Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Naming of Colors[1]
A Trivial Color Classification System
Art Resource

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This is the eighth blog in the "Art Resource" series, specifically aimed to construct an appropriate knowledge base in order to develop an artistic voice in ArtCloth. Other posts in this series are:
Glossary of Terms And Fabrics
Units Used In Dyeing And Printing Of Fabrics
Occupational, Health & Safety
A Brief History Of Color
The Nature Of Color
Psychology of Color
Color Schemes
Munsell Color Classification System
Methuen Color Index And Classification System
The CIE System
Pantone - A Modern Color Classification System
Optical Properties of Fiber Materials
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part I
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part II
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part III
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part IV
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part V
Protein Fibers - Wool
Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers
Protein Fibers - Silk
Protein Fibers - Wool versus Silk
Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Cotton
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Linen
Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers
General Overview of Man-Made Fibers
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Viscose
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Esters
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Nylon
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Polyester
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Acrylic and Modacrylic
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Olefins
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Elastomers
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Mineral Fibers
Man Made Fibers - Other Textile Fibers
Fiber Blends
From Fiber To Yarn: Overview - Part I
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part II
Melt-Spun Fibers
Characteristics of Filament Yarn
Yarn Classification
Direct Spun Yarns
Textured Filament Yarns
Fabric Construction - Felt
Fabric Construction - Nonwoven Fabrics
A Fashion Data Base
Fiber Construction - Leather
Fabric Construction - Films
Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins
Fabric Construction – Foams and Poromeric Material
Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns
Weaving and the Loom
Similarities and Differences in Woven Fabrics
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part I)
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part II)
The Three Basic Weaves - Twill Weave
The Three Basic Weaves - Satin Weave
Figured Weaves - Leno Weave
Figured Weaves – Piqué Weave
Figured Fabrics
Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements

The Glossary of Terms, Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff, A Fashion Data Base, Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins, Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns and Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements have been updated in order to better inform your art practice.

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The Naming Of Colors - A Trivial Classification System
There are only eleven basic color words that are pure hues in the English language, and they are: red, blue, yellow, green, violet, orange, pink, grey, black, white and brown. Strictly speaking, grey, black and white do not have characteristic wavelengths. They are either the lack of color (black) or a combination of all visible colors (white) or a blend of the two (grey). Yet there are literally millions of colors. Computers yield some sixteen million and the human eye can distinguish more than any machine.

The use of colors in ceremonies dates back 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. In the Ice Age bodies were buried in red ochre. Furthermore, the bones of the dead were painted red. It was speculated that the flow of red blood was recognized to be the difference between life and death and so the use of red ochre was therefore an acknowledgment of inducing life after death.

The pre-historic cave paintings near the medieval village of Santillana del Mar in Northern Spain and those in Lascaux in France yielded images of bison, wild pigs, deer and horses. These images were painted in five colors: strong red earth, black, brown, orange, and yellow ochre. It was not until about 4,500 B.C. that we first encounter blue (in the so called Haaf culture in Mesopotamia). In Egypt, malachite green was used as a pigment in cosmetics and then in ceramics. A wealth of different colors appeared in that era. The Sumarians (Babylonia) introduced such hues as blue stone, lapis lazuli, etc. The Phoenicians discovered purple, which they made from a kind of welk and used it to dye their cloths. The use of contrasting colors, such as yellows, light blues, reds and blue were employed in the Golden Age of Greek culture (600-400 B.C.)

The industrial revolution ushered in a vast array of different colors, which were thought in an analog world would never be repeated again in terms of scale and acceleration. And then came the digital age. Now a simple $500 device will produce approximately sixteen million colors.

The purpose of a color name is to communicate the appearance of a given color in order to enable us to think in that color. Hence, a color name must be so characteristic of the color’s appearance that others will readily envision it.

Since objects and substances in our environment were the source of colors, these were historically used to name colors. Such was the case with the words of blood and red, the oldest color name found in most cultures. White and black are also of ancient origin - often being derived from concepts of light and dark as symbolized by day and night. From the Sanskit candra (light) came the Latin candidus (white). The Russian belyi (white) is derived from the root bhe (to lighten). The English white is derived from the German xwitaz. Similar - black and dark - share common origins. The German schwarz is related to the Nordic sortna (to darken) etc. The word yellow is also of early origin in many languages, usually derived from the same names as fruits, straw, gold, fire or bile (e.g. German galle).

The word green and blue developed at a much later date, perhaps because the materials necessary to form these pigments were not readily available until much later in history. Green is naturally related to growth and greenery. Blue, strangely enough is often derived from the word pale or yellow, which perhaps reflects the sky, which is often a pale blue at dawn and at sunset a yellow or pale yellow.

Names of the second order colors in history - the first order being red, yellow, green, blue, white and black - are words such as beige, blonde, grey, brown, golden, lilac, magenta, olive, orange, purple, rose, ruby, turquoise and violet. These color names were independently construed and so characterize specific colors.

When basic color names are combined with one another, they designate intermediate colors such as yellow-green, blue-black and golden-blonde. As more hues became available the general color names were varied by the addition of modifiers resulting in such terms as light blue, pastel green and deep black. The addition of suffixes – especially the use of “ish” – became useful in describing changes, which take place in a gradual color shift (e.g. yellowish green or bluish green etc.)

Another larger group of color names were directly derived from specific metal elements (e.g. copper, platinum blonde etc.) In everyday speech auxiliary words were used before the proper color name for its designation (e.g. radiant orange red, a strong blue violet etc.)

The naming of colors constitutes the most simplistic and trivial classification system used even to this today. As it evolved historically, concomitant with the development of the structure of local language, it is necessarily devoid of a systematic and universal approach.

For a comprehensive list of trivial color names see - Glossary of Terms and Fabrics. The following is a list of common sources from which color names were derived.

(i) Color Names Derived From Plants: For example, apricot (yellow), lemon yellow, grass green, hazel, and rose red etc.

Lemon (or Citron) Yellow (pigment) (CI - 3B8): Barium yellow. The color of the peel of the ripe lemon. Also a general term use for pale yellow shade, rather than a designation for a pigment of any particular composition, and often applied indiscriminately to pale chrome, zinc, or cadmium yellows and others. See the Glossary remarks under primrose yellow. French: citron (1598).

(ii) Color Names Derived From Minerals And Metals: For example, alabaster, amethyst (violet), copper (red), malachite green, and platinum blonde etc.

Amethyst (Violet) (CI - 15C6): The color of amethyst, a semi-precious stone, which may at times appear bluer than the color shown here. From the Greek amethystos, meaning "without intoxication", since the stone was considered protective against drunkenness (1572).

(iii) Color Names Derived From Man-Made Products: For example, chocolate (brown), faience blue, bottle green, and wine red etc.

Chocolate (Brown) (CI - 6F4): The color of pure chocolate made from cocoa without addition of milk.

(iv) Color Names Derived From Fauna: For example, beaver, canary yellow, mouse grey, fox, and butterfly blue etc.

Beaver (CI - 5F4): Beaver-colored as the fur of the animal. The name beaver is derived from the word brown. The Anglo-Saxon word beofor (beaver). The name castor is used synonymously with beaver (1705).

(v) Color Names Derived From Geographic Names: For example, Berlin blue, Copenhagen blue, Naples yellow, Pompian red, Spanish green etc.

Berlin Blue (CI - 21F7; pigment): Prussian blue; term used especially in France. Made from inorganic pigment - ferric ferrocyanide. It was discovered in 1704 by Diesbach in Berlin and by Milori in Paris in 1704. Other names are bronze blue, Milori blue, Paris blue, steel blue. The English Prussian blue and Berlin blue date from 1724; Milori blue and Paris blue from about 1800.

(vi) Color Names Derived From Natural Phenomena: For example, aurora, spring green, sky blue, fire red, and fog etc.

Aurora (CI - 10B4): The color of the sky at sunrise. As this color depends on the hour, atmospheric conditions and other factors, it is subject to many variations. Latin word for dawn - aurora.

(vii) Color Names Derived From Miscellaneous Subjects: For example, calypso (red), and infrared etc.

Calypso (Red) (CI - 9A8): Same as cinnabar, vermilion, China (or Chinese) red (or rouge), and scarlet. A name used for cosmetics and textiles etc. probably derived from the West Indian music. Also, a botanical name for an orchid whose color varies from white, purple, pink or rose to yellow.

Trivial color classification systems - such as color names - are fraught with ambiguity. What may appear to one person to a purplish-red may appear to another to be a reddish-purple. It is often impractical in this digital age to dial up a color based on such a trivial classification system, since it is not systematic but rather whimsical (i.e. historical) in nature. To keep on inventing new names for new hues in this digital age is therefore impractical just because of the sheer complexity and extensiveness of the available colors at hand. If we persisted with such a system, the second law of thermodynamics would prevail - chaos would reign!

Hence, more systematic and universal classifications color systems needed to be invented and some of these will be covered over the next few posts in the Art Resource series.

[1] A. Kornerup and J.H. Wanscher, Methuen Handbook Of Color, Polotokens, Forlag, Copenhagen (1978).

1 comment:

Lesley Turner said...

a most informative post - looking for to the next installment