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The Science and Art of Color

Rouen Cathedral  (Monet Series) 1892-1894

Color fascinates me.  It's more science than most realize.  It was Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, that developed the first color wheel.

Even by Kindergarten you pretty much know what a Color Wheel is.  But, I'm guessing your Kindergarten teacher didn't go on to further explain how color is really nanometers of electronic energy that our eyes process.  We actually only perceive reflected color.

For instance, did you know red is the first “color” a baby sees?  Or, that the color red isn't inherently in the blanket Aunt Suzie sent?   It's the surface of the blanket reflecting the red wavelength and absorbing all the rest.

Fascinating, but how will nanometers of electronic energy and reflecting wavelengths  ever really matter in your everyday life? 

It's Saturday morning and you are standing in the hardware store picking a paint color for your weekend project.  After agonizing over which color to have mixed for your family room, you have finally decided.  Armed with 5 gallons of the perfect paint color the weekend project has begun!  So, why after it goes up does it not look the same as it did in the store, or for that matter, the same as it did this morning when you started?  You are not imagining things.  It’s even got a name.  It’s called metamerism.

Metamerism is a phenomenon that occurs when colors change in different light.  French Impressionist Claude Monet was intrigued by this phenomenon.  So much so, that from 1892-1894 he painted 31 canvases depicting the Rouen Cathedral in different light.  In Monet's case, weather conditions and times of day affected the way the cathedral looked.   In today’s world you can add your choice of light bulb to this phenomenon. 

About to paint? Over the years, my advice has been to paint a large paint sample and watch it for a day or two in different light conditions.