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Color Story

>Color is what radiates life to our eyes. It is the essence of all things organic in nature and what we strive to faithfully recreate in our art forms. Color is a sustaining renewable resource because no matter how devastating natural disasters can be to the landscape, color eventually returns without any artificial persuasion. At night, color becomes a magnificent study in gray scale values, but few realize that those dark and light contrasts are the underlying rules of how color is structured and composed to be pleasing to the senses.

It is difficult to imagine a world without color, but most of the time we take it for granted. Color is as automatic to us as breathing air or walking. We barely scratch the surface in viewing the incredible abundance or intensity of colors in our environment because we have grown so accustomed to its seasonal vibrancy. We expect it, and we depend on color to be a constant force in our daily life. We wake up every day to a bright yellow sun, or stroll through lush green gardens with colorful flowers, or perhaps catch sight of a bright red cardinal bird. Even snow has a brilliance, a white that is unmatched by any other visual sensation.

In ancient times color was viewed as a precious commodity and some colors were very costly to make. Ownership of certain colors also represented status in society. Purple, for instance, was a symbol of wealth and power, and was reserved for only the rich because of the vast amount of raw materials and labor it took to make it. An ounce of purple dye, hand made by processing thousands of murex mollusks, was more costly than gold. Even vegetable dyes back then were not nearly as brilliant as the murex purple, nor as durable. Yet today we have literally millions of hue variations available in intensities and values at our fingertips. Our textiles and cosmetics are bursting with tints, tones, and shades of colors that would have been impossible to make or even forbidden to own in those ancient times.

Color has a strong psychological influence, even at the subliminal level, and can cause us to be attracted or repelled by its visual characteristics. It is the robust ingredient used to create the atmosphere and setting for celebrations, such as weddings, or holidays like Christmas. Color has intrigue that has been studied with passion by philosophers, physicists, and scientists throughout the ages seeking to master its phenomenal elements. From ancient Greeks (Aristotle) to 17th century alchemist, Sir Isaac Newton, and the celebrated 19th century Polymath, Johann Goethe, to the 20th century painter, Albert Munsell, color theory exploration has produced a body of rules, ideas, and principles by these men and others along the way that have been used to interpret the art, science, and vocabulary of color.

There will continue to be lofty discussions about color theory, and much of it boils down to opinions based on how the studies and research are interpreted. For instance, is light triadic in nature or is it a continuum? Are the primary colors (red, blue, and green) simply light waves that emit from a prism, or is it colorless energy picked up by brain receptor primaries (considered to be cyan, magenta, and yellow) and translated in varying percentages of what our eyes perceive through them?

No doubt, color can be complicated and the scientific aspects of color exploration alone could fill volumes. From Sir Isaac Newton’s first color wheel design to today’s professional colorists who forecast best selling colors and their combinations to manufacturers, it’s a fact that color will continue to define almost every facet of our existence.

Regardless of how we personally rate color’s importance in our lives, it is an active and sustaining ingredient we experience every moment we are alive. As summer draws to a close let’s take a fresh look at the fabulous colors coming our way in the next few weeks as the Fall season begins. As makeup artists, we can view some of the best examples of color theory in the raw, and study a bit in nature to help hone our creative abilities.

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