Hidden color

1 March 2009

There’s something about a peek of hidden color that is so joyful. It seems just right for the gloomy landscape in which we find ourselves right now. Colored linings and interiors signify a secret pleasure, directed inwards at the user rather than outwards at the viewer.

This coat is from Raf Simons fall collection for Jil Sander, inspired by the ceramics of Pol Chambost, a French artist (a resemblance that is clear from side-by-side comparisons). Interesting, because product designers are often inspired by fashion but you don’t often see fashion inspired by tableware.

The joy of intangible color

13 February 2009

Intense colors seem so far to be strongly associated with joy. I’m thinking of rainbows, candy, and balloons, but also sea, sun, and sky. When asked which color they associate with joy, people have been mentioning a wide range of hues – reds, yellows, blues, violets, but they are all very pure and saturated – no grayishness, no tinting, no muddiness.

I have also been wondering if there is something about natural color that is joyful. The colors of nature are often intense but rarely flat. Of course, the rainbow is natural, and these colors are are pure as it gets. But there’s something in the quality of the color too.

Color theorists talk about different kinds of color to differentiate, say, the blue on your shirt from the blue of the sky. They might be exactly the same hue/saturation/value combo, but they’ll still be different. The blue of your shirt is called surface color, because it’s applied to a surface and can be understood in the context of space. The color in the sky has no spatial information to it; you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s located, how close the source is or how far. That kind of color is called film color, which I always remember because it’s kind of filmy and intangible. There’s something fascinating about film color, because you can’t really put your finger on it, nor can you reproduce it. There’s also illumination color, like the color of sunlight, which is even less tangible and equally as intriguing, because its color affects all the other colors around it.

Sunlight also comes up frequently in discussions of joy, and I wonder if this intangible color idea has a connection to the idea of expectations disruption which is one of many ideas I have around what causes us to feel joy. There is something about pleasurable things that seem out of step with the laws of nature that govern our everyday existence, like rainbows, buoyancy, bubbles, snowflakes, and flying, that seems to trigger joy, especially in children. These laws of nature form a certain kind of expectation. Of course we know that these occurrences can be explained by physics, but our physical experience of them, particularly the very first time, is magical. I wonder if the same principle applies to the color in the sky or of sunlight, and if these colors are not more joyful because of their elusiveness.

Nature never clashes

13 February 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about color lately, with respect to joy but also just in general. Yesterday in our thesis session we were talking about the spontaneous ways we visualize abstract concepts. Jennie (a designer-friend in my program) is synesthete so she smells colors, while Fred (Blumlein, my advisor), sees time in his brain like a pathway to the horizon, like the time machine function in a mac. This allows him to see all sorts of connections in historical ideas and events that come together more synthetically than chronologically. I couldn’t think of what my spontaneous visualizations were, but this morning it hit me – I see (and sometimes smell) days in terms of color.

It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I walk outside and it’s just an orange day. It’s not that the light is orange or anything, but that there’s just something about the day that feels orange. And then I get to the studio and I realize I’m wearing orange, without even realizing I put it on. There’s not even any good or bad to the colors of the days. It’s not like a pink day is happier than a blue day, or a yellow day is more intense than a gray one. It’s just an intangible set of feelings that makes one day feel a certain way. Is that weird? Probably, but fortunately design is pretty accepting of weirdness.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post… In all my thinking about color, I was reminded of something Mark Goetz (my furniture professor) had said last semester. He pointed out that colors in nature never clashed, which I thought was both incredibly obvious and incredibly insightful at the same time. Colors in nature don’t clash, even when, as in the photo of a New Zealand sulfur pool above, they are absurdly odd and intense.

Plutchik’s emotional taxonomy

10 February 2009

In researching joy and the basis of emotions, I found this model, developed by psychologist Robert Plutchik. As a designer I couldn’t resist the way he maps the emotions like a color wheel, and it’s also interesting how he’s developed the model in three dimensions.

But, I’m not sure I agree with where he’s placed joy. In preliminary discussions, it’s notable how often surprise emerges as a precursor to joy. My hypothesis is that that relationship will prove significant and this model does not reflect this.

Library of Dust

9 February 2009

This extraordinary image is from photographer David Maisel’s latest project, Library of Dust, in which he photographed canisters containing the unclaimed ashes of patients who died at an Oregon mental institution over the course of nearly a century. This project is interesting to me in the way that the photos abstract the subject matter away from death and the accompanying emotions. On first look, the corrosion of the canisters is simply beautiful, and could be anything from a coral formation to a mineral deposit. Then the revelation of what they represent transforms the viewer’s experience of them into a deeply emotional one that is by turns empathic but also horrifying.

While with my thesis project, Aesthetics of Joy, I am looking at aesthetics as a support for the emotional experience, here the emotional experience is belied by the visceral one.

Annabelle Verhoye

20 January 2009

I’ve been a fan of Annabelle Verhoye‘s work ever since I read a profile on her in an Australian magazine a few years ago. But on these snowy winter days I’m really feeling her gorgeous, saturated color palette.

Emily Barletta

19 January 2009

I love these sculptures by Emily Barletta, a Brooklyn-based fiber artist. Thank you designboom for calling attention to this beautiful work. I’m always interested in artists and designers who are playing with the contrasts between hard and soft, and exploring the possibilities of different textures. But beyond the intellectualizing, these just speak to me.

Eye candy: Alberto Seveso’s illustrations

10 January 2009

Can’t remember where I found this but this series of illustrations is really beautiful. Kind of reminds me of the Julius Bissier works I posted a couple of months ago.

New-to-me: Julius Bissier

14 November 2008

Discovered these paintings last week and the beautiful translucent forms are sticking in my mind.

Found color

9 November 2008

At the bottom of the blackberry box…

Eye candy: what is this?

24 October 2008

What is this? I don’t know, but I like it. Here is where it lives…

Color studies

24 October 2008

Found this beautiful print on Swedish designer Sandra Juto’s blog Smosch and it reminded me of last year’s foundation color studies, particularly the diamond problem (below). Sandra’s triangle doesn’t have the same exact aim as the diamond, which is designed to show a movement of color top to bottom and right to left through middle mixtures, but I like the way it references this traditional exercise. I don’t think any designer who’s been through this sort of training can look at a print like this without thinking of these exercises, and the painstaking hours of trial and error required to build such a simple-looking thing. Looking at it now reminds me that the time was well-spent. I can’t begin to describe how much has changed in my perception of color from before to after, how much that was invisible to me is now apparent and alive in the world.

Quote of the day

13 October 2008

Came across this quote while studying for a design history midterm. Can you imagine the ghostliness of a colorless hot air balloon?

I love… the Domino October issue

11 October 2008

This month’s Domino really had my number. Page after page I found things I love. Like this uber-pink and brass scene from Kelly Wearstler’s guest house (above). Wonderful mix of textures.

Anya Hindmarch’s living room is elegant but still looks like people live there. (Which I guess it would, being she has five kids!)

This is a little Hamptons-y for me but that glass-and-string thing in the middle of the table is so amazing.

I love this page so much I want to eat it! That purple is the perfect anti-purple to all the bleak ones in the store windows these days, and the prints just make me so happy.