Saturday, 12 August 2017

It's Never Black and White

My obsession with colour has lead me to read as much as I can find on the subject when I am procrastinating with regards to other things.   I am quite intrigued with the concept of temperature in colour because it's more subject to language vagaries than descriptions of saturation and clarity are.  How colour is perceived and described differs depending on whether we are talking about light or pigment and the idea of colours being warm or cool has mainly to do with how much blue (perceived as cool) or yellow (perceived as warm) are in the pigment mix.  I wonder how consistent this warm/cool perception is across cultures though I believe every human on this planet would consider shade cool and fire hot and generally we associated blues/greys/purple with shade and red/yellow/orange with fire.

Somewhere in my internet wanderings I got into a discussion with someone in which I was trying to explain why black and white, although usually referred to as neutral, were not flattering on everyone and particularly people whose colouring leans warm.  If black and white are neutral, why are you claiming they are cool? The woman asked me.  I didn't have an answer for her that was satisfactory to me, I only know that most humans do agree that black and white seem cool as opposed to warm and that in terms of personal colouring they are not neutral/work for everyone options.

It frustrated me that I understood this intuitively but could not explain it so I have been on a mission to improve my ability to explain this.  I doubt I have fully succeeded but it's taking better shape in my mind now.

The concept of warm or cool colour has to do with blue being perceived as cool and yellow as warm and thus the more blue in a colour the cooler it seems and the more yellow the warmer it seems.  That in itself had me puzzled as I tried to understand why a purely warm coloured person could wear any blue at all or a purely cool coloured person could wear any yellow.  I came to understand that in terms of personal colour analysis and pigment mixing, the idea is that people who need a palette of colours we would call warm need a palette of colours where there is obvious yellow added.  Those who need cool colours need their colours to be obviously blue infused.  People who are slightly warm or slightly cool wear colours that are less warmed or cooled by yellow or blue.

I wrote a blog post in which I explored what warm blue is, explaining that it is blue with yellow added, it pushes the boundary of what we would call turquoise or teal.  Cool yellow has a bit of blue added so it begins to push at the boundary of green.  Yellow is also cooled by the addition of white. 

Adding white pigment makes what we call pastel colours and pastels are generally viewed as cooler than the original hue they are based on. 

Black is reminiscent of shade or night which are experienced as cooler and pure black has a bluish tint to it.  Artists often use a pigment called Payne's Gray instead of black and Payne's Gray is a very dark blue that appears black but isn't as flat looking as actual black paint.

In  colour theory  based on light waves black is the absence of all light (colour) and white is the presence of all light (colour) which makes black a non-colour and white a colour.

In colour theory based on pigment black is the combination of all colours and white is an absence of them because you can't mix anything to make white, thus black is the colour and white is the non-colour.

In real life, colour is something we see and we see black and white just as readily as we see blue or red or yellow.  For practical purposes black and white are colours.  But are they neutral?  What does neutral mean?  Can anybody wear them?

Neutral is a word used differently in different contexts. Sometimes black, white and the grey they combine to make are referred to as neutral, based on the idea that white and black are non-colours.  This leads some people to assume that it follows that black and white as non-colours are also non-temperature, that is to say neither warm nor cool.

 Fashion neutrals refer to colours that go well with all or nearly all other colours.  There are caveats involved there because fashion neutrals can lean warmer or cooler or be highly saturated or very muted and this will influence how well they work with other colours exhibiting various properties.

The idea of personal colour analysis is that the colours that work to flatter a person are in harmony with that person's natural colouring, and thus share the same properties.  When it comes to perceived warmth (yellowness) or coolness (blueness) there is a blueness and a distinct lack of yellowness in what we call pure white and black.  That is why they lean cool and suit people with cool colouring better than people with warm colouring. 

Black can be warmed up by using a colour we may perceive initially as black but is actually a very darkened brown.  White can be warmed up by turning it into ivory by adding a bit of yellow.  Whether or not a person is flattered by warm-black (brown-black) or ivory-white will depend on what their personal mix of cool and warm colouring is.  For people who are very or purely warm, brown-black and ivory-white are not warm enough. 

Black and white are also very strong colours and so they work best for people whose own colouring is strong.  If you suit bright, clear colours black and white probably work for you.  If you are predominantly cool toned, they also probably work.  If you are cool toned but lighter and softer, in a category often called Summer, you are probably better off with your black softened to charcoal or replaced with navy blue and your white just hinting at ivory, taking away the intensity that will look harsh on someone whose personal colouring doesn't match it.

I had to think all of this through, organise my thoughts coherently and then write it all down in order to be able to explain this and the lengthy explanation given here would not be appropriate for a response to someone in a YouTube comment section.  I doubt that woman who questioned me on why black and white don't work for everyone will ever see this but this is for her.  This is the complete reply I was unable to give at the time.  This is the consolidation of everything I intuitively understood but could not express. 

This is also for anyone else who has been mislead by the fashion industry into thinking black and white are always right.  Wear them if you want to, if you love them, if you just don't care what personal colour theory says, but if black or white can't find anything to connect with in your skin tone they won't be doing you any favours and perhaps you would like to know that.

There are bigger things in this world to be worrying about than whether or not you should wear black.  Sometimes I just need to avoid those topics.

2 comments:

  1. Ah... there may be bigger things in the world to worry about than what colors (colours) to wear (or not), but online refuges like Pinterest and blogs such as yours are where I seek temporary respite from those very things. I lurk, I read, I rarely comment, but I'm always glad to see something new from you when I click the bookmarked link to your little corner of the Internet. Peace.

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    1. Thank you, Pam. Comments like yours, reminding me that I am connecting somehow with others I will never meet, that we all share that need for refuge and one person's colour obsessed blog posts just might help provide that refuge LOL are comments that really make my day. I wish peace for you too.

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