments of Chemistry, Physics, Neuroscience, and Engineering. Sounds like a mixed bag, but my interest was colour chemistry, colour physics, colour neuroscience, colour engineering and colour design. You see I have come to believe that colour is the perfect meta-discipline and that to understand colour you need to be able to understand (but not necessarily be an expert in) different fields of knowledge.
One way to use this blog is to just browse through it and dip in here or there. However, another way is to click on one of the categories (that interest you) such as culture, design, fun, and technology and see posts in that area. You can find the categories on the right-hand side of the page if you scroll down.
You can also comment on the blogs. I really like this, even if you disagree with me. Someone once said to me if you put ten colour physicists in a room and ask them a question (presumably about colour physics) you’ll get 10 different answers. Well, I guess not all of you reading this are colour physicists. Given our different interests and backgrounds, and given the complexity of colour, it’s not surprising that we will disagree from time to time. And that is rather the fun part.
If you have a technical question you’d love me to answer you can click on Ask Me and post it there. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week I had to mark about 50 essays that had been submitted for the Colour: Art and Science module I teach at the University of Leeds. One essay looks rather like another after the first 10 or so. So it was a delight to discover that one student had decided to focus on a movie – The Wizard of Oz – and demonstrate her understanding of colour by analysing this classic movie.
It reminded me of a story my mother told me. When she went to see the Wizard of Oz in the cinema (she would have been about 8 at the time) she had never seen a colour movie before. She was so much looking forward to this new-fangled and exciting technology. It’s hard to imagine how exciting that would have been – if every movie you had ever seen had been in black and white!!
Well, imagine her disappointment when the movie started and the movie was black and white after all. For those who don’t know, the movie starts off in black and white (in the Kansas scenes) and only turns coloured when Dorothy is whisked off by the tornado and dropped off in the land of Oz. It must have been a wonderful moment when the screen just turned full colour!!
From time to time I come across web pages and groups of people who get irrate about indigo being in the rainbow. There is even a facebook group called “Get Indigo out of the rainbow”. It was Newton who suggested that the rainbow contains seven colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It has been suggested that, at the time, Newton was trying make some anology with the musical scale and the octave (with its seven intervals) and hence was keen to identify seven colours in the rainbow or visible spectrum. Many modern commentators claim that only six distinct colours can be observed in the rainbow.
Interestingly, the facebook group referred to above would like to eject indigo from the spectrum on the basis that it is not a primary or secondary colour but rather a tertiary colour. The group shows the following colour wheel:
In this so-called painters’ wheel the primary colours are red, yellow and blue and the secondary colours are orange, green and violet. It is argued that since six of the colours in the rainbow are primary or secondary colours in the colour wheel and indigo is not, then indigo has no right to be there. This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.
The first thing I would have to say is that this argument seems to ignore the difference between additive and subtractive mixing. Additive mixing – https://colourware.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/additive-colour-mixing/ – describes how light is mixed and the additive primaries are red, green and blue. The additive secondaries are cyan, magenta and yellow. Orange is not in sight – and yet surely if we are to make an argument for inclusion in the spectrum based on primaries (and/or secondaries) then it is the additive system that we should be using since the spectrum is emitted light.
The optimal subtractive system primaries are cyan, magenta and yellow (with the secondaries being red, green and blue) though the artists’ colour wheel (which is like the painters’ wheel above) has red, blue and yellow as the primaries.
In my opinion there is nothing special about the colours that we see in the spectrum. Indeed, orange is clearly a mixture of red and yellow and does not seem to me to be a particularly pure colour. I just do not think that arguments to exclude indigo from the spectrum based upon colour wheels or primary colours is valid. That said, I have already mentioned that many people believe that indigo cannot be seen in the spectrum as a separate colour; but this is a phenomenological observation not dogma. I am one of those who believe that indigo and violet cannot be distinguished in the spectrum and therefore I agree with the aims of the facebook group even if I do not agree with their arguments.
The really interesting question is why we see six (or even seven) distinct colour bands in the spectrum when the wavelengths of the spectrum vary smoothly and continuously? I have postulated some possible reasons for this in an earlier post – https://colourware.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/colour-names-affect-consumer-buying/ – but it is far from a complete and convincing explanation. It may explain why we see distinct colours in the rainbow, but why six and why those six in particular. Comments on this would be very very welcome.
After quite a few years here on wordpress.com I have decided to move to wordpress.org. I think in the long term wordpress.org will turn out to be a better platform for me though I have really enjoyed posting here on wordpress.com.
I really appreciate your support and interest and hope you will continue to share my interest in colour in the new site which you can see at www.colourware.org. If you have subscribed to email updates I am hoping that you will automatically be transferred to the new blog. If not you can always go to the new blog and subscribe again. Hope to see you there.
I just read an article in The Daily Mail that says that most people think dogs do not have colour vision. The article then goes on to say that Russian scientists have proved that dogs do have colour vision. It seems to me quite accepted that dogs are dichromats – that is they have two types of light-sensitive cells that contribute to colour vision in their eyes. We – humans – are trichromats because we have three such cells. It turns out that the one that is missing – in dogs – is such that dogs’ colour vision is rather like that of a human who has red-green colour blindness. The image below shows how the spectrum looks to a trichromatic human and a dichromatic dog.
As you can see, dogs can bee blues and yellow but have difficulty discriminating between colours in the red-green part of the spectrum. So I am not sure what the fuss is about with the Daily Mail article. After all, everything in the Daily Mail is true!! See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eBT6OSr1TI if you don’t believe me.
I didn’t realise how sophisticated reindeers are. It turns out they have two layers of fur to help them keep warm, are able to shrink the pads on their hooves to give then better grip, and can detect ultraviolet light which enables them too see in very dim light. And it also turns out that their eyes can change colour in winter so that their vision is more sensitive. Reindeers, like cats, have a reflective layer behind the retina (which is the inside of the eye ball where all the light-sensitive cells are) that helps them to see in dim light. This is why, if you see a cat at night, you might see the eyes shining; you are seeing light being reflected back at you from the cat’s tapetum lucidum (which is the technical term for the layer behind the retina). The light that shines back in most animals with this layer is golden but in reindeer it apparently shifts to blue in the winter. The shift to blue allows more light to be scattered and improves the vision of the animal.
The full paper can be read in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
I just came across this nice article – http://understandinggraphics.com/design/10-reasons-to-use-color/ – entitled 10 reasons to use color.
The article lists 10 good reasons to use colour in design. Number 10 is using colour for metaphor and taking advantage of the associations that are inherent in phrases such as feeling blue or green with envy. There is no doubt about the meaning in the image below; that the woman is filled with envy.
As some of you may know, I was General Chair of AIC2013 this year. We had a great time in Newcastle and spent a week with over 600 delegates talking about colour. But time moves on and we are approaching 2014. I would therefore like to draw your attention to the next AIC meeting which is in Mexico in October 2014. The theme is colour and culture and the venue – Oaxaca – is stunning. I hope to see you there.
For further details visit http://www.aic2014.org/index_en.html
Imagine that we have three projection lamps at the back of a hall – one has a red filter and so produces a beam of red light, and the other two use filters to produce green and blue beams. We project these onto a white screen and get three circles of light (one, red, one green and one blue). We then move the angles of the projectors so that the circles of light overlap. We get something that looks rather like this:
Where the red and green light overlap we get yellow. We get magenta and cyan for the other two binary mixtures. So,
red + green = yellow
red + blue = magenta
green + blue = cyan
This is called additive colour mixing as I am sure you know. And if we mix all three primaries we can achieve white (or other neutral colours). The primaries could be single wavelengths of light – so we could use a primary at, say, 700 nm (for the red) and one at 450 nm (blue) and one at 530 nm (green). So green light (530 nm) and red light (700 nm) additively mix together and generate yellow. When this happens what is being mixed and where does this mixing take place? Take a few moments to consider this before reading on.
Notice I said that they additively mix to generate yellow – I specifically avoided saying that they mix to generate yellow light. When I sat down with a couple of students last week and asked then what they though they said that the red and green light mixed together to create yellow light and when I pressed them, they went further to say that the yellow light was at about 575 nm.
If we measure the part of the screen that is yellow we would see that we have some light at 700 nm and some at 530 nm. The wavelengths are not mixed; they don’t mix together to generate some third wavelength of light such as 575 nm. So no physical mixing takes place other than – I suppose one could argue – that the red and green lights are mixed in the sense that they are spatially coincident. But that’s not really mixing, for me, and certainly doesn’t even begin to explain why we have the sensation of yellow when we look at these wavelengths together. It also makes me think that additive colour mixing, if it can be said to occur anywhere in particular, occurs in the eye. And I do mean eye, not brain.